According to basic geology, planet Earth is roughly 4 billion years old.
This was established in the 1950s by use of radiometric dating and the application of uranium-lead methods.
For about half a century, though, some groups in the United States, known as “young Earth creationists,” have insisted that the Earth is closer to 6,000 years old, based on their interpretation of the biblical account of creation and, specifically, the story of Noah’s flood. They promote so-called “flood geology” to argue that large-scale geological features like the Grand Canyon were formed relatively recently during the year of Noah’s flood about four or five millennia ago.
“How badly is the United States affected by the low level of understanding of geology? A 2014 poll by the Associated Press found that four out of 10 people in the United States have doubts about the validity of a 4.5-billion-year history for the Earth.”
That’s Ken Wolgemuth, a geoscience professor at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and a longtime AAPG Member with more than 35 years’ experience as a petroleum geologist.
There are important social implications to what he called “the degradation of science,” he explained, which demands a response from the scientific community.
“We could not remain quiet while this pseudo-science continued to be propagated in churches across America,” he said.
So, a few years ago, Wolgemuth joined with 10 of his fellow scientists whose backgrounds include paleontology, biology and geology, to oppose the growing popularization of flood geology and the notion of a “young Earth.”
And, while they have some common cause with high profile atheist/agnostics like Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” who debated famed young Earth creationist Ken Ham in recent years, Wolgemuth and most – but not all – of his collaborators are self-described Bible-believing Christians, who are motivated by their faith at least as much as by their love of science.
The fruit of their efforts is a 240-page volume published last year, “The Grand Canyon – Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?”
In it, they explain how geology establishes that the Earth is orders of magnitude more ancient than young Earth creationists maintain, using the geology of the Grand Canyon as evidence.
“Our intention in writing the book is to give a good, solid modern geology description of the Grand Canyon,” said Wolgemuth. “We wanted to show how we do science: we ask questions, gather observations and data, and then make the best inferences about what happened in the past, just like cold-case detectives solve murders.”
‘Bloodied at the Canyon’
They focused their efforts on the Grand Canyon specifically, he explained, because it’s such a major focal point of young Earth creationists’ efforts to influence the culture: flood geologists leading tour groups of young Earth creationists are a regular feature at the Grand Canyon. Young Earth creationist organizations will take theologians on trips through the Grand Canyon and espouse their theories based on books they’ve written. They host bus tours that will drive along the rim, providing information that misrepresents the geology of the canyon.
“For us as authors, this book is desperately needed because the creationism folks are so anti-science, with the result that ‘Christianity is bloodied’ at the Canyon, as one staff member (at the Grand Canyon) told me,” said Wolgemuth.
“The people who are being influenced by flood geology are primarily in the church environment. The value we wanted to bring with this book, for those of us who are Christians, was to explain – yes, we totally believe in the doctrine of creation and that God did it. But, the ‘flood geology’ description is inadequate and fails to accomplish all the things that flood geology scientists have been teaching,” said Wolgemuth.
The book identifies some of the fallacies of the flood geology perspective in a convenient question and answer format, addressing questions like:
“Could the Grand Canyon’s rock layers have formed in a single year of Noah’s flood?”
“Why are there no dinosaur, bird or mammal fossils in the Canyon’s layers?”
“How do we know that radiometric dating methods are reliable?”
“Is Young Earth Creationism really biblical?”
Faith Held Hostage
That last question addresses one of Wolgemuth’s major concerns with young Earth creationism. The danger, he explained, is the framework from which flood geology is being touted: “The young Earth community leadership presents Earth-age issues as ‘If you don’t believe that this is what is being described in the early parts of Genesis, then how can you believe any part of the Bible?’”
In other words, it holds all of Christianity hostage to a biblical interpretation that isn’t actually demanded by the Bible.
“The biblical text has credibility; it’s not just a human construct. The flood story in the Bible, to me, is a localized flood, described by the people who lived in that particular area, likely the Middle East,” said Wolgemuth. “I’m comfortable that the intention of the description is not a globe-encircling flood.”
He elaborated by noting that “inclusive and hyperbolic language is common in Scripture.”
He cited Genesis 41:57 as an example, which reads that “people from all over the world” came to Egypt to buy food from Joseph, seeking relief from what the account describes as a worldwide famine.
“This was the known world at the time, and it’s unlikely humans came from Australia to Egypt,” Wolgemuth explained.
Regarding the flood itself, he said, “I believe that wicked mankind was destroyed as stated in Genesis, and these people were in the Tigris-Euphrates river basin.”
“It’s not just about getting correct information out to the general populace. We’re trying to reach leadership – seminary presidents and teachers,” said Wolgemuth. “The homeschooling community in particular is caught up with this material, so we’re reaching out to Christian schools and homeschool associations.”
He said it was also written for fellow geologists and AAPG Members.
“As an AAPG Member, you are probably aware of people in your community who are trapped in creationism. This book is written for them, and you can tell them it is written by mostly scientists active in their faith community,” said Wolgemuth.
Based on a number of reviews, from geologists and Christians alike, the book has generally been met with a respectful response, Wolgemuth said, despite the contentiousness of the issue.
“This book offers grace, tact and kindness toward people trapped in the ‘young earth’ idea marketed by AiG (Answers in Genesis),” wrote one reviewer on Amazon.
But when he does receive some stronger, emotional opposition, he likes to take the time to talk to them personally.
“If I can chat eyeball-to-eyeball over coffee, I can often diffuse their fear or anger and can have a good conversation,” he said.
Wolgemuth will be available to discuss the book at this year’s AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston next month. Look for him on the exhibit floor.