10 Time for Me to Shift My World View

So if the presence of trace fossils proved that Noah’s Flood was not the agent responsible for the formation of fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks, then when were they deposited, and how old was the earth? Could it be as old as “evolutionary” geologists claimed it to be? These questions urgently demanded an answer. I realized that far more time than young-earthers had at their disposal would be needed to account for the existence of the many trace fossil layers within vast expanses of sedimentary rock such as those in the Colorado Plateau, through which the Grand Canyon runs.

Sedimentary rock layers within the Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by S. Godfrey.

 

Geologic units in the Colorado Plateau known to preserve footprint fossils of terrestrial animals. The important feature is that footprints made by land animals occur on many layers within the same pile of sedimentary stone. These geologic units comprise thousands of vertical feet of sedimentary accumulation over thousands of square miles. Different suites of footprint fossils characterize each of the geologic periods.

I remember thinking ironically at the time that young-earth creationists could not help me satisfy my new suspicions about the age of the earth and the formation of sedimentary rocks, any more than the Flat Earth Society could help someone calculate the spherical volume of the earth. Who was left to consult?

The discovery of fossilized footprints and the sudden exponential increase in the age I was willing to grant to the earth carried with them a flood of related questions. I could not but wonder which species of animals had not been in Noah’s ark. I had to entertain the possibility that some organisms had become extinct before the Flood. But how could I know which ones, given that I knew of no way to identify which sediments had been deposited during the Flood?

If the Flood had occurred within the past 6000 years, chances were very good that none of the prehistoric animals in which I was interested would have seen the inside of the ark. Oddly enough, finding answers to questions like this no longer had any impact on, or practical significance to, my doctoral thesis, although I did spend a lot of time trying to figure out how I might salvage my exploding paradigm.

Many years later, as I read more widely on the history of the development of geology, I discovered that some 19th-century geologists had suggested that the Flood had been a quiet one, leaving no significant geological effects. They had been pushed to suggest this alternative in an attempt to preserve the historical reality of the story, while admitting that they were unable to identify global effects of Noah’s Flood. Having never seen this alternative suggested in any creationist literature, I was impressed with the ingenuity of these 19th-century geologists.

Rev. Dr. John Fleming, 1785 – 1857. Professor of Natural Philosophy at Aberdeen University. Dr. Fleming proposed that Noah’s Flood had been a tranquil one. (Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh Photographic Society Collection, gifted 1987)
More importantly, this alternative, “quiet” Flood scenario made me realize that much of what is often presented as Biblical teaching does not actually come from the pages of Holy Writ. Specifically, the Bible is silent with respect to the geological effects of the Flood. In other words, nowhere in the Bible is there any reference to Noah’s Flood having laid down any sedimentary rocks, or entombing any creatures which then became fossilized. Since the Bible does not describe fossil formation, I realized, there is no way a young-earth creationist could know from the Bible when fossils formed—whether this was before, during, or after the Flood—and whether it was the result of a cataclysm or of ordinary processes.

So how had Flood Geology become so central to the young-earth paradigm, which was supposed to be based on scriptural teachings? I wondered if this might be because creationists did not want to espouse either of the two alternative explanations for fossil formation: God had created the world with fossils already in the ground, or the earth was more than 6,000 years old.

But these realizations about what the Bible does and doesn’t say actually came later in my story. The main implication for me, as I thought about the fossilized footprints I was seeing in Kansas, was that if all fossils had not come from the flood, then the earth could indeed be more than 6,000 years old. Once I entertained the notion that the earth might be old, I had to call into question all the rest of the “scientific creationist” paradigm. Why? Because it was all based on a single linchpin claim about the age of the earth. Pull out that pin and the entire system crumbles. In my case, the pin had been pulled and it was time for me to shift my world view.

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