I am blessed to be given the opportunity to serve as President of the Affiliation of Christian Geologists. I follow the capable leadership of Dave Young, Jeff Greenberg and Paul Ribbe. When my term expires, this organization will be entering its second decade!
So, this is a good time to evaluate what we have done and where we should go from here. Some highlights of the past eight years follow.
As I see it, we can be effective in at least three areas. These are areas in which I would like to see us grow. As an "affiliation of Christian geologists" we can continue to encourage one another in our professional and spiritual formation. We can also try to be halite to colleagues who do not share our faith in Christ. Finally, we can provide a service to anyone interested in geology, offering our expertise and perspectives on some of these touchy issues involving geology and Christian beliefs about creation.
There have been suggestions on how ACG can be more visible - sponsor radio spots, produce a video series, publish books and tracts, expand our web presence, etc. These are all great ideas. The practical considerations of willing workers, time and money probably limit our options in the short run to the last suggestion - expanding our web presence. I will present my ideas for the ACG home page elsewhere in this issue of The News!
As the ASA meetings at GSA have been successful, we should consider hosting get-togethers at other professional meetings. The annual meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists seems like a natural venue for Christian geologists to meet. If you are active in AAPG, I seek your input on this idea.
I would like to extend my appreciation to all past and present officers, newsletter editors, and active members of ACG who have given their time and talent to the organization.
See you in the field!
While actively soliciting articles for this edition of The News!, I received the following comment via e-mail:
Your plea for stuff for ACG Newsletter only struck a note of recognition in me when you specified what you are looking for, viz. " - News! Who has published anything significant lately? Who has gotten a significant research grant or award?". The problem is that responses to these questions sound like personal horn tooting, and the kind of thing that everybody is doing all the time anyway. Yes, I'm working in a new (for me) area of research, and I've got some stuff published in it, and I've gotten some NSF funding, but I don't feel that this stuff is particularly newsworthy or stuff that others want to read about.
Maybe if you (and former editors) have to work that hard to find written material, perhaps ACG doesn't need a newsletter. If there's no news, why publish a paper?I thank the member for his comments while admitting that it is a little discouraging to be the newly-elected newsletter editor and have someone suggest that there may be no interest in, or need for, a newsletter! The author of this e-mail message raised two legitimate issues which I would like to address.
First, the question "If there's no news, why publish a paper?" is a valid one. I believe, however, that this question is based upon a false premise. There is news, it's just that it's very difficult for the newsletter editors to get it since very few ACG members take the few moments necessary to pass it on. As much as I'm sure you would all be thrilled to read essays and book reviews written by me, the editor, month after month, I'm not sure this would be the proper way to run this newsletter (nor do I have the time or inclination to do so)! The bottom line is that without ACG member contributions, this newsletter will disappear. The proper question might instead be "If ACG member apathy is so high, why publish a newsletter?" That's a good question and I'm not sure I know the answer.
Secondly, the author of this e-mail claims that sharing news with fellow ACG members may be "personal horn tooting" and is therefore inappropriate. I disagree. We are more than just an association of geologists, we're an association of Christian geologists. As such, we share a special bond that no other group of geologists can lay claim to - we'll spend eternity together with Jesus and we're working together to spread His gospel message here on Earth! I am interested in what my brothers and sisters in Christ are doing in the geological and the mission field. Are you? If so, then contribute a short notice to the newsletter sharing a little of yourself with your fellow ACG members.
What do you, the reader of this newsletter, think? It's your newsletter for your benefit. If you have no use for The News!, perhaps the ACG would be better off abandoning it and relying instead on an electronic distribution of news.
May God richly bless each and every one of you as we diligently study God's Creation, rejoice in the beauty of spring (especially welcome in Michigan!), and celebrate our Lord's victorious resurrection on Easter Sunday!
The page has had some unexpected results. A British colleague attended one of our GSA get-togethers because the secretary of his church in England found the home page and meeting announcement! Some of us get pretty interesting questions about geology and the Bible, as readers are directed to e-mail addresses on the page.
The internet provides an inexpensive, but effective means of communicating with the whole wide world. Most of our members probably have access to the internet from the office or home. There are other sites on the net that deal with science faith issues, including the ASA home page and a rather well-established site run by our own newsletter editor! But, the ACG can offer specific kinds of information and insight that are not provided by other sites.
This proposal is to create an environment where someone would go to find out what a Christian geologist would say about some of the more typical questions people ask about geology and creation, fossils and the history of life, the Flood, etc. ACG members would "speak from experience" in a very personal way. It should be well-illustrated and colorful. The site could also provide personal testimonies of faith, geology inspired devotionals, and information on how we use geology in our professional work. Selected articles from past newsletters could be included, as well as the archives of the ACG list. And, of course, there would be links to other related web sites.
If you would like to get involved by providing ideas and / or materials for the project, please contact Stephen Moshier, Department of Geology, Wheaton College, 501 East College Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187 or by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are hereby soliciting volunteers to be considered as official ACG speakers. If you are interested, please submit your vita and a list of talk titles with brief summaries for consideration. The vita of the speakers bureau members will be made available to potential host organizations. Also, feel free to indicate any limitations on your availability. Proposals should be sent to ACG c/o Keith B. Miller, Department of Geology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506-3201, or by sending e-mail to email@example.com.
We hope that this will develop into a significant ministry of the ACG. It would provide an opportunity to have an influence beyond our own specialized community. Please prayerfully consider this opportunity to serve the ACG and the broader Christian community.
Printing a few extra copies of The News! and mailing them to ACG members who express an interest in passing them out to students or colleagues would cost very little and provide an effective way to let interested geologists know what the Affiliation of Christian Geologists is all about. If you have an interest in doing this, please contact Steven Schimmrich, Department of Geology, Calvin College, 3201 Burton Street SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is sufficient interest, I will discuss this with the treasurer (Keith Miller) and, if possible, implement it with the next issue of the newsletter.
The Science & Christianity web page contains information about the SCICHR mailing list, a closed ecumenical mailing list for Christians in the sciences, along with numerous links to other resources on the Internet.
Information available on this web page include essays and numerous book reviews written by members of the mailing list. Links to other sites are arranged in topics such as mailing lists, affiliations, conferences, publications, courses, organizations, resources, apologetics, and suggested readings.
The Science & Christianity web page is, in my biased opinion, an excellent place to begin searching the web for resources relating the sciences to our Christian faith.
I have been working on a project in the United Arab Emirates for the past year and have been exposed to and have been studying some of the Quaternary history of the Persian Gulf region. I have put together some ideas about the garden of Eden and the flood that to my knowledge have not been presented before.
First, there is a very large extinct drainage area that covers the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula that is thought to have had two outlets into the Persian Gulf region (see figure). The gulf was dry during the last glacial maximum and thus these rivers would have joined the Tigris and Euphrates in an area that must have been a very lush oasis. The drainage area fits well the description of the Pison and Gihon rivers in Genesis because their drainage areas extend into what is a modern and ancient gold producing region (Havilah), and into what was once part of the territory of Cush. Because Eden is described as being at the juncture of these four rivers that would place Eden at their confluence in the Persian Gulf.
Figure 1. Map depicting the Arabian Peninsula and the proposed locations of Eden and the Pison and Gihon rivers. The downstream reaches of the Pison and Gihon drainages are approximate locations as they are now covered with sand dunes.
Second, Genesis 2 opens by describing a very dry land where no rains falls but only a mist waters the land. Arabia is hyperarid today and much of the rain that does fall is generated from moisture off of the current Persian Gulf. So take away that large body of water during sea-level lowstand and the region would be even more arid. In fact, climate modeling people suggest an even drier period for the gulf region during the last glacial maximum. Thus the land could easily be described as having virtually no rain. In addition, I have been witness to morning fogs near the Gulf in the UAE. Thus it is easy for me to imagine a "mist" rising from the oasis waters to cover the plants in Eden with dew.
I have been aware that many Christians (especially geologists) favor the idea that Noah's flood was some sort of regional event and indeed I believe the Genesis account can be read that way if one assumes that the word "earth" can be translated as "land" (they are the same word in Hebrew). Also there is no distinction between the words for hill and mountain in Hebrew. I have also been aware that many secular geologists have considered the "flood myths" to be somehow associated with the rising sea level at the end of the last glaciation.
So I began to consider the provocative idea that perhaps the Persian Gulf filled catastrophically. I had a few problems with this that I first had to overcome but I now think that all of these have been overcome. There have been a series of shallow cores drilled into shallow Persian Gulf sediment1 and some very shallow seismic lines shot to look at landforms.2 The authors of the resulting papers assumed a priori that the gulf filled slowly and so they interpreted the results based on that principle. However, I think there is nothing in their data that prohibits an instantaneous filling, and many facts would fit the flood story. For example, they admit their carbon-14 data is poorly constrained and their best data point gives an age of a marine incursion at about 7 ka. Also they see a universal sharp contact between underlying terrestrial and the overlying marine sediment.
There were some potential problems with this theory that arose in my mind originally that I had to overcome. First, the gulf must have been blocked by some sort of dam. How do you have a topographic basin blocked by a dam and yet have a river system discharging through the straits of Hormuz at the same time? Answer: The evapotranspiration potential is so high in the gulf region that virtually all of the river water would have transpired or have been evaporated by the time it reached the end of the gulf.
Second, wouldn't a dam break create a wall of water that would have destroyed the ark and filled the basin within days? Answer: No, not necessarily - the Persian Gulf occupies a very large volume. If a breach in the dam was flowing at, say, 100 times the flow of the present-day Tigris and Euphrates, it would have taken several months for the Persian Gulf to fill - the exact sort of timing referred to by the flood account. Moreover, hydrocarbon seeps are present on the floor of the Persian Gulf3 (tar pits in Noah's day). Third, why does the flood account refer to a rain event for forty days and forty nights. How would that fit into the dam-break theory? Answer: From recent climate research it is now known that between 9-6 ka the Indian monsoons also reached into the southern section of the Arabian Peninsula.4 Thus during one particularly anomalous year one of these monsoons reached all the way into the Persian Gulf region (an area that had seen virtually no rain before). Monsoons last for weeks. The heavy rain at the top of the dam caused the collapse. Thus the "springs of the deep" broke open. Noah would have known this because the water would have turned salty. Moreover, the flood account in the Epic of Gilgamesh, although it is a pagan-corrupted accounting of the events, describes a "south storm", not a flood from the north as a riverine flood would have been.
Fourth, the flood account says the ark landed on Mt. Ararat. Isn't that a long way from the Persian Gulf? Answer: Actually it says the ark landed on the mountains of Urartu (Ararat) - a range of mountains that in the broadest sense was defined as being north of the Tigris river. Six thousand years ago the northern end of the Gulf extended north almost to Baghdad. A landing site at these foothills could have been considered the Urartu mountains.
Fifth, the flood account paints a picture of a vast expanse of water where no mountains could be seen. Isn't the Persian Gulf too small for this? Answer: No - no land is visible from the west-central section of the Persian Gulf.
Sixth, this is all good but what possibly could have formed a dam in what is now the straits of Hormuz? Answer: Blowing sand. The United Arab Emirates is covered by large areas of dunes that were created during the glacial maximum. Reconstructed wind patterns show sand transport southeastward and then northeastward into the strait. 5 Large linear dunes from this wind pattern still border the mountains adjacent to the strait. Some dune features are observed on the floor of the Persian Gulf. A valley would have been a feature that sand would try to fill. The Pison and Gihon valleys (though shallower) were filled in this way. This sand could pile very deep, and high dunes in the central UAE are 200 m high.
Finally, why is there no evidence of this dam remaining? Answer: Erosion - the material forming the dam was unconsolidated and a good chunk of the dam was removed during the initial breech. The rest has been removed by the strong currents in the straits of Hormuz. Bathymetry in the strait area reveals many erosional type features due to the strong currents.
This last point is not very satisfying, but it's the best I can do. Overall I think the location of Eden and the flood story fit this scenario better than any other I have heard. Although there is no smoking gun evidence to support the catastrophic filling hypothesis, I believe the evidence to date does not preclude it, and is, in fact, consistent with it.
Short letters supporting or critiquing Ward's ideas are solicited for publication in the next issue of The News!
Members of the ACG who are petrologists, mineralogists, geochemists, or geologists with a bent toward the history of the discipline - take note. Davis A. Young, professor of geology at Calvin College and the first president of the ACG, has just written N. L. Bowen and Crystallization-Differentiation: The Evolution of a Theory, published by the Mineralogical Society of America as the fourth in their Monograph Series. The book is a part of a larger, ongoing effort on Dave's part to write a comprehensive history of igneous petrology.
N. L. Bowen and Crystallization-Differentiation is a scientific biography of Norman L. Bowen (1887-1956), arguably the premier igneous petrologist of the twentieth century. Most geologists will recognize Bowen's name from their introductory geology course in connection with the "reaction series." Dave's book focuses on the life and career of Bowen, particularly in connection with his development of a comprehensive theory of fractional crystallization, or crystallization-differentiation as Bowen often called it, to account for the great chemical and mineralogical diversity of igneous rocks. The narrative examines how Bowen conceived of the theory from his early experimental work at the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, D.C., how he adjusted and enlarged the theory with a wide array of experiments that he conducted throughout his 40-year career at the Geophysical Laboratory and the University of Chicago.
In preparing the text, Dave had access to Bowen's papers and notebooks at the Geophysical Laboratory. As a result, the narrative goes beyond a bare recitation of scientific achievements and debates to examine the personal issues that drove Bowen and the institutional factors that influenced him. For example, geologists who are acquainted with the scientific debate between Bowen and Clarence Fenner, his colleague at the Geophysical Laboratory, over the nature of the final goal of fr actional crystallization, will gain some insight into the very intense personal nature of the dispute. And letters have disclosed the depression that engulfed Bowen toward the end of his career and ultimately drove him to suicide.
The book is available to members of the Mineralogical Society of America for $12 and to non-members for $16.
I attended the "Following Christ / Shaping Our World" conference held from December 29, 1998 to January 2, 1999 in Chicago. This Urbana-like conference was sponsored by the Graduate & Faculty Ministries of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship with the goal of challenging those in the academy and professions to a thorough integration of the Christian faith and their chosen disciplines. In addition to plenary talks by New Testament scholar N. T. Wright and testimonies from Christian academics and professionals, the over 1,100 participants divided into 17 vocational tracks. The Natural Sciences and Mathematics Track, led by Ian Hutchison (plasma physicist at MIT) and Alden Sunnarborg (biochemist and IVCF staff), was attended by over 100 graduate students and faculty.
Within the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Track, Howard Van Till presented a talk on "Science after Kuhn" that provided the basis for a lively discussion of the assumptions and methodologies of science in relationship to the theology of God's creative activity. A panel discussion on the ethics of genetic research included Elving Anderson (geneticist), Susan Wohler Sunnarborg (cell biologist), and Nigel Cameron (theologian). Led by 12 track mentors, small groups also gathered to discuss a wide range of topics from the tenure challenge, to postmodernism, to science and the two-thirds world.
Following are some of my personal reflections as a conference participant and mentor. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of scholarship represented at the conference. The sciences, engineering, medical professions, business, government and law, arts and humanities were all well-represented among those who attended. Furthermore, many of the Ivy League schools and large research universities brought large contingents of students and faculty to Chicago. During the conference, testimonies were heard from individuals holding top university and government positions. These observations all reinforced my perception that thinking evangelical Christians are already in positions of influence within the intellectual, political, social, and economic life of the country. How do we fully take advantage of the positions of privilege that God has already given us to transform our own institutions, society, and the world? That would seem to be our challenge.
The plenary expositions by N. T. Wright were very stimulating and challenging. He focussed on how Jesus understood the kingdom of God and his own messiahship. Central to Wright's argument is that Jesus came to build a new kingdom through himself, not by force or compromise, but through the cross. What Jesus was to Israel, the Church is now to be for the world. We are to follow Jesus by being cross-bearers, bringing redemption to the world through our suffering in sacrificial service and love. We are to be where God is, in the midst of suffering. This message seemed to resonate throughout the conference in a variety of contexts. The cross had implications whether the issue was racial hatred and genocide, social justice, creation stewardship, or the nature of God's action in the natural world.
As a mentor in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Track, I had the opportunity to lead small group discussions. I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness of the graduate students, and the seriousness with which they approached their faith and disciplines. Most clearly understood their academic work as a spiritual vocation, and were striving to work that out practically in their lives. As Christian faculty we must find ways to invest in Christian students. They need our encouragement and to see our own intellectual and spiritual struggles.
Prizes ranging from $500 to $3000 will be awarded in November 1999. The deadline for the 1999 program is June 1, 1999. Full details and an application form are available at http://www.templeton.org or you may write to the Exemplary Papers Program Director, John Templeton Foundation, P.O. Box 8322, Radnor, Pennsylvania 19087.
Additional information is available from the Union's web page at: http://www.wtu.edu/science_and_religion.htm.
Hugh Ross, the author of three highly influential books which have dealt with astronomy and the Bible, now attempts the immense task of harmonizing Genesis 1-11 with the data of geological science. Ross, a progressive creationist, takes on this task in a systematic manner, beginning with the creation of the cosmos, moving sequentially through the creation days, the creation of man, the Fall, the date of mankind's origin, the flood and the Tower of Babel. During this tour, Ross discusses nearly all of the pertinent issues, including the origin of language, the origin of races, the extent of the flood, the impact of modern biblical criticism and the origin of the Nephilim.
The book starts with a discussion of the epistemological relationship between science and Scripture. Ross criticizes those who would make religion and science two mutually exclusive areas of human endeavor. Religion is not blind faith, lacking any connection with scientific facts. But those who would defend biblical inerrancy are criticized for resisting the incorporation of new scientific information into their interpretive scenarios. These people are criticized for their fear that subjecting the Bible to the scrutiny of science risks placing the Scripture in a subordinate position to human knowledge. Ross seems to suggest that it is only the interpretation that is at risk, not the Scripture.
Ross's thesis is that the Bible and science are in harmony given the present state of knowledge. The days in Genesis 1 are long periods of time during which God successively and progressively created each species miraculously (p. 52, 65, 150). The order of paleontological events is claimed to fit the biblical order of events in Genesis 1. It is often asserted by biblical critics that whales should have been created on the fourth day with the fish. This lack of correspondence is avoided, the book says, by the discovery that whales lived 52 million years ago. Ross advocates that God's creative activity took place over the first 6 days and ceased thereafter. Because of this cessation, Ross claims that no new species are arising today. Thus, Ross is advocating a form of special creationism.
Humanity's history begins with their special creation within the past 50-60 ka. These early men lived for up to 900 years because they lived on alluvial fill in the Mesopotamian basin which contained minimal natural radioactivity (p. 118), which implies that the absence of all radioactivity would lengthen our lives. The fossil men which preceded Adam, like Neandertal and H. erectus, were merely bipedal mammals created to prepare the animal world for the shock of Adam's creation and ensuing events (p. 56-57). Mankind, because of his sin, refused to spread out and fill the earth from their creation until after the flood. The flood, which occurred between 10 and 40 ka, is envisioned as a three hundred feet deep inundation of Mesopotamia (p. 155). After the flood, life spans decreased because of an influx of cosmic radiation from the Vela supernova which occurred between 20-30 ka. It was at Babel that God not only miraculously changed the language but also miraculously change the physical traits of mankind creating the "...racial distinctives - to facilitate the peoples' separation." (p. 177-178). If this was God's intention, one might shudder at how this view could be used.
The book has several problems among them the obvious lack of review by anyone knowledgeable in geology, geophysics or paleontology as the readers here would have already guessed from the above. As near as this reviewer has been able to determine, no one with a geological background reviewed the book prior to publication, even though it covers many areas of geology. Referring to a Bible Dictionary as a source of geological information (reference 25, p. 155) is certainly suspect.
The biggest problem with the book concerns the poor fact checking that went into it and the misuse of references. The large number of these detract from the book. The book says (p. 88) that the Scopes trial took place in 1927. It was 1925. As noted above the Mesopotamian alluvium is said to be low in radioactivity. It is no lower than other riverine alluvial plains which drain areas of igneous rocks. It would have been better if Ross had documented the longevity effects of radioactivity. In arguing against the global flood the claim is made (p. 149) that a recent global flood would cause the earth's core to ring seismically for tens of thousands of years. As a geophysicist I was surprised to 'learn' this. It would mean that there was no seismic absorption, dispersion etc. in the core of the earth. The cited articles say nothing about the earth's core ringing for thousands of years after a tectonic disturbance and the 1994 Bolivian earthquake seismogram displayed in the more recent article shows the normal seismic silence (not ringing) prior to the quake. The book (p. 87) claims that George McCready Price discusses radioactive dating in his 1923 book, The New Geology. Price does not discuss radioactivity. The claim that there would be no geologic evidence of a 10-40 ka flood in Mesopotamia ignores the existence of the 18 ka Lake Missoula deposits and similar deposits in the Altay mountains.
Anthropologically the book has numerous factual errors also. The book claims (p. 113) that an article by Schwartz and Tattersall concludes that "Neandertals cannot be biologically related to any known primate species or any known mammalian species." The article not only makes no such assertion it explicitly states that Neandertals are "extinct human relatives" of Homo sapiens. The book claims that a Y-chromosome study published in Nature "eliminates" any biological connection between man and primate. The article doesn't say that. The book uses the same study to suggest that the last common male ancestor of the Y-chromosome lived between 37-49 ka. But while informing the readers of this article favorable to its views, the book does not cite the conclusion of the immediately preceding Nature article which studied another portion of the Y-chromosome which concluded that the last common male ancestor lived 188,000 years ago.
The book is easy to read and, given Ross' influence, this book should be read by anyone involved in apologetics.
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