Chapter 9

 

      WHEN CHRISTIAN STUDENTS ASK ABOUT THE TIME

            OF THE ORIGIN AND APPEARANCE OF LIFE

 

                             The Time of Life’s Beginning

 

 

A large number of conservative  (or evangelical) Christians have abandoned the idea that the creation of the universe occurred approximately 6000 years ago (4004 B.C., according to Bishop Usher, as indicated in the original Scofield Reference Bible).

In  an attempt to explain fossils, some Christians have argued that when God commanded the earth to bring forth all living forms, some of them got stuck behind rocks, or were put there by Satan to deceive us (A.D. White, 242-243).  Others have claimed that all fossils were relics of Noah’s flood.

In order to believe the earth is more no more than 6000 years old requires the abandonment of all known geological dating methods.  Some claim that the Christian who tries to derive scientific information from the book of Genesis is as much in error as the scientist who sees nothing of God’s design in the natural universe.  But the Biblical view of nature is that God not only initiated, but He continues to work in and through His creation. (B. Ramm, “The Christian View of Science and Scripture”, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1954, 178).

Ever since the 16th century, investigators have found a world of fossilized animal and plant life buried in strata of the earth.  Many of those early investigators interpreted their fossil findings as the result of Noah’s flood.  However, as time passed, geologists began to realize that fossils were due to forces at work over very long periods of time.

A relatively small number of “flood geologists” hold that even if the world was created many millions of years ago, huge waves (possibly due to an asteroid impact which caused the flood) moved all forms of life, depositing them in deep layers of mud which hardened into rock.  They believe that processes (which most geologists hold occurred over a period of three billion years or so) actually took place during a worldwide flood which lasted only little more than a year. (G. Price, “The New Geology”, 1923) 

There appear to be at least three basic errors in flood geology (Ramm, 183)  (1) Flood geologists feel compelled to discredit virtually all geological dating processes in their simultaneous effort to discredit biological evolution.  (2) They assume the reason our world is as zoologically impoverished (as it now is) is because of the large number of species that went extinct at the time of the flood.  (Some could then ask:  If that happened, then why weren’t more of those species protected by bringing them into the ark before the flood?)  (3) Flood geologists do not seem to understand the physical conditions and the average time required for layers (strata) of rock to be form and subsequently fold because of stress forces. (Even laboratory models have shown that mountain formation probably occurred by  processes that do not require water.)

Geological evidence now exists for the processes required to turn river mud into rock.  The weight of one mile of sediment must press down upon that mud from above.  It is also of interest to note that 100 feet of loose plant matter is required to make one foot of coal.  Sufficient plant matter to form all known coal deposits in the world could not possibly have existed at one time (such as the time of the flood).  Also, in Yellowstone park, two thousand feet of exposed strata reveal 18 successive forests, each demolished by lava from a different volcanic eruption.

Both gypsum and salt deposits require the evaporation of salt water.  It has been shown that the formation of an 8 inch layer of gypsum would require the evaporation of one thousand feet of sea water.  Even at the fastest known rate of salt water evaporation (10 feet per year in the Dead Sea), the 1500 foot thick layer of gypsum in West Texas and New Mexico would require 500,000 years of evaporation.

Flood geology requires radioactive dating methods to be at least 99% wrong.  But radioactive dating methods help to confirm dates held by archaeologists for Biblically important events and periods in Old Testament history.  For instance, Abraham most likely lived in the 20th century B.C., and David and Solomon seem to have lived in the 10th century B.C.  Radioactive dating methods used by archaeologists help to date these periods.  The same can be said for early pyramid building in Egypt, and the construction of Stonehenge in England (roughly 3,000 B.C.)

Geologists use at least seven dating methods: (1) tree ring analysis, reliable up to 3,000 years, (2) clay analysis, reliable to 3,000 years, (3) radiocarbon dating, reliable to 300,000 years, (4) sedimentation analysis, (5) erosion analysis, (6) analysis of weathering effects, and (7) analysis of chemical changes in the material studied.  If all methods used in a particular study are consistent, then the flood geologist has a very serious problem when he finds it necessary to hold that all methods are seriously flawed.  It would seem quite difficult to believe that more than 99% of all professional geologists in the world are more than 99% wrong when it comes to geological dating.

 

                             The “Days” of Genesis

 

St. Augustine believed the seven “days” of Genesis were not “sun-divided” days, but rather “God-divided” days. He believed that each “day” of creation was the period of time which God chose to bring about a certain portion of His creative plan.  God’s view of time differs from our view.  There is little justification for one to insist that all miracles occur instantaneously in time.  Is a world made in 4 1/2 billion years any less miraculous than a world made in a matter of days?  God’s view of a thousand years is expressed in Psalm 90:4 as “but yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night”.  If God is the author and creator of the time dimension itself, then He can make use of it any way He chooses. 

The Hebrew word for “day” in Genesis is “yom”.  It is used many times in the Old Testament to refer to a period of time other than a 24 hour day.  (In fact, in Genesis 2:4, “yom” refers to the entire period during which all creation took place.)

Fossil evidence tells us that more than 5,000 species of increasingly advanced invertebrates were created with remarkable suddenness during the Cambrian geological period. (Ramm, 217)  How can we presume to question God’s decision to create in a certain fashion as far as timing is concerned?  If a Christian chooses to accept timing indicated by the most reliable scientific sources of evidence (regardless of how complete or how incomplete that evidence might be), why should he be criticized by other Christians who use different rules of interpretation (different hermeneutical rules).  This is especially the case when it involves the question of how much weight should be given to scientific evidence.  What justification could we possibly have to choose the particular meaning for “yom” that best appeals to us, and then force-interpret all other evidence to match that choice.

  One should realize that it is neither easy nor straightforward to reconcile a modern scientific concept with ancient Hebrew linguistic style, vocabulary and culture.  It is an attitude of pride rather than Biblical humility to presume that one’s own preferred answer to a difficult question of Biblical interpretation must be the only correct answer (i.e., the answer that God intended when he inspired the writing of a particular Scriptural text).  Conservative evangelicals should exercise charity and tolerance when it come to discussions with other conservative evangelicals who have a different interpretation of a particularly difficult or problematic passage of the Bible, as long as important core doctrinal beliefs (shared by virtually all conservative evangelicals) are not compromised.

              Both geology and Genesis agree on the conditions necessary for life as we generally know them: light, separation of water and dry land, and separation of the atmosphere above land and the oceans.  Both agree that life appeared over time in a sequence of forms from simple to complex.  But science must be silent when it comes to first (or final) causes.  Genesis is also silent as far as additional secondary causes that may have been involved in whatever processes brought life as we know it into existence.  To understand the existence of life (to the greatest degree possible for us as humans), all causes must be considered.  God, to the conservative Christian, is not only the initiator of all processes which brought the universe, and the life within it, into existence, but He preserves, sustains, and providentially interacts with it as well.

 

                                                The Flood

 

              We are told by anthropologists that the earliest true civilization was Mesopotamian.  It therefore should come as no surprise that Noah’s ark appears to have been constructed in Mesopotamia.  The flood most likely occurred sometime between 2,000 and 10,000 B.C.  It seems possible that ice age melting (around 10,000 B,C,) could have helped provide enough water for the flood.  It is also possible that some type of geological change in  the earth’s crust could have sent ocean water pouring into the Mesopotamian valley.  The flood record in Genesis neither affirms nor denies that men existed beyond the Mesopotamian valley at the time of the flood.  However, paleo-anthropological evidence for a worldwide distribution of homo Sapiens at that time is abundant.  Evidence exists that man existed in America as far as 10,000-15,000 years ago. (Ramm 240).

              At the time of the flood, the term “earth” was unlikely to have had any meaning to Mesopotamian Hebrews beyond the land mass with which they were familiar: a region bounded by the Caucasian ridge and Caspian Sea to the north, the Persian and Indian Seas to the south, and distant high mountains to the east and west.

              The question of whether the flood was local or universal has been debated for years.  That question should not be addressed on the basis of “What can God do.”, but rather on “What did God do?”.  It is a matter of hermeneutical interpretation, not inspiration.  In Biblical Hebrew, the term for “all” often means “all” that the reporting writer is aware of.  (For example, in Genesis 41:57, when the statement is made that “all countries” came to Egypt to buy grain, the meaning is most likely that all countries known to the Egyptians came to Egypt to buy grain.  At that time, do you suppose the Egyptians were even aware of India and China?

              With this linguistic consideration in mind, it seems likely that the universality of the flood hinges upon the universality of the experience of the one who reported the event.  To the observing reporter, then, all mountains were covered, and all flesh died.

              Mount Ararat has a peak of 17,000 feet, and the Himalayas are roughly two miles higher.  Did the flood waters rise to a height of six miles above sea level?  The Bible does not seem to record the flood as a supernatural event,  but the concept of a universal flood does have a problem if it wasn’t.  If the surface of the earth was a perfect sphere, oceans would cover it to a depth of 2 1/2 – 3 miles (K. Kinns and L.J. Henderson as referred to in Ramm, 244).  In order to cover the Himalayas, the amount of water required would be eight times the amount of water present on the earth’s surface and its atmosphere.  This would require a 0.2% increase in the mass of the earth, resulting in a small change in the orbital pathway of the earth around the sun.  Such a vast amount of water would have crushed and killed virtually all plant life, and devastated life in the sea.  (Not to mention another problem: Where could all that water drain to?)  Therefore, the post-flood restoration process would have required a creative work almost as extensive as the original creation itself.

Today It would be difficult to find a professional geologist who believed the earth could have been completely under water 5 or 6 thousand years ago, and emerge from it’s water shroud in a matter of days.  And then there is the matter that a series of remarkable miracles would have been required to get all of the animal species in existence at the time of Noah into the ark and back again over oceans and continents. 

Also, considering all of the environments required by land animals the world over, some animals require an environment in which certain other animals could not possibly have survived.  Some have suggested that enough of the animals hibernated to make life on board the ark bearable..

              Not only is it naēve to believe that all animal (including “creeping” animal) life existed close enough to Noah’s ark to get to it, but the task of feeding and waste disposal for all animal species in existence would far exceed what all of the world’s present zoological gardens are capable of doing (let alone what four men and four women could do during the year and 10 days the ark was afloat).

During the period when Christian geologists tended to give up using Noah’s flood in their efforts to reconcile Genesis with geology, some took refuge in what became known as “the gap theory”.  (Perhaps it could have better been called the “creation-ruination-recreation theory,”)  In order to cope with objections raised by geologists to the interpretation of early Genesis chapters taken by many Christians, Thomas Chalmers proposed that there was a creation in Genesis 1:1, followed by a catastrophy in Genesis 1:2, followed by a re-creation in Genesis 1:3.  However, the gap theory is an interpretation that not only fails to come easily from the text, but is rather a contrived and artificial attempt to reconcile Genesis with geology. (Ramm, 210)