Monday, September 05, 2005

Flood Geology, the (Global?) Flood, and Uniformitarianism, Part II (vs. Kevin Rice)

By Dave Armstrong (May 2004)

(Catholic) Kevin's words will be in green.

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Hi Kevin,

Here's a question that I have held in abeyance for years concerning your views:

Years?! :-)

Why do you reject a Universal Flood and Flood Geology in favor of uniformitarianism?

For my part, I am not committed to Flood Geology (though I find it interesting) nor do I believe in a young-earth scenario putting the age of the universe in the thousands of years rather than billions. But I am curious about your rejection of Flood Geology. I have enjoyed your papers on critiquing evolution immensely, but I have not seen any apologia for this rejection.

Flood geology or "catastrophism," usually goes hand-in-hand with the young earth hypothesis (if you're talking about the view that includes such scenarios as all the layers of the Grand Canyon being deposited as a result of the flood, etc.).

It is simply unable to be synthesized with the findings of geology. Uniformitarianism is fundamental to science. It has to assume that the processes we observe now have always been in operation. Otherwise it is difficult to build up a body of reliable, internally-consistent data.

I formed my view on this during the early 80s due largely to Bernard Ramm's book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954). He pointed out things like the 18 layers of forests on top of each other in Yellowstone Park, which blows away the young earth and flood geology alike.

As for a universal flood (if by that one means that the waters literally covered the entire earth), the Bible doesn't require this. The theory also suffers from several serious flaws having to do with what would happen with that much water around, even covering the mountains.





Why did you do it?!! Why did you take down one of my favorite papers of yours from your site, "An Empirically-Minded Philosophical Critique of Evolutionary Claims for the Fossil Record"???!!

I took down almost all of my papers on evolution and creationism because I wanted my focus in such matters to be on refutations of scientific materialism, which is the real enemy of Christianity, not the theory of evolution (flawed though it is, in its most popular forms). For myself, I never thought evolution was an intrinsically immoral or wicked scheme. I simply thought it was false.

But my own views have been undergoing a slow transformation, I think (no pun intended). I've read a few books on the overall subject, including Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, and plan to read several more which I have already purchased. My view now might be described as an "agnostic" position somewhere between progressive creationism and theistic evolutionism.

Behe (a Catholic) is an evolutionist, in terms of common descent. But his point is that the natural laws as we know them cannot account for the evolution we see at the biochemical level; that there is irreducible complexity and therefore intelligent design is required to explain these origins. So he is not a Neo-Darwinist and he doesn't play the game of pretending that science, philosophy, and theology all exist in airtight compartments with no overlap.

That's what I believe at present. However organic development and diversity is explained, there must be a component beyond physical processes, because I don't think those can explain evolution all by themselves (i.e., scientific materialism: either philosophical or merely methodological). God has to either intervene to create new complexities or else he has put into natural scientific laws potentialities so extraordinary that we cannot at present explain them using simply the scientific knowledge that we have at present. I am leaning towards the latter position and suspect that that is where I'll end up after more study.

In other words, God can't be separated from science. Materialism has failed as a worldview, and the more we learn in science, the more this is established.

I was going to re-read it in order to prepare for whatever answer you would have for my question about Flood Geology and your rejection of a worldwide flood,

I don't think that paper dealt much with this issue.

and now I notice it isn't there! When did THAT happen??!

About 12-18 months ago, I think.

You should know that there are (according to a Google search) two web pages that link to that paper whose links are now being sent to "Reflections on Judgment and Sufficient Knowledge for Salvation".

Yeah, I make too many links, then when I take papers down they don't fit any more.

Why did you take it down?

Because of the above explanation. My fight (as a Christian apologist and armchair philosopher) is not with evolutionists, but with materialists.

It was brilliant and filled with excellent stuff! I kept a print-out for years, but I felt free to discard it later for space reasons since you would always have it on your site, or so I mistakenly thought!

Well, thanks! You can always get old papers by consulting the Internet Archive: http://www.archiv……

All I wanted was to get some feedback about a Universal Flood and Flood Geology vs. Uniformitarianism. As I recall, Dave, in that missing paper, says that he rejects the former in favor of the latter, "not a priori, but because of evidence." I just wanted to know what evidence tipped the scales in favor of uniformitarianism. For my part, I see the evidence as readily admitting to either interpretation, and I am totally agnostic on the subject. I have a vague subjective preference for Flood Geology, only because it makes Biblical hisotry so much more concrete and imaginable, which I enjoy. I would be captivated by that history even if I were not Christian, if I knew it as well as I do, only because it has the quality of grand, sweeping, epic myth. It reminds me of Tolkien, only Genesis is better!

Well, science isn't of the nature of a biblical or Tolkien "myth." It operates under the assumption that data exists sufficient enough to verify a given hypothesis or theory, and that theories should be falsifiable. Flood geology is filled with hundreds of holes. It is basically held anymore by fundamentalist Protestants. Bernard Ramm was a Baptist writing in 1954 and he said even then that most theological conservatives had rejected the universal flood, as contrary to science and not required by the biblical text.

Hope my answers have helped. I can't really get into a major discussion on geology right now, but maybe others would enjoy discussing it.


First of all, "flood geology" and the question of universal vs. local flood are two different issues. You seem to be confusing them, but maybe not.

You say flood geology doesn't have to be tied to a young earth scenario. Very well, then: can you provide me with some links of reputable, credentialed scientists who adopt flood geology over against uniformitarianism and also accept the old earth? And also (if you can find it) a listing of their publications in respected scientific journals? Thanks!

Not a single one. And do you know how much that fact impresses me or persuades me that these self-evidently distinct ideas (young earth and a universal flood) are necessarily connected? Exactly this much: Not at all.

I am a lay philosopher (got my B.A. at Stony Brook), who stopped just short of his Master's degree at Franciscan University of Steubenville, having completed all the coursework, but having gotten bogged down by writing the thesis. Even after I reverted to my Catholic faith following nine years of agnosticism and paganism (during which I was actively hostile to Christianity) and returned to school to finish my B.A. in philosophy, I retain a strong streak of skepticism and agnosticism about a great many things which most people seem comfortable to accept without much questioning or critical reflection. The fact that a great many people with advanced degrees take one position or another, and each side is quite convinced that the other is dead wrong, is never in itself convincing to me that one side is right and the other is wrong. When it comes to the question about Flood Geology, I see two sides struggling to make ALL the data fit their theory, and neither side is succeeding in a way that I find compelling. I ask myself this question: suppose I have become convinced by independent (non-geological) evidence that the universe was not created 6,000 years ago, and thus it is quite thinkable that the earth is very old as well - does that mean that a Universal Flood never occurred, or could not have occurred? Just because young-earthers use the Flood to try (in vain, it seems to me) to explain ALL the evidence of an old earth, that does not mean that such an event as a worldwide flood never occurred. I know that we are not required by our faith to believe in a Universal Flood. I just don't think that we are required by reason and the scientific evidence at hand to deny it. I feel free to accept or reject it.

BTW - You are right that I have been confusing Flood Geology with the idea of a Universal Flood. Do you know of anyone who rejects the former but accepts the latter?

To answer your question: no. I haven't really followed that particular discussion lately.

I am not deciding truth based on majority vote. And if you have read my papers on evolution, you would (or should) certainly know that. The two following propositions are distinct:

1. Truth is determined by a head count.

2. If the vast majority of experts and scholars in a given field believe something to be false, chances are that it is. It may still be true, but that is exceedingly unlikely.

Part of my reasoning for rejecting flood geology is #2, but it is not #1 at all, because that is clearly a falsehood. My understanding has been that flood geology and the young earth hypothesis have basically gone hand in hand. If I am wrong about that, I am happy to be corrected, but when I asked you to direct me to a flood geology advocate who accepted an old earth, you didn't have anything to give me. That's fine, but since you have said that you accept the old earth, I think this is an important consideration for you to ponder, since you remain agnostic on the flood geology question. There is such a thing as an eccentric opinion, no matter how much gadfly thinkers and intellectual nonconformists like you and I might like to think we are totally independent of all schools of knowledge.

The bottom line is that if flood geology (or a 6000-year-old earth) is true, then both should have at least some advocates who have impeccable scientific credentials, whether or not they are shut out by the journals. If few can be found, then all that tells me is that it is lousy science, and can't even provide a paradigm for further research, exploration, explanatory value, and discovery, which is what science is about. It's just (IMO) Christian fundamentalism pretending to be "scientific" — neither good theology nor science.

The research I have seen is by people with those credentials, or at least who claim to have them - a claim that I cannot confirm but which I have no reason whatsoever to doubt. They have started their own journals.

There may be any number of scientifically credentialed people who have a clear enough grasp of these ideas to realize that the question of the age of the earth is distinct from whether there was a universal flood, and how the geological evidence is to be interpreted. I just have no idea how to find them, esp. of they are keeping certain doubts/questions/beliefs to themselves out of fear for their academic position. You must realize that such factors come into play on occasion. These questions become confused because they are not pursued in a dispassionate non-social, non-political, non-religious purely scientific vacuum. People dig in their heels based on their commitments to how Biblical text is to be interpreted, which is very close to their hearts. Atheists and believers alike have this tendency to take a position on Biblical exegesis. I am sure you have seen how committed atheists are to the least charitable interpretations available. Believers can be "charitable" in a way that doesn't help much - they can "rescue" Biblical text from the truths they are intended to affirm if they see those truths as incredible or inconsistent with the spirit of the age. Even orthodox believers can succumb to this. No one is totally immune to the seductive power of the zeitgeist.

I see that these questions (age of the earth and whether there was a Universal Flood) as distinct, and I see two sides of a debate being pursued in a way that indicates that everyone who is doing the research is completely blind to the distinction. Not that they have seen this as a possible apparent distinction and rejected it, but that they have never considered it for a moment. I am not impressed by that. Therefore I can't summon any confidence in the consensus of scientific and scholarly opinion concerning whether the distinction that I can plainly see has been considered reasonably and ruled out by a rational, scientific process. I see that even you, who have no apparent personal stake in this matter whatsoever, are reluctant to even re-examine the question or treat it as legitimate. Instead you are quite willing to defer to the opinions of others who have not even considered the question, who have never even done any research into it. For you, the fact that no research whatsoever has been done by those socially, politically and philosophically entrenched researchers on this question is ACTUALLY SUFFICIENT!!

That is not the same critical, questioning attitude that led you to seek and find the truth about how materialistic evolutionary science is pursued in the first place. This lack of intellectual curiosity on your part and your willingness to accept the same lack of curiosity in the scholarly and scientific community, is not consistent with that spirit of inquiry that you have demonstrated elsewhere at other times.

I see that even you, who have no apparent personal stake in this matter whatsoever, are reluctant to even re-examine the question or treat it as legitimate.

Asking for links to articles about it by credentialed scientists is hardly doing that. But it is true that I have no time for the young earth worldview, so if flood geology is indeed inextricably tied to that (as I suspect), then it would go down with it.

Instead you are quite willing to defer to the opinions of others who have not even considered the question, who have never even done any research into it.

I am? How do you know who I have read, or how much they have "considered the question"? You are arriving at quite a few unwarranted conclusions here.

For you, the fact that no research whatsoever has been done by those socially, politically and philosophically entrenched researchers on this question is ACTUALLY SUFFICIENT!!

You are getting more and more wildly speculative. I made it clear that I didn't want to get unto a full discussion on geology at this time. I have also said that the Q & A Forums were mostly for short answers. I may or may not choose to go into topics at greater length. But if I don't do so, it doesn't therefore follow — in light of these stated factors —, that I have all these supposed opinions you are now attributing to me.

Why is this particular question so important to you? Generally, folks who take an agnostic position on something do not get all excited about it and argue with such zest and enthusiasm — precisely because they have no formed opinion yet.

That is not the same critical, questioning attitude that led you to seek and find the truth about how materialistic evolutionary science is pursued in the first place. This lack of intellectual curiosity on your part and your willingness to accept the same lack of curiosity in the scholarly and scientific community, is not consistent with that spirit of inquiry that you have demonstrated elsewhere at other times.

Are you telling me that there are no opinions in the area of science which may be considered "fringe" or discounted or refuted? Would you include geocentrism and a non-rotating earth among those opinions? How about phrenology, or a flat earth, or racist eugenics theories? I want to see what theories you yourself have ruled out. If you have done so, then I am equally entitled to do the same, and shouldn't be subjected to criticism about my supposed lack of the "spirit of inquiry" based on that fact alone.

Everyone is entitled to regard some beliefs as unworthy of further attention (provided they do some study). For me, the young earth is one of those. I have not stated that flood geology was; only that in my experience, it was usually tied with the young earth view. You have not provided me with a single link to disabuse me of my present opinion. Perhaps someone can or will. The link between the two is where my "intellectual curiosity" lies at the moment.

Looks like this may be another paper of its own eventually . . .

Following my stated curiosity above, I have started to look for some material to resolve the question. Lo and behold, in two minutes on Google, I found the link to the "Science and the Bible Bibliography" by Christian Research Institute (CRI). It states:

"Secular evolutionism explains the origins of the world and man from a purely naturalistic perspective, seeing evolution as the only explanation required; God is left out of the picture (whether or not He is admitted to exist). Theistic evolutionism views God as the Creator of all through the process of evolution, perhaps conceding that the first man's soul was created directly by God. In both of these views, the earth is regarded as about 4.5 billion years old. Young-earth creationism regards the universe and the earth to have been created some six to ten thousand years ago within a six 24-hour-day period, with a global flood in Noah’s day producing major earth-wide geological effects (known as “flood geology”). Old-earth creationism accepts the time scale of billions of years, and regards many of God’s creative acts as taking place over long periods of time and involving natural processes as well as supernatural acts; while rejecting organic evolution as a mechanism in the creation of diverse kinds, as does young-earth creationism, the old-earth view also rejects flood geology."

DAVE! You Da MAN, dude!

Thank you so much for the generous time you put into helping me out on this. I am going to check every one of those links in detail, and that should keep me busy for some time.

In the meanwhile, the Hill Robert's quote and Jared's post (Jared, You da Otha Man!) are the most reasonable things I have read regarding this question. I am hopeful that this question will be resolved to my satisfaction. I feel better just for having it taken seriously! That alone might be enough, and I will probably cease in my flirtations with Flood Geology based on that alone!

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