Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: The Bible, Rocks and Time

After my previous post about Young's new book, The Bible, Rocks and Time, one of my readers, Virginia Peterson, sent me a review she wrote for her local Reasons To Believe chapter newsletter. With her permission, I'm posting it here.

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The Bible, Rocks and Time, by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley,
InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Very few books have been written from an old-earth Christian perspective on the subject of geology, so this one fills a great need. In the preface of the book, the authors state their aim:
The Bible, Rocks and Time is virtually a total rewrite of Christianity and the Age of the Earth [by Davis Young, 1982]. Although the theme and format of both books are very similar, they are very different books. The goal of our book is to convince readers, on both biblical and geological grounds, of the vast antiquity of this amazing planet that is our God-given home. Along the way we point out the flaws of so-called young-Earth creationism. Although the issue of Earth's antiquity may seem to be little more than an interesting intellectual exercise that has little immediate bearing on one's life, we point out that this issue can have profound spiritual consequences for the church of Jesus Christ, the individual Christian and the nonbeliever as well.
Dr. Young is Professor Emeritus of Geology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while Dr. Stearley is currently Professor of Geology and chairman of the Department of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies at Calvin College.

This 500-page book is divided into four parts: historical, biblical, geological, and philosophical perspectives. The authors seem to be familiar with just about everything written on the subject of geology and the Bible, so they present a wealth of information and go into a lot of detail to state their case. The footnotes are included at the bottom of the pages rather than in the back.

In the historical perspective chapters, the authors tell the story of the history of geology, showing how various scientists and theologians, (not infrequently in the 19th century the same people trained in both fields), have sought to harmonize the works of God in nature with the words of the Bible. Long before the presentation of Darwin’s biological evolutionary ideas, the basics of stratigraphy (the study of rock layering) were worked out, and the evidence for an old earth was starting to accumulate.

Turning to the biblical perspective, the authors deal with common young-earth arguments regarding the primacy of Scripture over science. They point out that: “Although we believe that natural science does not and cannot provide a positive interpretation of what a biblical text says, science certainly can raise questions about the validity of traditional interpretations, thus encouraging us to rethink more thoroughly what the text is really saying” (p. 173). Also, “…the exegetes of the scientific era are not the only ones who have been influenced by their cultural milieu. It is impossible to exegete Scripture in a cultural vacuum. Every biblical interpreter throughout the history of the church, including the church fathers, has been unavoidably shaped and influenced by the cultural context in which he or she lived” (p. 174). “So the perspicuity [clarity] of Scripture focuses on the central thrust of the Bible, the gospel of salvation. But even the message of salvation is not obviously and immediately clear to everyone upon the first reading of the text…From another angle, however, Genesis 1 is remarkable for the fact that even a child can grasp the substance of the chapter no matter how the details play out” (p. 180). These statements all illustrate the idea that the “plain reading of Scripture” does not always give us the correct meaning right away.

The geological section of the book is where the average reader will probably have the hardest time plowing through. The authors go into significant detail about geological ideas and locations to show where the young-earth theory doesn’t fit reality. The topics include:
• the nature of the stratigraphic record
• fossil graveyards (such as the Green River formation fossils shown on the front cover)
• the clues to ancient environments and time intervals visible in the strata
• the origin, formation, and characteristics of plutons (molten rock masses that slowly rise toward the surface, eventually cool, and form mountains in some places – a research interest of Davis Young)
• two chapters on radiometric dating – a favorite attack point by young-earth creationists.
There are also two case studies included on the Michigan Basin stratigraphy and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Photos and diagrams are especially prevalent in this section of the book.

Closing out the book are two chapters on philosophical perspectives: “Uniformitarianism, Catastrophism and Empiricism,” and “Creationism, Evangelism and Apologetics.” In the first, the authors examine and reject the uniformitarian vs. catastrophist straw man argument commonly put forth by young-earth creationists and conclude: “But if this debate over the age of the Earth is not really about physical evidence, then what is it about? We believe that those who are most firmly committed to young-Earth creationism do so because they are convinced that a divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible demands it” (p. 473). In the second chapter, under the section entitled “The Dangers of Continuing to Promote a Young Earth”, they say, “We submit that persistent advocacy of young-Earth creationism and Flood geology by churches, Christian organizations and individual believers results in two extremely serious consequences that damage the cause of Christ” (p. 476).

What are these consequences? First, that children who are taught young-earth creationism in school and church will most likely be confronted with mainstream science in college, and may undergo a devastating crisis of faith when exposed to the evidence for an old earth. Secondly, evangelistic and apologetic efforts towards scientists are highly unlikely to succeed when young-earth creationism beliefs are presented as an integral part of the Gospel message.

Although, in my opinion, the authors go a little too far in rejecting a progressive creationist and concordist view of Scripture, it is a minor point in the book. They masterfully and exhaustively explore the subject of geology and the Bible, showing that it is only the young-earth creationists who reject the major findings of geology. In the end, the conclusion that the real sticking point is a particular Bible interpretation shows us where the most useful future study can be done. “It is healthier to maintain a belief in an old Earth in tension with the raw data of Genesis 1 than to persist in distorting the biblical text simply to achieve harmony. We should be content to let both bodies of revelation speak for themselves and listen as carefully as we can.” (p. 489)

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Some other works by Davis A. Young are listed below. He has abandoned his earlier day-age or progressive creation views since some of them were written.

Books:
• Creation and the Flood: An Alternative to Theistic Evolution and Flood Geology, Baker, 1977.
• Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Zondervan, 1982.
• The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence, Eerdmans, 1995.

Articles:
• How Old is It? How Do We Know? A Review of Dating Methods, parts 1-3, 2006-07.

1 comment:

Kevin N said...

As a Christian geologist, I heartily endorse The Bible, Rocks and Time. It contains a devastating analysis of the geological ramblings of the young-Earth creationists, yet maintains a gracious tone throughout. There is nothing else like it.