Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Creation/Evolution II

From a recent post on evolution, I was asked a couple of questions that I wanted to talk about. My response got so long that I wanted to just make it a new post. I was asked about any plausible reasons why the data doesn't fit the model we are currently using. I mostly have observations and questions, particularly concerning assumptions, rather than groundbreaking data.

I'll explain my concerns this way. I'm not uncomfortable with a young earth, I'm not uncomfortable with an old earth (though maybe not as old as most accepted doctrine). My faith is not necessarily changed and it is valid in either scenario. But I do have concerns about the ever-increasing old age scenario.

One of the first things I wonder about is the accuracy of a very reasonable principle in geology. It's called the Principle of Uniformity. Basically, that processes that we see at work today--sedimentation rates, plate tectonics, radioactive decay, etc.--are consistent throughout time. From that principle, we can extrapolate time frames for certain observable phenomenon. It is a very reasonable principle and one that is good to work with because it allows scientists to extrapolate information and make certain predictions. The PoU is one of the most basic elements in the geologic field.

Again, it is a reasonable assumption. With that said, what if the PoU is wrong? What if the processes we observe today do not have a consistent rate throughout time?

A couple examples of possibles. Within the last few years, even months (sorry, I don't have links) several papers have been presented arguing that the rates of tectonic movement vary and can happen very rapidly, at locations such as the Mid-Atlantic Spread Zone.

More recently has been the observation from eastern Africa of the subsidence of segments of the Great Rift Valley with upwards of 100 ft (maybe meters) of drop in a matter of a couple months as a new spread section is being formed. As a crew landed on a helicopter, they felt small earthquakes and observed new fault lines and cracks under their feet. They didn't stay as long as they wanted to.

The Mid Atlantic is often used to give an estimate of current age given the "striping" of the magnetic filaments in the hardened magma. Using the size of each stripe, the rate of contemporary spread, and the frequency of polar magnetic shifts, scientists are able to extrapolate time frames. Again, that's reasonable.

However, I would ask, couldn't the conditions that cause a polar instability and fluctuation likewise cause a dramatic increase in activity at the mid-atlantic spread and other tectonic zones? I'm not aware of that question even being asked, but they would have significant implications to geologic time.

Another example would be the tests often done on zircon crystals. These crystals form deep in the earth’s mantle and often incorporate small particles of uranium and other radioactive material. The decay of these radioactive elements leave a “halo” in the surrounding crystal, the size of which, along with tests to determine the ratio of original element to it’s neutral breakdown, is used to determine how long the crystal has existed. Since we generally know the decay rates for elements it is a reasonable extrapolation. However, I believe it also has some assumptions which to my knowledge have never been tested. My big question is whether there are any conditions in which decay rates can be increased or the halo effect that alters surrounding crystalline structure likewise increases. Conditions under which these zircon crystals form are radically different from surface conditions. Does extreme pressure, extreme heat and the presence of large amounts of other radioactive materials in close proximity increase the decay rate and its effect? It could and should be tested because if demonstrated would cause a great revision of dates.

I realize that I am proposing hypotheticals for which I cannot test, and that if done, may not refute anything of the current theoretical models. These are just questions for which my mind would like clarity.

I fear we are making observations and drawing conclusions based on a world that was fundamentally altered and changed in some way by the fall (a theological objection that I realize science can't tackle). In which case our observations could be faulty.

Similarly, I believe in a literal world wide flood event. It's amazing to me that so many ancient cultures from all over the world have persevered a tradition of a catastrophic flood (obviously with different causes and conclusions--but often times the underlying event of mythology has a historical reference).

In the biblical account, the water did not just come from rain falling, but water came from the “springs of the great deep burst forth”. I realize there are various interpretations of this passage, but in my mind I see great movement of the earth and there’s no telling what was going on under the surface. In many ways, I believe the world and environment was again altered by the events of the flood—so it wasn’t the same as before, life wouldn’t be the same, even the ages of the people dramatically changed downward post-flood.

Science dismisses these accounts and their possible effects as unhistorical, largely due to the influence of 19th Century biblical criticism (Documentary Hypothesis) and the desire to remove the miraculous from consideration that dates back even further than Thomas Jefferson who created his own New Testament minus the miracles. I wouldn’t argue that science isn’t reasonable in not considering the miraculous, after all, we have no conclusive evidence, nor any kind of comparable contemporary experience, but then again, it comes back to assumptions (ex.--if the flood is unhistorical, why do I need to look for any evidence of it). That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and fundamentally change the world we are trying to observe today.

To dismiss the flood account as unhistorical; however, has theological implications. It essentially says the biblical account is not reliable, accurate or valid which calls into question its Inspiration—God communicating and revealing truth to us, and its Sufficiency—its trustworthiness to impart truth of our spiritual condition, its remedy and how we are to live in light of the revealed truth. To write the opening chapters of Genesis off as allegory undermines the foundation of who we are as human beings, our spiritual situation and the great steps of mercy God has taken to redeem us.

It presents us with a dilemma. Either contemporary theories are correct and the flood (or Fall) never happened, thereby undermining the accuracy, trustworthiness and authority of Scripture, or Scripture is accurate, and contemporary theories are missing some significant events and information for drawing conclusions, thus making the current conclusions inaccurate.

To chase a rabbit for a moment, a couple of years ago, the Discover Channel (or possibly History Channel—still looking for that link) had a program on human population and ancestry by analyzing mitochondrial DNA that is passed only through the mother. They found that at one point in human history (in their time frame 100,000 years ago), there was a large and diverse human population. Then something happened about 70,000 years ago that drastically reduced that population to probably less than 1000 people, from which the population then expanded back to it’s present size. It was obvious the team presenting this information were trying to avoid any parallels to a famous biblical account which basically claimed the same thing. They could not identify a cause but speculated disease or conflict.

I would argue that the flood did happen, but I could not say for sure when (realizing there is wide debate and understanding of the various genealogies)—to which this information was appropriate. And if the flood did happen, then what effect would it have had on the world that was, how was it altered and how does that effect what we are trying to look at and understand today. Again, I realize that science cannot or will not take it seriously, and therein lies an assumptive and foundational problem. The desire to know and search for truth is noble and good, so long as you don’t leave out or ignore a significant source of it.

I believe it makes the scientists’ job harder, but can also make it more dismissive and closed minded. We religious folks don’t have to worry about that though, right? Of course we do.

In any event, scientific theories have theological implications just like theological interpretations will have questions to raise and test in the scientific world. If only it wasn’t so hostile and exclusive of each other. Like has been said, a greater sense of humility by all of us would be welcome and warranted.

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1 comment:

Kelly Reed said...

Bob, sounds like you've got a lot of work in Kenya--keep up the personal sharing whenever God presents them to you. Just don't ask me to run with you--I'd make you look too good! Ironically, we just finished Colson’s study on Sunday nights. It focused almost too much on that stuff and not enough on we believers, imho.