Lynchburg, VA—Things really went wrong for people of faith 200 years ago, when modern science got going. So says Dr. Terry Mortenson in his lecture on "Two Hundred Years of Christian Compromise on the Age of the Earth." In his book, The Great Turning Point, Mortenson details how 19th century Christian theologians fell for the arguments of secular geologists who were pushing an "old Earth" interpretation of the geological record. The dreaded geological doctrine that undermines faith is "uniformitarianism"—the notion that processes occurring in the present are the same processes that operated in the past. The father of geology, James Hutton declared, "No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle."
This restriction rules out supernatural catastrophes like Noah's Flood as the shaping force for rocks, fossils and landscapes. However, modern geologists do acknowledge that there have been essentially global catastrophes in the past. The extreme volcanism of the Siberian Traps nearly wiped out all life at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago and there is evidence for a Snowball Earth between 600 million and 700 million years ago.
Mortenson fully recognizes that the notion of an old Earth existing for millions of years tilled the soil in which the seeds of Darwinian natural selection could later germinate. Mortenson argues that modern creationists must defeat not only biological evolution, but also geological and cosmological evolution. If there is "deep time" then there is perhaps time enough for the processes of descent with modification combined with natural selection to produce new species.
Mortenson excoriates fainthearted Christian theologians for accommodating themselves to the idea of an old Earth by reinterpreting Genesis to incorporate the "gap theory." The gap theory basically posits that the earth was created whole in the first verse and that chaos followed as described in the second verse. All geologic events of an old earth including possibly evolution occurred in the "gap" between the first and second verses of Genesis.
Mortenson reveals the goal of creationism with a telling quotation from the Apostle Paul: "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5) Interestingly, Mortenson did not go on to quote the next verse which reads: "And we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete." (Perhaps a better and fiercer translation of the verse reads: "And we will punish those who remained disobedient after the rest of you became loyal and obedient.") Mortenson once again explained why creationists are so eager to overthrow evolutionary theories, "If the history in the Bible is not reliable, then its morality and theology are not reliable."
So what "speculations" do creationists wish to destroy? In his talk, "Fossils, the Flood and the Age of the Earth," Dr. Tas Walker, a former Australian mining engineer, takes a whack at old Earth geology. Walker says that Noah's Flood is needed to produce fossils. Why? The conventional explanation for how fossils form is that, say, a dinosaur dies, falls into a swamp or ocean, and sinks to the bottom; there the bones are covered by layers of silt and eventually turn into stone.
Walker says that this scenario is very unlikely. He illustrates his point with the humble example of what happens to a dead fish in an aquarium. Dead fish don't sink; they are eaten by other aquarium denizens, leaving nothing to fossilize. As further evidence, Walker adds that nature documentaries showing the bottom of the oceans do not find it littered with the bodies of dead fish waiting to be fossilized. The only way to fossilize a dead fish in an aquarium is to dump a bunch of concrete on it before it's eaten. QED, Noah's Flood was the moral equivalent of dumping concrete on all the fossilized animals found in rocks today.
Walker also notes that the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 created several feet of layered sediments and gouged out a canyon one-fortieth the size of the Grand Canyon in a single day. He argues that this supports the claim that the Flood is responsible for nearly all of the layered sediments we see today as well as landscape features like the Grand Canyon. He even has an answer for where all the water from the Flood went. You see, the pre-Flood world was much flatter than the post-flood world. If the earth's surface were flat the world's water would cover it to a depth of 2 miles. But the weight of the Flood's waters caused mountains to rise and drained into deeper ocean basins that were left behind. Walker has similarly inventive explanations for radioactive dating, comets and the salt content of the oceans. He concludes by reminding the Creation Mega-Conference attendees that "the Bible is the history book of the universe."
On to cosmological evolution in the next session with Dr. John Hartnett and his talk "Hubble, Bubble, Big Bang in Trouble." As conference organizer Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis introduced Hartnett, he noted that he'd been told that a "skeptic plant would be here today." Could he be talking about me? In any case, when he's not moonlighting as a creationist, Hartnett does actual research dealing with very precise atomic clocks.
Hartnett does a good job of explaining how astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding by observing that the light of distant stars and galaxies shifted toward the red end of the spectrum. Hubble also observed that the further away a galaxy was the more its light shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, which he interpreted as meaning that it is receding from us more quickly. Blowing up a balloon with dots on its surface is the standard two-dimensional analogy for this universal expansion. Hartnett also noted that the latest measurements of supernovas indicate that the expansion of the universe is accelerating . In any case, running the tape of the universe's expansion backward implies that it exploded into being in a hot Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago.
Hartnett then cites the research of controversial astronomer Halton Arp, who claims to have identified physically close objects (usually a galaxy and quasars) manifesting very different red shifts. Such a situation should be impossible, and many astronomers claim that Arp's objects are optical illusions in which two widely separated objects are superimposed on one another and only appear to be close together. If Arp is right, that means red shift is not evidence of an expanding universe. Arp hypothesizes that some galaxies are producing more matter, which is ejected as quasars. In his view, quasars are actually white holes that are spewing newly created matter, which will eventually evolve into normal galaxies. Who needs a Big Bang when matter is being continuously created by quasars?
I am not competent to judge Hartnett's theories, but whether or not the universe began with a bang or somehow replenishes itself continually with new matter is not a supernatural question—it can in principle be answered by conventional naturalistic science. If Hartnett's evidence is strong enough, presumably even committed Big Bangers will eventually conduct research to either debunk or confirm it. Nevertheless, Hartnett concludes, "We're seeing God's creative process right now. We're looking back 6,000 years ago in time." Huh? Even a close quasar is 600 million light years away—to see it means that we're looking at light that left it that many years ago, which is a considerably longer period of time than 6,000 years. Hartnett left it to other creation "researchers" to deal with the problem of distant starlight.
Dr. Jason Lisle took up the challenge distant starlight poses to young Earth creationism. Lisle has astrophysics Ph.D from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he apparently researched solar physics and black holes. "We are told that galaxies are so far away that it should have taken billions of years for their light to reach earth," notes Lisle. "We see these galaxies, so it is argued that the universe must be billions of years old."
Lisle declared that distant starlight "is the best argument against a young universe, but it is not a good argument against a young universe." Lisle noted that according to Genesis the stars were created on Day 4, after the land, seas and plants were created on Day 3. He affirmed his belief that God created the world in six 24-hour days. Nevertheless, Lisle admitted, "We do see galaxies that are many billions of light years away." He hastened to warn his fellow creationists against adopting some overly facile and seductive "solutions" to the distant starlight problem. For example, Lisle warned against arguing that perhaps those stupendous cosmological distances aren't real. "Science does confirm that galaxies are that far away," he insists. But what about the idea that when God created the stars He created the beams of light emanating from as though they had had already traveled billions of light years across the universe so that they would reach the Earth by Day 4 of Creation? In other words, the universe was created "mature" as though it had experienced history. This brings to mind the old conundrum: How do you know that you, your memories, and the whole universe with its "history" weren't called into existence just 5 minutes ago?
Lisle agrees that God could have created a mature universe, but he harbors reservations about that "solution." Why? Supernova 1987A. Lisle points out that the star that exploded into Supernova 1987A is 170,000 light years away. Since the universe is only 6000 years old that means that the light which appears to be a supernova is actually from an object that never existed depicting an event that never happened. Lisle declares, "God would not create little movies of things that never happened." However, I am wondering how Lisle knows for sure that the heavens are not just a divine planetarium projection on a gigantic crystal sphere enclosing the solar system? Never mind.
So what are possible creationist solutions to the distant starlight problem? First, Lisle suggests that perhaps the speed of light was not constant over time and that when God created the universe it was so much faster that it could travel across nearly 14 billion light years to arrive at the earth by Day 4 of Creation. He does acknowledge that if the speed of light had been significantly greater in the past, there would have been dramatic changes in the energy and mass of everything in the universe. Remember Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 (Energy = mass multiplied by speed of light squared).
Lisle also offers "gravitational time dilation" as a possible solution to the distant starlight problem. He claims that the Milky Way might really be the center of the universe and thus at the bottom of a deep universal gravity well. In which case time would pass much more slowly in our galaxy—perhaps only thousands of years elapsed on earth while billions of years of physical processes occur in the universe. Something like the above scenarios must have happened because according to Lisle, "We know from the Bible that the light got here in thousands of years."
Considering the earnest arguments of creationists presented above, ask yourself which sounds more mythical—that the universe really is billions of years old or that it is 6,000 years old but was created to look just like it is billions of years old?
Tomorrow's topics include the burning question "The Intelligent Design Movement: How Intelligent Is It?" along with "The Human Origins Controversy."