Cognitive Whiplash – What I’ve Been Reading (8)

December 3, 2012 by Ken Keathley

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I dare you to read Andrew Snelling’s Earth’s Catastrophic Past and Davis Young’s The Bible, Rocks and Time side by side. Both men are professional geologists, and both books exhibit the proficiency and expertise of their respective authors. Snelling’s two volume set argues for young-earth creationism and that Noah’s flood created the preponderance of the geological record. Young and his co-author, Ralph Stearley, present the case for an ancient earth and that Noah’s flood was a local phenomena. Snelling’s book is intended to be a successor to Whitcomb and Morris’ seminal work The Genesis Flood (1961). Young and Stearley’s book is a revision of Davis’ earlier Christianity and the Age of the Earth (1982). The two works together total over 1500 pages. I just finished both and I’m suffering from cognitive whiplash.

Snelling is thorough in his presentation. He realizes that he is arguing against the consensus view of the geological community and therefore must meticulously make his case. Davis and Stearley’s give more attention to the historical development of the debate about the age of the earth, but they also give methodical attention to the evidences for their position. Geological laymen (like me) will probably find the books to be a difficult slog. Both books attempt to make their respective cases via cumulative arguments—piling up one example after another. Again speaking as a non-geologist, for me reading them–at times–was like being pummeled to death with ping pong balls.

Snelling and Young often present the same geological data—the geological column of the Grand Canyon, the mid-Atlantic ridge, coral reefs, etc. But they almost always arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions.

What’s going on here? There are at least four possible explanations: (1) The postmodernists and deconstructionists are right–all meaning and truth is subjective and created by the reader. In this case the text is the geological column and the readers are the geologists. (2) At least one side is engaged in deliberate deceit. (3) Spiritual forces are at work. One side is blinded by the evil one while the other’s mind is divinely illuminated. Or (4) at least one side has an almost pathological inability to see the truth. These blind spots render them unable to see what should be obvious.

I don’t like any of the four above possibilities. I am open to another explanation. The postmodernist answer (1), is self-referentially contradictory. Deconstructionism may work as a descriptor but fails as a philosophy. As for explanation (2), there is nothing about Snelling or Davis that indicates either would be willing to deceive or be deliberately dishonest. As for (3), Christians have no doubt about spiritual warfare, and that spiritual battles occur in every avenue of human endeavor, and this includes the scientific realm. However, both Davis and Snelling (and the respective Christian communities they represent) affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their vocations as geologists. Both are servants of Christ. I am in no position to make a spiritual determination about either one. Of the four possible explanations, the phenomena of blind spots (4) is the most likely.

Explanation (4) is also the most optimistic, even if one or both sides seems to be intransigent. Here the community of faith can play a crucial role. If Davis and Snelling, and others who hold to their respective views, will meet, talk, and pray together; if they will allow other godly, concerned, and informed brethren to speak truth into their lives; if they will be humble enough to acknowledge their respective blind spots, then it will be possible for progress to be made and for some type of consensus to be achieved.

As it stands now, the dissonance between the two geologists and their respective books is so great that one has to wonder if they are looking at the same planet.

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3 Responses to “Cognitive Whiplash – What I’ve Been Reading (8)”

  1. Roger Simpson says:

    The age of the earth seems to be gaining a lot of bandwidth in recent years as evangelicals — who agree on virtually everything else — take entrenched positions. Personally, I think this debate is good.

    However, when one or the other side takes the position that the opposite side does not hold to “Biblical authority” or to “inerrancy” then I think that their argumentation becomes abusive. I’ve witnessed this firsthand in recent weeks.

    I think footnote 118 on page 266 of ‘A Theology for the Church’ sums up a reasonable position of the “age of the earth” controversy. Quoting from this footnote: “Even . . . so the age of the earth cannot be settled from the text of the Bible . . . ”

    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City OK

  2. Ken Keathley says:

    Roger, there has been indeed a number of ad hominem arguments used in this debate–and that’s a shame.

  3. Daniel Buck says:

    Great post, Ken. It’s an enormous task to get representatives of the two sides just speaking the same language. My tack has been to get both sides to admit that their religious views affect how they interpret the scientific facts. I haven’t ever succeeded in that; each side claims the scientific high ground and claims the other is biased by its religious views.

    Given that, in this case, the representative of either side claims to be a Christian, there may be some hope.

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