Rocks and Religion

The 1977 Geoscience Field Study Tour

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry


WHAT DO you think might happen if you were to put the president and three vice-presidents of the General Conference, ten North American union presidents, the president of Andrews University, the dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, five geoscientists, a Seminary teacher, a White Estate representative, a college re search scientist, a young licensed minister, and a MINISTRY magazine editor into fifteen vehicles and for nearly three weeks were to take a several-thousand-mile tour through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, studying stratigraphic sections of the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras? If you were to add to the above group eleven wives and about a dozen teen-agers, I can give you the answer. We did it this summer, and the result was a unique blend of fellowship and learning.

This trip, labeled by some as a "rock festival," wasn't exactly a vacation. The average day started at 8:00 A.M. and ended with the benedictory "Amen" at 9:00 P.M. Our traveling time was filled with lectures, discussions, questions, and answers broad cast over citizens' band auto units, and at our stops these "continuous education" features were presented in schools, churches, motels, and even on mountainsides. From a physical fitness standpoint, several of the long hikes over terrain, better fitted for mountain goats, made some of the participants aware of the nearness of retirement time.

The purpose of the trip was twofold. The first objective was to acquaint us with the science of geology, which deals with the formation and development of the earth's crust. The geologic column was explained and repeatedly referred to. Evolutionary geological evidence that sup ports the belief that our earth, with its numerous fantastic formations, evolved through eons of time, was carefully evaluated. Time limitations imposed on this course can be illustrated by one page in a large, well-filled notebook of excellent material prepared by the Geoscience Re search Institute team entitled "Introduction to Introductory Petrology—the Five-Minute Rock Course."

The tour's second objective was to present evidence in favor of the Biblical story of both Creation and the Flood. The dis courses revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence and arguments used by both evolutionists and creationists. Our travels took us through spectacular areas such as Grand, Bryce, and Zion canyons; San Juan River Goosenecks, Dead Horse Point, the American Coal Company Mine (where we ob served dinosaur tracks); Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge, Wind River Canyon, and fossil-forest slopes in Yellowstone National Park. For the amount of time involved, our journey was most comprehensive, thanks to the excellent planning and organization of every detail by our Geoscience team, directed by R. H. Brown.

Geoscience Study Tour

(Continued from page 3.) These men made us all aware of the extensive and virtually unchallenged impact the evolutionary theory has made on our society. This demands our taking seriously the task of coming up with evidence and answers supporting the creationists' viewpoint, which includes the Noachian Flood.

We can be proud of and thankful for our Geoscience team. As dedicated Christians, they are committed to the difficult task of coming up with solid evidence in favor of the scriptural record that can be preached from our pulpits, taught in our educational system, and printed in our journals. From a superficial viewpoint, the Bible believer who is not a scientist, such as myself, finds no difficulty whatever in rejecting evolutionary geology. But from a modern scientific viewpoint it is not that simple. Christian graduate students in scientific fields such as geology, biology, and anthropology are faced with a formidable array of lectures, charts, text books, diagrams, drawings, sophisticated technical jargon, and complex dating formulas that seem to place a halo around the evolutionary theory. Thus, professional respect has been building since the days of Darwin in favor of evolution. To the evolutionist, any challenge of his faith in his belief, which to him is invulnerable, is almost as ridiculous as challenging the existence of the moon.

Furthermore, institutionalized religion, which too often is associated with relics, superstitions, and un-Biblical beliefs, has served to aid the revolt against the Bible and its historical record. Berard Ramm, in his book The Christian View of Science and Scripture, replying to the question of why the scientific attacks on the Bible have been so successful, states, as one of the reasons, "At the most fundamental level was the continuing revolt of man from the religion and authoritarianism of the Roman Catholic Church in its medieval expression" (page 18).

In most cases, evidence introduced to support the evolutionary model can easily be interpreted to support the Biblical record. I would be the first to admit that there are some knotty problems facing us, such as C-14, bristlecone pine, and other dating techniques, glacial deposits, the geologic column with fossils of advanced forms of life found exclusively in the higher sedimentary layers, and the upright position of numerous petrified stumps on many levels in Yellowstone. Yet these problems are not insurmountable. There are other valid and reasonable explanations, which the geoscientists shared with us. It is well to remember that faith is necessary to a belief in either system. The difference is that creationism requires faith in God and His Word while the alternative is belief in man and his word.

The Most Serious Challenge

I personally felt the most serious challenge faced on the trip was a presentation and discussion of Biblical chronology, archeological dating, and the numerical variances of scriptural genealogies. If archeologists are correct, the time of the early dynastic period in Egypt and Mesopotamia can be dated around 3000 B.C. When you add to this time for prehistoric cultures (which preceded the rise of these historic, dynastic civilizations) to exist and develop you must obviously move back further in time. It was emphasized that a distinction should be recognized between a date and an event. For instance, the historicity of the Flood is not dependent upon establishing a date. In other words, there is no doubt about the fact of the Flood, but the date of the Flood is another question.

Then what is the problem? In 1864 in Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, Ellen White wrote a chapter titled "Disguised Infidelity." She began it with these words, "I was then carried back to the creation and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week" (page 90). The major thrust of this chapter concerns the length of the days of Creation week. She definitely insists that the Creation week was com posed of seven literal, consecutive 24- hour days, and not long, indefinite periods of time. Otherwise, the seventh-day Sabbath would be completely undermined and one of the major reasons for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church would be rendered meaningless.

Later, in this same chapter, she also states, "Infidel geologists claim that the world is very much older than the Bible record makes it. They reject the Bible record, because of those things which are to them evidences from the earth itself, that the world has existed tens of thousands of years. And many who profess to believe the Bible record are at a loss to account for wonderful things which are found in the earth, with the view that creation week was only seven literal days and that the world is now only about six thousand years old" (ibid., pp. 91, 92).

The question is asked, "Is the phrase 'about six thousand years old' part of what she was shown? It seems to me the answer is clearly given on page 93, where she declares, "I have been shown that without Bible history, geology can prove nothing. Relics found in the earth do give evidence of a state of things differing in many respects from the present. But the time of their existence, and how long a period these things have been in the earth, are only to be under stood by Bible history." I do not feel this statement supports the idea that an exact date can be assigned certain events, but surely the general idea of the length of time from Creation week or the Flood until now can be ascertained. Both the date (approximate, of course) and how long these relics have been in the earth can "only ... be understood by Bible history." Whatever else this may mean, it appears that Ellen White assigns a specific period of time from Creation to the present, based on Bible history.

However, one must bear in mind that salvation is not dependent upon chronology, unless it affects our relationship to inspired writings and their Author. Let me make it abundantly clear that although there may have been differing opinions regarding the interpretation and understanding of these and similar statements, there was no spirit of debate evident. As far as I could tell, any difference of opinion relative to time would fall in the category of what would be termed a short chronology. All discussions took place in an atmosphere of Christian calm and respect for each other's opinions.

The Call to Worship God as Creator

It is significant to me that the time of the rise of evolutionary concepts paralleled the rise of what we call the Advent Movement. At the very time God placed the burden upon this people to study and share the three angels' messages of Revelation 14, which center on a world wide proclamation of the everlasting gospel, accompanied by a call to worship God as the Creator, Satan began what might be termed the greatest delusion in history, which resulted in the scriptural account of Creation and the Flood being swept overboard.

Of course, the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment, replaced by Sundaykeeping, has long since lost its significance as a memorial of special Creation in the minds of most Christians. Proper adherence to the seventh-day memorial of Creation would have kept the Christian church from semi-evolutionary compromises such as progressive Creation, deistic and theistic evolution, and the gap theory. The Scofield Reference Bible, in an attempt to resolve the conflicts between the Gene sis Creation account and evolution, pro motes the gap theory, which suggests that God long ago created the earth and destroyed it, while present life goes back only to the Genesis account.

It should be noted that the Sabbath memorial is a time monument. The God of time made this memorial for us. But the same element, time, is indeed the god and hero of the evolutionary theory. The evolutionist's motto is, Given enough time, anything can happen. Tricky Satan scored a point when he took time and made it a god, in order to undermine the God of time! Any way you view it, the memorial of God's creatorship and authority, the seventh-day Sabbath, has been unmercifully at tacked. Even pious men with good intentions have tried to change it to an other day, and secular science with its theory of evolution has made the Sabbath seem unnecessary.

Seventh-day Adventists, as a world wide organization, with representatives in nearly every country and island group on earth, virtually stand alone in their belief in a fiat Creation, short chronology, and a world-encompassing deluge. The seventh-day Sabbath, with its command to worship the Creator who made the earth in six days and rested on the seventh, is a most important factor in keeping this movement on course. Although viewing his work in a rather negative light, Bernard Ramm credits a Seventh-day Adventist apologist for "the great revival of flood geology in the twentieth century" (op. cit., p. 79). Referring to George McCready Price, Ramm claims that he "became American fundamentalism's leading apologist in the domain of geology. . .. The influence of Price is staggering" (ibid., p. 80).

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I hope that this will ever be true of our church and its scientists.

J. R. S.

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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry

November 1977

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