Adventist and Scientist

In a recent Facebook conversation with a minister, I made the point that nearly all Adventists who attend Adventist schools through college and then go on to complete a Ph.D. in biology or the earth sciences reject a short geochronology–whether that is a chronology of all matter or of just the phanerozoic rocks.

In response the minister said he didn’t see why a Christian would study biology or geology since it is a known fact that those sciences undermine belief in the literal historicity of Genesis 1-9.

The conversation between us was courteous and respectful throughout, but once I clearly understood his idea that certain sciences should be precluded from Christian study, I realized there was no point in talking further. I value science as a tool for investigating the world–even when the truth it reveals corrects my understanding of the Bible. He believes that science is a useful tool for investigation the world only if the truth it reveals agrees with what we already know from the Bible.

I do not know how to bridge that chasm.

 

Dinosaur Track, Valley of Fire

Yesterday morning I went looking for a set of dinosaur tracks I photographed last year.

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(Actually, I don’t know what kind of animal it was, but it was contemporaneous with dinosaurs.) My camera had recorded the GPS coordinates. However, I was unable to find it this year.

But while looking for the tracks pictured above, I spotted another track way made by a larger animal. A real dinosaur, this time, I think. (You might need to play with the angle of your screen to see it clearly.) Note the rings around the heel. This is characteristic of the deformation caused by a foot stepping in moist sand.

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Most likely, the print we are seeing does not include the top layers of the original track. Those layers are missing and what we are seeing is the print made in layers below the surface as the pressure was transmitted down.

The Navajo Sandstone is full of animal tracks. These were not dead animals washed together into a heap by a flood or The Flood. They were living animals running around.

 

The pictures were taken in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The official name of the sandstone here is the Aztec Sandstone, but it is now recognized as an extension of the Navajo.

 

 

 

The Bible and Geology (and science in general)

Yesterday, I preached a sermon that addressed the role of secular knowledge.

The video is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5xhSyrb-GY

Sermon at Green Lake Church, June 17, 2017

I also wrote a manuscript, but in this case, I think the spoken sermon is far more pointed and captures what I was intending to say, than the written sermon. In short: I referenced the Bible’s description of Solomon’s wisdom for which he is so celebrated. His wisdom was entirely secular. First, it was knowledge of the natural world–what we would call science (1 Kings 4:29). Second it was political or judicial (1 Kings 3:16). Kings in the region sent ambassadors to “go to school” under Solomon. The ambassadors were not coming for sermons. They were coming for lessons in natural science and political science. Once in Jerusalem they would be exposed to the spiritual treasures of Israel, but they came because of Solomon’s secular knowledge–knowledge that could be validated or falsified by direct experience.

Today, we who are believers can hope to gain a hearing among nonbelievers if we demonstrate solid competence in areas of secular knowledge.  When we demonstrate incompetence in areas of secular knowledge, we undermine our overall credibility. Why would someone listen to us speak about God, the highest of all truth claims, if we demonstrate stubborn resistance to truth in areas open to investigation and direct observation.

This is where we stand as a church in regard to our current “Adventist geology.” Adventist geology is demonstrably false. Noah’s Flood did not create the Phanerozoic portion of the geologic column. (“Phanerozoic” refers to the portion of the geologic column in which fossils are abundant.)

Noah’s Ark in the Navajo

The picture below was sent to me by Tom Anderson, one of the participants in our 2017 Talking Rocks Tour. He noted that he had been so preoccupied with looking for dinosaur tracks that he failed to see the obvious feature on the sky line. It was only after he arrived home and was reviewing his photos that he realized he had a picture of Noah’s Ark.  Hope you can join us for the next tour, this fall or next spring. Who knows what we might find.  🙂

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One Limit on Bias in Geology–Money

It’s important to realize that geology is not purely theoretical. Because of the centrality of historical interpretation to the practice of geology, we might be tempted to think that geology is as susceptible to bias as political history. However, geology has multiple checks on the power of bias. One of those checks is mining. Mining puts geological theory to the rude and ruthless test of money. Is this mine worth the investment? When the hole is dug and the ore is assayed, the theory turns into hard, cold fact–you make money or don’t. Either way, the mine might become a photo shoot.

IMG_20170604_183728  This structure is the head of a tram that carried ore from mines on Treasure Hill above Pioche, Nevada, to a mill down in the valley. In 1928 it cost 6 cents a ton to deliver a ton of ore to the mill via this aerial tram.

Geology, not mere opinion

 

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One of the nice things about geology is you can see it. Your first or second interpretation may need to be modified after further investigation, but concrete, tangible reality exists, and we can return to it repeatedly for more information. In geology, opinions frequently can be corrected by facts, facts that can be verified or falsified by direct observation. This high regard for concrete, tangible reality–stuff you can see and touch–is central in our Talking Rocks Tours.

The picture is of Basin and Range country in central Nevada.

Tracks in the Navajo

I camped for a couple of nights at the top of Hog Canyon Road outside Kanab, Utah, to do some geological prospecting.

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Specifically, I was looking for protosuchus burrows. (This animal was an ancient version of crocodile.) I found some anomalous structures in the sandstone that might be burrows, but nothing with the kind of definition I was hoping for.

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However, I noticed the sand around my camp was covered with tracks made by bugs and lizards.

Then up on the outcrop where I was prospecting, I found this rock with tracks reminiscent of the tracks in the sand.

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Not exactly dinosaur tracks, but still pretty cool.

These tracks in the Navajo Sandstone tell us that when these sand dunes were created, there were living animals present running around on them. The animals in this ancient neighborhood ranged in size from worms to the size of horses judging from the tracks they left. (I mention horses only for size comparison. There are no modern mammal tracks in the Navajo.)

From the sublime to . . . well . . . the mud.

Talking Rocks Tour 2017: Buckskin Gulch on day five. A fantastic hike. One group did the full twenty-mile loop. Others did about five miles. Notice the person (the very tiny person) in the photo. The geology lessons we saw in this slot canyon were dramatic.
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The walls of the canyon towered over us. There were flood deposits that spoke of cycles of deposition and erosion inside the canyon–obviously more recent than the formation of the canyon itself. Note this package of debris wedged into the canyon above Bryan’s head. Think of the force of the water required to pack all that woody debris so tightly that long after the water was gone, the debris dam remains.

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I was endlessly fascinated by the mud on the canyon floor. Ripple patterns indicating different rates of water movement, different viscosities of the water (due to mud suspension), channel shape, and who knows what else. In addition to ripple patterns we saw mud cracks, mud curls, mud imprinted with dog paws and human feet, mud sprinkled with red sand from a passing wind storm above the canyon.

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We had mud inside our shoes, mud on our clothes, mud everywhere. It was lovely.

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A Mega Giga Flood

This evening I listened to a presentation at the monthly meeting of the Northwest Geological Society. The lecturer presented a new theory about a gargantuan flood created by the rapid release of waters ponded in the Arctic basin. The flood event was 14,000 years ago. The damming mechanism was the same as the for the Missoula Floods–a glacier, or in this case glaciers. Alpine glaciers from Siberia and Alaska closed off the Bering Straits. The rivers emptying into the Arctic provided so much fresh water that the Arctic itself became a fresh water body.

Is was an interesting argument. I’m going to look further at the handouts.

Devotees of Noah’s Flood will love it. If the theory turns out to be sustainable under cross examination and further research, it will be an even larger flood than the flooding of the Mediterranean basin. It will be the largest flood ever. –well, except for Noah’s Flood, if you believe the traditional telling.

One of the problems with Noah’s Flood is that is doesn’t work to explain any major features of geology. Floods have fingerprints, footprints. And no one has found the fingerprints of Noah in the geologic record.

The cool thing about geologic theories, you can go and check out the evidence. I’m ready to get a helicopter and head north and investigate the landscape. That would be fun!