Saturday, April 28, 2007

Discovering old earth and ancient geology

We Americans don't care much for traitors. We teach our children about Benedict Arnold and the Rosenbergs, and more recently still, about Aldrich Ames who spied for the Soviet Union during the cold war. Arnold especially is onerous to us since his was a time in our history when we were vulnerable to the more powerful Great Britain. People who change sides, or who work for the "other side" while claiming to be on "our side" are despised by both sides.

Christians strongly teach that faith must be preserved at all cost. The phrase "hold the faith" could well be the rallying cry. When someone becomes discouraged we encourage that person and urge them to keep their faith. People are urged not to sin or fall out of favor with the church or with God for fear that they may abandon their faith. When children are old enough to make their own decisions and live lifestyles that are offensive to their parents they are said to have left the faith.

I well remember a time in about 1995 when I felt that I was strong and even immovable in my faith in Christ and in the Bible. I was listening to a preacher who was speaking about how the Devil's only job is to shake the faith of Christians. I felt that I was solidly out of reach and safe in Christ, and without a sense of pride. It was not that I felt that I was so strong, but that I felt that God and the truth that I had accepted were strong. I knew that the Bible was literally the word of God and that in His wisdom he had preserved it to serve as our solid foundation. I knew that the Seventh-day Adventist church had been called into existence to serve as His messengers to the last generation, warning this world of the judgments to come. Though I understood already at this early date that there were theological battles and were even problems in the methods employed for evangelism and teaching, I felt that fundamentally the Seventh-day Adventist church was a divine organization.

Over the years I would discover what I had never been taught in school, and my study and questions would eventually result in a rejection of Adventism. Frankly, many of the truth claims failed to be substantiated by history, logic and the Bible. People love to say that if you leave the Adventist church you have left God and will eventually become Atheist. There is some evidence to support this idea. Yet, their goal is to retain members and to scare them from venturing away.

I learned a few things about myself and my pursuit of truth in my experience through Adventism. First I learned that every issue has at least two sides, but that each side generally only communicates their own side and either overtly or subconsciously takes steps to both silence and discredit the other side. I can only assume that Adventist theologians write such strong books defending Adventism because they strongly believe her truth-claims. I find it difficult to impute any malice especially since I've personally met some of the most vocal proponents of the denomination. Yet strong belief does not establish truth. Mormons and Muslims strongly believe their perspective. Catholics and Lutherans both feel that they are right and ordained by God. Each side of any debate feels strongly about their position, and the better they are at defending the better they are at discrediting any opposing views. For the faithful who mostly listen to their champions, they primarily hear what the champions want them to hear.

The second thing I learned is that it is too easy to become comfortable with ones own position and avoid looking intently at any opposing views. I never looked deeply at the systematic arguments against Adventism. I knew they were there, and I deduced what they were by listening to our champions -- and practicing to be a defender myself. Yet I never looked at the arguments against Ellen White due to their sensitive nature and for fear of being deceived. She had warned us that the Devil would work to undermine her, so I steadfastly held to my supporting position - even though secretly I had my own issues with her. I never looked at the arguments against keeping the seventh day Sabbath, or why other confessions taught that we go directly to heaven after we die. I never looked at any other views of origins and never considered for a moment that the Bible was anything other than the infallible Word of God. I argued that any attempt to question the Bible was placing ourselves above Scripture, which was a dangerous and slippery slope to journey down. As a result, I never looked at any "liberal" views on Scripture or the higher critical method.

My study uncovered evidence that I had never been exposed to and which changed my mind entirely on the Seventh-day Adventist history, mission, and even existence. They, to me, occupied the same broad space as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, namely, a false religion that was a perversion of truth.

I have been applauded both in person and through private emails and letters for my journey and for helping people understand what the issues are. Even those who have not left Adventism have come to understand the problems more clearly. It is doubtful, however, that these same people would continue to approve of my search for truth and the evidences that I have found that has drawn me toward a much more disturbing position.

Some number of years ago I was asked by some friends to help them understand how to answer their Atheist friends who believed in Evolution. They wondered if I had any books or materials on Creation Science (the field, not the church) and on Intelligent Design. I had some and shared them; I also still had some materials from seminary. I also went on one of my favorite binges, namely, buying more books. I bought some very excellent books on the subject including Michael Behe, Morland, and Johnson. I emerged from my study even more in wonderment at how complex and sophisticated the universe and our bodies really are. Intelligent Design made a great deal of sense to me. Irreducible complexity seemed to be a good argument, and it baffled me how one could believe that chance and necessity could result in the tremendous complexity and beauty we find today.

But one thing changed: The Big Bang not only emerged as a more plausible picture of the origin of the univers, it appeared to be the only good explanation. Even the ID authors I read accepted this hypothesis. The little research I did at the time made me feel comfortable that radiometric dating and other methods indeed supported the view of a very old universe and of very old rocks. While this was a bit unsettling, my view of creation still worked. I (unknowingly) came up with a sort of Gap theory where God used the Big Bang to create the universe and allow it to mellow and settle, and when it was ready he created life 6-10,000 years ago. Like baking a cake, when the foundation was done he then added the icing, life.

And that was that. I told very few people my thoughts since even those I did mention it to were very uncomfortable with it. At the time I did not pursue it an further, and instead was immersed with my study of Adventism.

Flash forward several years. While we were warned in the 1970's of a soon-coming ice age recently the news is full of reports of the immediate danger of Global Warming. As former Vice President Al Gore began to insert himself into the argument and produced his highly controversial movie An Inconvenient Truth I decided to research this so-called Truth myself. I began to search the Internet for solid and credible data. I wanted to see the temperature trends. I wanted to hear the voices in opposition, and attempt to understand their motives. Were they simply shrills for the oil industry or were they serious scientists who had different data or less of a liberal political agenda? I found a number of resources including temperature data - data that I did not have a chance to look at much, but I noticed that there was definitely trends and patterns.

It was while watching one of the Science Channel programs on the subject that a fact hit me funny. The scientist was arguing that the best data that they had showed a certain repeating trend over the past several hundred thousand years. In fact, as I recall the data went back some 400,000 years. "That can't be true", I thought. The world is only 6,000 years old - 10,000 at the most. My Gap theory held that there was nothing here but rocks, and maybe water. But no Sun, no warmth - just a cold dead rock. In the program he mentioned ice core data that extended back in time and so I ventured to understand what ice cores were, how the data was extracted, and more importantly, how solid was the view that the ice core layers each equated to a year.

What I discovered is the reason this blog entry is being written. Every debate has more than one side, and the people on each side have their reasons for holding their position. It is the task of the observer and investigator to hear the sides, evaluate the claims, investigate as much as possible the validity of the claims and attempt to draw logical and correct conclusions. What I have come to understand is that the Earth is indeed about 4.5 billion years old (4.5 ga) and the same goes for the moon and for the various meteorites that fall within our reach. The idea that the universe is from between 8-12 ga also has a high degree of credibility (some argue more, some less). No serious scientist believes that the Earth or the Universe is only 6-10,000 years old, and even a large number of Christians who otherwise believe in creationism have also accepted that it can not be that young.

I discovered that I had grown up in the epicenter of the YEC's - Young Earth Creationists. I also discovered that I suddenly found myself faced with the possibility of becoming a traitor and of losing my faith. I discovered that suddenly what had been so rock-solid sure previously as a YEC now had plummeted into the murky depths of uncertainty. I discovered that I had been lied to on yet another subject, and the feeling was not pleasant.
You may find yourself just now asking the question my wife, mother and others have asked: "Oh crap, are you going to be an Atheist now?" The answer is "I don't think so", but here is where I presently am today:

  1. I am not Atheist. Such a position is illogical. To posit that there is no God is to declare oneself God. To know for sure that there is no God in the universe means that I must be able to look everywhere in the universe at the same time (omnipresent) since God could simply be quick and nibble. It means that I must be able to search each "place" in time/space and to be able to instantly and fully understand that place and determine that God is not there. (omniscient). Naturally to travel to all these places at the same time I'd need to be infinitely powerful (omnipotent, and ultra tough). If this is not a good definition of God I don't know what is.
  2. I presently feel I must (for now) be reverently agnostic. More on this later.
    There is no question that the record stored in ice layers, lake bed and ocean layers or varves, and in earth sediment layers are testifying to a much older earth than 6,000 years. The GISP2 project itself has 110,000 years easily demonstrated with many more layers beneath the 110,000 year mark.
  3. That there was a world wide flood not only has failed to be substantiated by geological evidence, but soundly refuted by it. Ice layers alone provide disturbing evidence against the flood. The YEC theories on how the 2 miles of ice could have accumulated in the years between the flood and now still fail to explain the observed layers themselves.
  4. Most disturbing to me: the archaeological, geological and paleontological evidence of very old living -- and dying -- organisms older than 6,000 years old is unsettling. Unless credible proof can be advanced that the age of the sediment and lower levels is not what science has proposed, the presence of fossils indicates that something died many millions of years ago. The proposal that all the sediment and all the death occurred as a result of the flood seems preposterous.
  5. I still find Darwinian evolution beyond belief based solely on my intuitive estimation of the statistics. It seems too much of a long shot. I don't play the lottery for a very good reason: my odds would not be much better if I buy the ticket than when I don't.
  6. I find theistic evolution to be more in line with the observations of Intelligent Design, but theologically and philosophically unsound. Death before Adam and Eve's fall is difficult to explain (though not impossible).
  7. I find the Christian explanations and "science" to be absurd in light of the credible evidence. To continue to bad-mouth Carbon 14 dating and radiometric dating on the suggestion that the uniformatarian principle might not be true is bad science and bad thought process. When data challenges Christian positions they simply question the data and the scientists. That is disturbing. They continue to repeat already-discredited data as fact (i.e., footprints of humans with dinosaurs at Paluxy.)
I fully understand the implications of not literally accepting the testimony of Genesis 1 and 2, and the flood story. This has the appearance of placing reason over revelation. Yet, I also understand that Evangelicals routinely exercise their powers of reason and science in refuting the claims of Mormons and other religions; they do not want the same critical investigation of their own truth claims. If the creation story can not be believed, and if the flood story can not be believed, the question that Christians have been battling ever since the time of Charles Darwin is, "can any of it be believed then?"

The real question that is back on my desk - a question that has been here many times before - is this: What is true? Because I do not know the answer to this question, and because I do not wish to "over react" or to vent my anger back at the religion that appears to have "lied" to me for most of my life, I have decided to adopt the position that I heard another use: Reverently Agnostic. I am not ready to join Nietzsche and declare God dead. Yet I find myself unable to continue to trust in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God with a blind faith, for faith in obvious error is not faith, but foolishness.

My Christian friends do what we always did when we are confronted with these types of evidences: deny that what I've discovered is actually what scientists say it is, and means what they say it means. I feel compelled to highlight that there are very smart people on all sides of this issue. Scientists are, by definition, intelligent people. The field in which they work won't tolerate foolishness or lack of intellect. Many of the proponents of Intelligent Design and of Young Earth Creationism hold post graduate degrees from well-considered Universities. Most are published and have established reputations. However, reputations do not settle truth; truth is and it is left for us to discover it -- to coax it out of the body of evidence with patience and persistence.

For my part, I am totally convinced that there is a whole field of study that, for most of my life, I had not been properly exposed to and as yet still do not have a clear picture of the implications. Is the evidence for Evolution compelling and complete? Must we accept Darwinian evolution or might theistic evolution be an option? Given the problems with the Christian story of origins, is the Christian story of meaning and salvation still correct? Historically there seems to be no real debate that Jesus existed; was he who he and his disciples said he was or is there also a mythical aspect to him and to the salvation story? These questions and more have emerged not only from my study of origins, but also from a deeper study of and pondering over a view of inspiration and revelation and of Scriptural authority that emerged both in coming to Christianity and in questioning the position of Adventists.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A wise man once said, "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Unfortunately, I find it impossible to remain blissfully ignorant for too long. It's that indication that there might be a problem with my world view or some item of belief that sends me into a search to strip back the layers of error and clouded perception and view reality it full frontal clarity.

My journey, then, has so far taken me from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing into an Atheist/Agnostic period, to a search for meaning that resulted in returning to my fundamentalist denomination and becoming a Christian. However, my search did not end there and my journey sliced through the fundamentalism and into the more mainstream evangelical culture. Warning flags were constantly raised as I observed what I felt was overhyped programming and music and a tendency toward "selling" that bordered on manipulation. With the fall of a leading Evangelical leader and pastor, and the on-going parade of other Christian leaders attempting forays into politics and the influence of public policy, I've again become concerned. What exactly have I become a part of? What exactly are the objectives of these leaders when they lead boycotts of Disneyworld and Walmart because of homosexual friendly policies? What will become of the world should these leaders achieve their goals?

My recent - and more alarming - discovery is that science does indeed have a point: there are evidences that are unsettling to a fundamentalist, or Evangelical understanding of the Bible. Time does extend beyond 6,000 years. Way beyond. Not just a few thousand more years, but billions of years.

This blog has been started to chronical some of my experiences, discoveries, and conclusions - and to provide a vent outlet. Already I can detect in myself a growing anger and resentment, two very unhealthy and unproductive emotions. Yet the anger grows out of my discovery that much of what I have been taught in certain categories is simply unsustainable given the available scientific data.

I realize that this is going to be an interesting journey. Some might suggest that it is a descent rather than progress for me, but what it most certainly is is a journey from the darkness of age old misconceptions and beliefs into a more clear understanding of the facts. What will remain I can not at this time predict.