Stephen O. Moshier, Wheaton College
“Hi, I am a home schooled student in 9th grade who is working on a research paper on geology of western United States, the creationist view compared with the uniformitarian/evolutionist view.”
So opened the first e-mail letter to the "Ask a Geologist" feature of our updated ACG website. This, the first of fourteen inquiries since the feature was made available in early June. That's about one question each week, and the rate is picking up steadily. This student had some really good questions. She continued...
"I recently came across an article written by a professor who had gone to the Institute of Creation Research Museum and had found a lot of problems with it... To a novice geology/creationist student like myself, it seems like she has a good point. Do you have an explanation for this?”
Here are some excerpts from some of the other inquiries:
“Hi I'm writing because recently a very good friend of mine has become a Christian... I was wondering if you can give me some information on the Christian beliefs, so maybe I can see where she is coming from. For some reason the Christians (well this is what she told me) don't believe there was ever an asteroid that hit earth and wiped it clean. Now is this something Christians believe in? What about the scientific proof that it did, is that not what wiped out the dinosaurs? As she put it 'the big BOOM never happened'. I believe in God, don't get me wrong. I just have so many questions, even more now that we talk all the time... I could go on, but maybe if you answer these questions for me it will answer all the other ones. Please help me understand.”
“I am an up incoming geologist, I am just starting my third year of University and I was wondering if u have any information on internships, so I can get some more experience. Thanks”
“Recent-creationists publish pamphlets giving the "proofs" for a young 10,000-year-old earth, a copy of which I have in my possession. What I would like to see is old-earth creationists publish a similar list refuting those claims and offering their version of the creation time line. Do you have such a list, and if yes, how can I obtain it?"
“How many magnetic field reversals have been documented in the fossil record over what period of time. Can these be correlated with either radiometric and other non radiometric methods?”
“How do geologists determine the age of rocks and fossils? Textbooks in schools says the earth was created millions of years ago, but I've heard the Bible says 10,000. If you could e-mail me back with answers, I would greatly appreciate it.”
“I am a high school senior. I recently attended a summer ... Christian leadership camp, and while I was there I learned a few things about the Christian worldview in regards to science. One of the theories we were told about had to do with catastrophic plate tectonics. Have you heard of the theory, and what is your opinion on it if you have?”
I have been happy to respond to most of these inquiries, since the letters come to my e-mail box at the office. I have asked some of you to help me by replying directly to the inquirer, when the question is out of my area of expertise. One person asked about the recent Kansas Science Education policies on teaching evolution. Keith Miller (in the thick of it down there) agreed to reply with his perspective and some clarifications of what was going on. His response was so timely, and he provided us with a more complete commentary which is now a featured essay at the ACG website.
As they say, "Check it out!"
I am pretty sure that my responses reflect the consensus of our affiliation, with respect to science, theology and origins issues. I make it clear that I am giving my perspective and do not speak for the ACG. I always try to provide both sides and evaluate ideas (both scientific and theological) on their merits. It is obvious that most inquirers are well aware of the creation science perspective, and they are looking for some solid alternatives that perhaps, only we can provide. My goal is to create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) link that anticipates some of the more common topics. Perhaps some of you will offer to help write some of these features.
Some of the inquirers answer back, and the majority of the feedback is positive. Of course, you can't please everyone. Consider one exchange:
"How old is the earth?"
That was it. Five words followed by a question mark. My reply? Well, I reviewed the merits of radiometric dating, field geological relationships and astronomical observations. I referred him to Roger Weins' article on radiometric dating that is linked to our site. I ended with:
“The creation science movement represents a different position on the age of the earth, suggesting that it is much younger (only thousands of years old). In my opinion, they have presented no positive evidence for their position and their critiques of the old earth evidence are flawed. If you are familiar with some of their arguments and have specific questions about them, I'm sure that I can provide a response or direct you to helpful resources.”
Response to my reply:
“So, it is not scientific illiteracy that drives you to cultic zealous interpretation (eisegesis) of the Bible.”
My reply to his response to my reply: Well, brothers and sisters, what would you say? (Let me know and I'll send it on). I try to return responses to all inquiries within a few days. Sometimes the need for an answer is urgent, as it was with the very first letter that ended with...
“Ps. I'm working on my research paper now, in fact when you read this I will probably be racing the clock to my deadline, so if you could email me soon, it would be appreciated. :)”
Ninth grade? She sounds like the college students I teach!
I would just like to let people know that I'm no longer teaching at Calvin College (it was a sabbatical replacement position) and am now permanently teaching Earth Science at a small community college in New York State. Submissions for The News! may be sent to:
There is a constant need for material for material for The News! If you would like to continue receiving an ACG newsletter please consider contributing material occasionally. The pleas for member information, essays, conference information, and book reviews have been mostly ignored (except for the two or three officers of the ACG who've contributed multiple items for inclusion in the newsletter).
I'm willing to be the newsletter editor but I don't have time to constantly cajole people into contributing information. Do we want a newsletter folks?
At that meeting, it became obvious that an organization needs money to function. Attendees discussed dues and the need for a treasurer, and I, who had not learned that one should never volunteer, offered to serve a three-year term as treasurer, an offer that was quite eagerly accepted. It may have been at that time, too, that John Suppe of Princeton University was selected as newsletter editor, but the details of how that happened have been lost in the mists of my memory. Suffice to say that John's newsletters set an example for his successors to follow.
The first GSA gathering was an early morning one in a hotel room in St. Louis in 1989. I believe there was also a public evening meeting that year, possibly with a speaker.
The ACG meetings held in conjunction with GSA and ASA meetings have provided excellent opportunities for members and prospective members to share with one another, and it has been my experience that participants have ordinarily enjoyed themselves. While unanimity does not always exist on theological details, a spirit of love and acceptance, if not agreement, has generally been present. However, some have been disappointed that the organization has not made a young Earth part of its statement of faith.
Field trips have also provided for fellowship in the very informal way that geologists enjoy most. I think that the ACG should take upon itself the responsibility for organizing a field trip at every annual ASA meeting.
The American Geological Institute, the GSA, and the NAGT, are organizations that have deplored the widespread ignorance among the public regarding science in general and geology in particular. While the ACG has not done much more, as an organization, than post some articles on the web, no doubt each of us has done our best in the classroom, workplace, church, and elsewhere, to support this purpose.
In the past ten years Davis Young has written essays on ACG purposes 3, 4, and 5, and I have included the URL for each in this report. This one is located at http://www.wheaton.edu/ACG/essays/young2.html. As Dave points out in his essay, our knowledge of geology enhances our worship of God, and at the same time, our faith can give us a greater appreciation of geology. He also mentions several other ways that Christian faith and geology interface. These are in many ways personal and private, but can be shared and discussed, too, and that goes back to purpose 1.
This purpose relates to number 2, except that here the focus is more specifically on the Christian public, and it also has ties to number 3. The ACG is in a position to do something that the big geology organizations seek to do, but in which they are limited. If the Christian public is going to listen to any geologist, they are more likely to listen to a Christian geologist, although many might not be receptive to one who was not a certified young-Earth flood geologist.
Nevertheless, we can and should realize that such education can also include areas such as environmental geology, and does not need to be limited to the more religiously controversial topics. This can help to build the public's confidence in geology. During GSA 1990, some of the ACG members met with some of the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, in a kind of contact should be encouraged.
In http://www.wheaton.edu/ACG/essays/young3.html, Dave Young talks about ways we can do this.
We've done this individually, but also by holding open, public meetings at GSA. Dave Young discusses what we might call the "Christian thing" that we do because we are Christians, which is like saying it's a "guy thing" that I do because I'm a guy. We're probably all aware that this is an area where it's easy to be misunderstood. While we try to let others know that we have some really good news to share, we have to avoid a "holier than thou" attitude.
From 1989 to, I think, 1993, I had at least one chat with the late Robert Dietz at probably every GSA annual meeting. A prominent geologist, Bob was also very anti-Christian in some of his writings. He probably was having a little fun with me, but one time the conversation went something like this. "May I come to the ACG meeting?" "Sure, we'd be happy to have you." "Can I become a member?" "If you can sign the statement of faith." "That's rather exclusive, isn't it?" "Well, to join GSA you had to become a geologist and have one or two people endorse you. This is easier."
Davis Young's remarks are located at http://www.wheaton.edu/ACG/essays/young1.html .
While the way a Christian does these things may not be much different than the way anyone else does them, there is a different motivation and orientation. Likewise, we may be in a better position than our non-Christian professional siblings in convincing the Christian community, and perhaps even other Christian geologists, to act appropriately with respect to the geological sphere. Speakers at some of the meetings during GSA meetings have addressed this issue.
Once again, ACG members are in a unique and strategic position. Who can better understand how Christian theology and the geologic realm interface than one who is both a Christian and a geologist? We are working on this, some more than others. It seems to me that this purpose encloses all of the others.
One of the difficulties of being in this position is that we are vulnerable to being shot at by both extremes and everyone else on both sides of us. Father James Skehan joined the ACG during my first term as treasurer, but did not continue. When I asked him for an explanation, he said that some of his friends had complained that the ACG was divisive. I'm not sure why our special interest group is any more divisive than the Women Geologists, the Pander Society, or others, but we're projecting an unfavorable image we'll need to find a way to correct that.
Keith B. Miller, Kansas State University
First, some words about how the current situation developed. A part of an effort to develop clearer, more effective guidelines for public school curricula in Kansas, the State Board of Education appointed a 27-member committee of K-12 science teachers, science educators, and scientists to develop a science standards document. Over a 13-month period, it went through several drafts and several rounds of public comment. During this process there was considerable opposition by certain Christian groups who sought the elimination of evolution from the curriculum. In the end, the resulting document was really quite well-written and stressed both the nature and methodologies of science as well as several unifying theories and concepts (including evolutionary theory) that cut across disciplines. This standards document was before the State Board of Education for three months awaiting approval. However, one state board member put forward an alternative proposal that had completely bypassed any process of review or public comment. It was largely ghost-written by members of a local creation science organization. This document eliminated any mention of evolution and also removed reference to any unifying scientific theories. It rather put the focus on "technological science," and dismissed "theoretical science" as unproven speculation with little practical application. Fully half the members of the State Board of Education (an elected body under no other political, educational, or legislative body) favored this proposal over the document developed by the education committee, resulting in an immediate deadlock. In the last turn of events, 3 members of the Board rewrote the standards to produce a "compromise" document. While not including the more objectionable parts of the alternate proposal, it still eliminated the theory of evolution as a model for understanding the history and diversity of life. Furthermore it does not mention cosmology (Big Bang) or the Age of the Earth. It also includes errors of fact and misrepresentations of scientific methodology and content. This version passed the Board on August 12th by a 6 to 4 vote. The original standards document written and unanimously endorsed by the appointed committee was not even brought to a vote. This decision was made in opposition to the recommendations of virtually every scientific and educational body in the state. The Governor of Kansas and all of the presidents of the regents institutions (state universities) appealed to the Board to reject the alternate document. The academic and educational communities are very irritated by the current situation.
The new science standards do not require or mandate teachers to teach anything. They certainly do not mandate the inclusion of creationism. What they do is establish the content of statewide assessment tests, and thus serve as recommendations for which topics and principles should be emphasized at each grade level from K-12. Teachers and local school boards are free to establish their own curricula. However the exclusion of evolutionary theory as an explanatory framework for the history of life and as a unifying concept in the biological sciences, the exclusion of theories of the origin of the universe (Big Bang model of cosmology), and the removal of references to a very ancient Earth history from the standards have significant implications. These omissions are critical, and remove the core unifying concepts from the sciences of biology, geology, and astronomy. Since they will not be subject to state assessment tests, these concepts are much less likely to be taught in districts where there is vocal opposition. By throwing the issue to "local control" the state board leaves teachers much more vulnerable to complaints by parents or administrators eager to avoid controversy. Furthermore, the decision is already having an impact on textbook publishers. Since the decision, one publisher has removed an introductory chapter on the geologic history of Kansas from a history textbook for fear that it would limit sales.
Aside from the impact on public education, the decision of the Board reflects several widely held misconceptions about the nature of both science and religious faith. Those seeking the elimination of evolution see current scientific and theological descriptions as being mutually exclusive and contradictory. The warfare view of science (particularly evolutionary biology and geology) and faith is assumed. But this view has been soundly refuted by a multitude of historical studies. For example, several of the founders of modern geology were committed Christians. Young Earth views were virtually absent among Christian apologists until well into this century. The primary proponent of Darwin's ideas in North America was Asa Gray, who was a committed evangelical Christian. Furthermore, several contributors to the "Fundamentals" (a series of volumes from which the name "fundamentalist" derives) accepted some form of evolution. Many scientists presently teaching at the leading evangelical Christian colleges accept evolution as a powerful and well-supported theory of biological origins. My point here is that there is no necessary, inherent conflict between an ancient evolving Earth and a high view of the authority of scripture.
Another major misconception is that science is simply the accumulation of observational fact, and theories are merely unsubstantiated guesses. This "facts only" view of science misses the core of what the scientific enterprise really is. In my opinion, nothing could be more deadly to teaching science than to divorce it from the unifying theories which give observations meaning. They make the world comprehensible. They also generate the testable hypotheses (expectations) that drive further exploration and discovery. When science is taught as only factual observation (something the standards passed by the Board would encourage), then disagreements among scientists and changing scientific views are seen as weaknesses and failings of scientific knowledge. However, the exact opposite is the case. It is the dynamic, changing, self-correcting nature of science that is its very strength. The less science is seen as a body of established knowledge, the more inherently interesting and exciting it becomes.
The "compromise" standards that were passed and the committee-developed standards (that included evolution as a unifying theory of the biological sciences) can be viewed at http://www.kabt.org
Science, Life and Christian Belief should be of interest to Christian geologists, and not only because there is a photograph of trilobites on the cover. Authors Malcolm Jeeves and R. J. Berry provide the reader with more than "yet another book on science and religion." The British authors have an established reputation in the scientific community and are known among evangelical scientists in the UK and North America. Jeeves is a professor of psychology and president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Berry is a professor of genetics. This book is an attempt to update Jeeves' previous work, The Scientific Enterprise and Christian Faith, published in 1969.
The book begins with a review of Greek and Hebrew-Christian influences on the rise of modern science. The authors show how these worldviews, with their distinctive views of God and nature, followed by Enlightenment thinking, continue to influence the dialog between science and faith. Two chapters provide an overview of the philosophy of science and modern approaches to scientific work. Their theme is to compare the nature of explanation, through models, images and reality, in science and Christian theology, leading to a Christian view of scientific explanation. The authors are candid about the limits of science and how scientists really work. The application of worldview and world picture concepts is very helpful.
The book contains a biblically-based theology of God and nature, clarifying the readers understanding of God, the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. They show that many popular notions of how God works in creation are not biblical and reflect either Greek philosophy or bad Christian theology. This background is essential to reaching meaningful integrations of Christian faith, science, and ethics, as they go on to present them in the areas of physical origins, biological evolution, the behavioral sciences, and environmental stewardship. The authors defend a traditional (that is, mainstream) view of evolution, including the "effectiveness of natural selection." This will disappoint evangelicals who are variously attracted to creation science or the Design Movement, the latter being popularized by critics of evolution like Philip Johnson, J. P. Moreland, and Alvin Plantinga. It is precisely this issue that leads me to my major disappointment with the book. Any defense of traditional evolutionary theory by evangelicals that is published in the late nineties should (underlined) consider or attempt to counter the anti-evolution arguments of Johnson and company. This oversight severely limits the value of this book in the scholarly discussion of evolution in evangelical circles.
After dealing with creation and evolution, the authors move to the venue of human nature and the behavioral sciences. Because common wisdom is so clouded by Greek philosophy, I found the sections on the spiritual dimension of humankind and the theological background on death and resurrection to be most helpful. The authors' treatment of reproductive issues will probably attract some criticism.
The release of "Science, Life and Christian Belief" is a significant development for the book's publishing company, which has many creation science titles in its catalog of trade books. Baker's academic book division, responsible for this edition, has been building an excellent library of scholarly works in recent years. Thus (despite its shortcomings), this book, from this publisher could become influential in evangelical circles. The book should be valuable for students in the natural and behavioral sciences, or philosophy at the advanced undergraduate or graduate level. I would recommend its use at Christian colleges as supplementary reading for science courses that deal with origins topics (especially senior capstone courses in the science majors). Seminary students would also benefit from the authors' perspectives on the many issues in the book.
This year's annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation was held at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas from July 30 to August 2. The featured speaker was William D. Phillips, recently awarded the Nobel Prize in physics together with two other collaborators for their work on laser cooling. He gave two presentations, one on his physics research and one recounting the opportunities to discuss his Christian faith that followed the Nobel award. Dr. Phillips was an excellent and entertaining communicator who exhibited excitement and wonder combined with a refreshing attitude of personal humility and reverence.
In addition to a diversity of volunteered papers, there were two symposia. One symposium addressed issues of global resources and the environment in which challenging as well as practical presentations were made relative to Christian environmental stewardship. A second symposium dealt with "intelligent design." William Lane Craig, a philosopher with training in physics, spoke on "Cosmic coincidences - theistic design or atheistic many worlds" which focussed on anthropic fine-tuning arguments. Papers offering critiques of various design arguments were also given.
A new opportunity was provided at this year's meeting. Terry Morrison, director of faculty and graduate student ministries with IVCF, chaired a workshop/discussion on "sharing your faith with colleagues." People from various disciplines and at different points in their academic careers shared personal experiences on being a witness for Christ.
A small group of about eight ACG members gathered during the ASA meeting to share ideas. One topic of discussion was the current effort to establish a speakers bureau. We still need more people to make themselves available as resources for church, parachurch, and educational groups. Prospective speakers are encouraged to specify not only their areas of interest and expertise but also limits to their availability. The type of presentation (lecture, workshop, discussion, etc.) is also up to the volunteer in consultation with the host group.
A second issue raised was the perceived widespread need for quality Christian educational materials for children that present geologic and biologic history as the expression of God's creative action. One ACG member, in fact, has been developing a manuscript retelling creation's evolving history with explicit reference to God's creative and sustaining hand in the process. He has offered to make his manuscript available for critical review by ACG members. This could be a project in which the ACG may wish to invest some of its available resources. Regardless, we need to be discussing how to take practical and concrete steps to meet the great needs before us with the resources and talents God has given.
Science Daily features news releases from universities and research institutions about the latest discoveries and research projects currently in the news. As the name suggests, it's updated daily and past stories are archived by date and subject. Scientific image galleries and web links to science sites are promised soon.
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