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Signature in the Cell 2 – Historical Questions (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

Stephen C. Meyer has published a (very long, but readable) book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, outlining his argument in favor of intelligent design. This book essentially argues that life is very complex, the origin of life is a puzzle, and the information content in DNA cannot be explained by natural means. 

In the first several chapters of his book Meyer describes some of his personal history, the discovery of DNA and the double helix, and the broad brush workings of the cell in the process of using the DNA code to produce proteins. This is complex, involves many steps and uses proteins themselves produced using information in the DNA. Thus there is something of a Chicken and Egg problem:

The interdependence of proteins and nucleic acids raises many obvious “chicken and egg” dilemmas … The cell needs proteins to process and express the information in DNA inorder to build proteins. But the construction of DNA molecules (during the process of DNA replication) also requires proteins. So which came first, the chicken (nucleic acids) or the egg (proteins)?

… even the simplest living things operate as complex systems of interdependent parts. Yet how this feature of life could have arisen is, as Jaques Monod put it, “exceedingly difficult to imagine.” (p. 134)

This will be part of the core of Meyer’s argument for intelligent design – but more groundwork is necessary. He goes on to discuss some of the history of science and the role of design hypotheses; the process of inference to best explanation; the need to look at causal existence and causal adequacy when considering historical problems; and then takes a foray into probability and pattern recognition. All of this is preparatory to his main arguments and conclusions.

I found these chapters interesting – and in places educational. I have never much considered the factors at work in the evaluation of historical puzzles – scientific or otherwise.

The basic questions are simple …

How do scholars (scientists or historians) reason and make inferences about the past? Are these inferences testable? If so, how?

and – in a detour from Meyer’s book and argument:

Why believe that the resurrection is true? How is this conclusion reached or justified?

The second question seems a bit of a leap, but it is the thought that occurred to me as I was reading Ch. 7 Of Clues to Causes in Meyer’s book. One of the questions that is often asked in the discussion of science, faith, and scripture is roughly this – how can we deny the historicity of Noah and the Flood and still defend the resurrection as a historically factual event. If everything hinges on scripture isn’t questioning the story of Noah the first step on a path that leads to rejection of both? We cannot, many say, pick and choose.

But back to Meyer and Signature in the Cell … In Ch. 7 Meyer outlines a general approach to the consideration of historical questions. In particular he considers the ideas of inference to best explanation, causal adequacy and causal existence beginning with the ideas developed by Peter Lipton in his book Inference to the Best Explanation (International Library of Philosophy).

According to Lipton, “beginning with the evidence available to us” we generally “infer what would, if true, best explain that evidence.” (p. 156)

He showed that scientists often evaluate competing inferences or hypothesis by comparing their explaining power. That is, assessments of an inference’s explaining power determines how much stock we place in it. (p. 156)

A good (or best) explanation cites an event and makes a “causal difference” in the outcome. (p. 157)

An explanation must have causal existence and causal adequacy. That is – it must be plausible or demonstrable that the cause existed and that it is capable of giving rise to the observed result. But there is another criterion as well – a best explanation must account for all of the evidence. There must be a consistent, coherent story.

This method of reasoning, testing ideas, is not limited to the historical sciences – but is used in many areas of scholarship and life. Meyer suggests that it is not used in experimental sciences – chemistry and physics, but I think it is used more widely in these sciences than he realizes. Meyer does see broad application though:

Even so, historical scientists are not the only scientists to use it. … And many scientists – theoretical physicists, biochemists, psychologists, astronomers, pathologists, medical diagnosticians – as well as historians, detectives, and thinking people everywhere use this method of reasoning every day to make sense of their experiences. (170)

Meyer is going to use this discussion as part of his case for intelligent design as the best explanation for the information content of the cell. But before considering more of his argument I am going to continue on the detour I began above.

Why are the historicity of Noah’s Flood and of the Resurrection distinct separable problems?

I consider the story of Noah and the Flood to be a story that conveys important theological truths, that may have roots in a real, limited, local event, but is not literal history as told in Genesis. On the other hand I consider the resurrection to be a historically factual event. Yet many times these two examples are made to hang together.  Why the difference in conclusion? Doesn’t this mean that we can just pick and choose and ultimately everything falls?

It really isn’t that simple. I don’t believe the Christian story on the strength of scripture alone. I don’t think that many of us take scripture alone as the source and foundation for our faith (not even Calvin or Luther, as I read their writings). Rather we take scripture, tradition, reason, and experience – and perhaps more. Scripture is important – but it does not stand alone. Scot’s book The Blue Parakeet has important insights here. Our experience and understanding is a total package.

So Back to Flood and Resurrection.

First, the flood … many things to consider here: the story in scripture, the recognition that God can perform miracles, the fact that scripture does convey truth in story form at times, the diversity and dispersion of animals (far too many for an ark), the size of the ark, the prevalence of the story in ANE mythology, the nature of the text as a compilation of sources, the lack of any geological evidence for a global flood, the inconsistency of a bottleneck in human population – reduced to only a handful a mere 5000 years ago or so with all of the available data. I could continue – but the case is overwhelming. The only reason to take the view of a literal global flood – or even a local flood that wiped out human population – is a presupposition about the nature of scripture … not a presupposition on the authority of scripture, but a presupposition about the nature of the authority of scripture.

Second, the resurrection considering all of the evidence: the story in scripture, the recognition that God can perform miracles, the growth of the church, … the evidence all hangs together. The only reason to reject the resurrection out of hand is a conviction that dead people don’t rise – in essence that God does not exist. NT Wright in The Resurrection of the Son of God lays the case out in great detail (Surprised by Hope has a shorter less academic version of the argument). His lecture “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection” found here or here presents an overview (another related lecture here).

I don’t see how the conclusion on one of these questions of historicity has any influence on the other.  Neither conclusion reached above rejects scripture – rather both accept scripture as inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; to equip for every good work; able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Now – a conclusion that the resurrection is not historical would have serious ramifications for orthodox Christian faith, a similar conclusion about Noah’s Flood has no significant consequence for orthodox Christian faith. These factors also play into my thinking at times (say if we consider the question of the virgin birth for example) … but the overall search is for a consistent coherent picture.

What do you think? How do you reason and make inferences about the past? How do you test these inferences? How does this apply to the way we read scripture?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net



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Larry

posted January 12, 2010 at 7:08 am


RJS,
Your comments about a local vs. global flood are extremely confusing.
Every argument that you put forth here has been soundly answered. One particular reason always makes me wonder how people say it. The prevalence of flood narratives in the ANE is an often made objection, but it only makes sense in a global flood. It makes no sense for unconnected cultures to have a common story unless they all experienced the story. There would be no reason for a culture thousands of miles away from a local flood to have a story of that distant local flood. However, if the Bible’s account is true (which there is no scientific reason to doubt, and many scientific reasons to believe), all those cultures would have descended from a common source (Noah’s family) and the same flood tradition would have been passed down through oral tradition, though it would have been corrupted over time (which would take only a few generations).
There is less historical and scientific support for the resurrection than there is for a global flood. The only difference that you point out is the beginning of the church. I agree with the argument that the beginning of the church is sound proof for a resurrection. But applying that to other phenomenon, we see many “beginnings” based on flawed foundations (such as Islam). Someone could (and has) made a similar argument: How can you deny the truth of Islam when there is no explanation for its rise and dominance apart from the truth of its beginnings?
So I think your arguments here are fatally flawed. Ultimately, we must believe both the flood and the resurrection because of the nature of Scripture.



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RJS

posted January 12, 2010 at 7:33 am


Larry,
There is no scientific evidence for a global flood and overwhelming evidence against. There is no historical evidence for a flood and ample reason to view the story in a different fashion.
There is no scientific evidence either for or against the resurrection. The only scientific argument against is that “dead men don’t rise” … which is true but, no one says resurrection is “normal.” The historical evidence is debatable – I think Wright makes a good case.



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Rick

posted January 12, 2010 at 8:24 am


“Rather we take scripture, tradition, reason, and experience – and perhaps more. Scripture is important – but it does not stand alone.”
But are they on equal footing? No, Scripture is at the top, followed by Tradition and then the others.
“The only reason to take the view of a literal global flood – or even a local flood that wiped out human population – is a presupposition about the nature of scripture … not a presupposition on the authority of scripture, but a presupposition about the nature of the authority of scripture.”
Is it about the “nature of Scripture”, or the “nature of the authority of Scripture? I see a difference in the two.



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Larry

posted January 12, 2010 at 8:40 am


RJS,
With due respect, that’s simply not true. You may interpret the evidence another way, but the evidence is there, and it is consistent with a global flood. In fact, a global flood seems to explain things about the evidence that cannot be explained without a global flood. There’s no reason, textual or scientific, to view the flood story in a different way. The Bible from front to back (Genesis to 2 Peter) testifies to the flood as a global destruction. Why would we deny that?
Seriously, any testiness or rancor aside, why deny a global flood? I can’t find any reason that necessitates denying any of the historicity of Genesis. I am well familiar with OT narratives and the art forms involved. But that doesn’t really explain the issues. So I can’t figure out what is gained by a denying a global flood.
Furthermore, the scientific evidence against a resurrection is abundant. It just doesn’t happen. You can’t appeal to silence of evidence as not being evidence against. The fact that it doesn’t happen, and the only record of it happening is found religious writings that could have been written by overanxious followers determined to put a great spin on the life of a man they highly loved and respected.
But you choose (rightly) to believe it anyway. And with good reason–it’s what God said happened. It is doubtful that apart from the testimony of Scripture anyone would believe a resurrection of Christ from the dead.
The issue of the nature (and as the previous commenter said, the authority) of Scripture is a key issue that needs way more serious thought than is typically given it in our modern culture. I think that is where the issue lies.
Thanks for the exchange.



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RJS

posted January 12, 2010 at 8:51 am


Rick,
I think that “nature of scripture” and “nature of the authority of scripture” are two separate but related ideas.
As I intended it here the “nature of scripture” could include many different ideas, among them the idea of scripture as authoritative. Some would, of course, claim that the books of the Bible are simply ancient literature reflecting the culture of the day. This is a statement about the nature of scripture that denies authority.
I don’t think we deny the authority of scripture (in the sense discussed by Wright in “The Last Word” for example) but we think about what it means for scripture to be “authoritative.” I will say that scripture can be authoritative through story telling and through historical reporting.



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Dan

posted January 12, 2010 at 8:56 am


I appreciate the digression into the question of the resurrection vs the flood, because I do see acceptance of the miracle of the resurrection and rejection of the miracles of Genesis as a hermeneutical and logical inconsistency, one which comes up often in this discussion. But it is going to mean that Meyers’ book is not going to get discussed much in this post – the digression is already started.
I can’t possibly cite enough to make a compelling case, but I think the bold statement that there is “no historical evidence” for a global flood is just plain stunning and insulting to many scientists with PhD degress from major universities. You may not agree with the inferences of flood geology and may dispute some of their evidences, but I think to say there is no evidence, none, zip, nada – betrays an annoyance with YEC more than a rational argument.
Massive fossil burial grounds where fossils from different geologic ages are mingled together, marine fossils on the tops of mountains, geologic formations that show massive erosion seemingly caused by huge volumes of water, multiple flood stories in dozens of different cultures on every continent – maybe there are multiple explanations for these phenomena, but they at least add up to “some” evidence that might point to a flood.
And I think it relates to Meyer’s and ID arguments about historical sciences vs. operational sciences. Much of the Northwestern United States from western Montana to the Columbia basin was long assumed to be formed by gradual glaciation and there was a commitment to gradualism and a fairly rigid rejection of catastrophism in geology. When it was suggested by Harlen Bretz that the evidence did not fit the glaciation model, the scientific establishment scoffed at him. (See http://www.glaciallakemissoula.org/story.html for the full story) Later another scientist Joseph T. Pardee proposed as well that the region was formed by a massive regional flood, the idea caught on. So in spite of the philosophical bias toward gradualism, it is now accepted that much of the Northwest was formed by a regional flood – the bursting of an ice dam that drained what was once Glacial Lake Missoula during an ice age.
The scientific evidences that are now accepted as proof of this regional flood are very similar to the evidences flood geologists have been pointing to for years. That may not prove a global flood – but it cannot be said there is “no evidence”. I think quite a number of scientists prior to the 1850s saw plenty of evidence for a global flood, but their voices have been lost.
Back to Stephen Meyer, I think the ID position is that there is a herd mentality in the science of origins that refuses to look at certain types of reasoning and certain collections of evidence. I think the naturalism that rules the academy simply blinds many – including Christian advocates of TE, to any consideration of counter evidence. (For the record, I believe in a global flood and an historcal Adam and Eve, but am not hung up on the age of the earth.)



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RJS

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:03 am


Dan,
This is a digression – but a related one.
I have also come to the conclusion that justice to Meyer’s book and all of the issues involved will take more than the 3-4 posts I had originally envisioned. We will be working through this for a while…



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pds

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:19 am


The Design Spectrum
This is a disappointing post. I thought you were going to engage with Meyer and with ID in its strongest form. Is this series going to follow a “mention Meyer and change the topic” pattern?
Meyer’s arguments have nothing to do with the Noah and the Flood. This strikes me as a subtle way to discuss Young Earth Creationism instead of intelligent design. Are you trying to link the two?
There was an indication in one of the Biologos papers that Francis Collins refuses to dialogue with any leading intelligent design proponents. I see a disturbing pattern in Biologos materials and its blog to misrepresent ID. I thought it might be different here.
Sigh.



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Bob Smietana

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:23 am


The Flood and the Resurrection are also two different kinds of stories.
The Flood takes place somewhere before recorded history, at a unspecified time and place, with not one to record the events.
The Resurrection, on the other hand, takes place in a specific time and place, and the story is passed on by witnesses. We also know many of the background details–that Romans did crucify people, that people like Pilate existed etc. There’s a lot more historical data to work with.
RJS–what do you make of the arguments for evolution made by Francis Collins? He’s got some very interesting comparisons of mouse DNA and human DNA in his book, The Language of God, showing that errors in the DNA occur in the same place in both mouse and human DNA, which he argues points to a common ancestor.



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dopderbeck

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:23 am


RJS — I think one of the questions here is whether precisely the same methodological tools can be used to provide warrant for (a) belief in the resurrection of Christ; (b) a particular interpretation of the Biblical flood story; and (c) a particular view about some event in natural history. As you might suspect, I think the answer generally is “no” — though maybe I’d really say “yes and no.”
The resurrection of Christ is not the same sort of event as an event in natural history, and therefore our epistemic toolbox with respect to these events must differ somewhat. This is what Alister McGrath calls the methodological fit between epistemology and ontology.
We can know Christ truly rose from the dead not only because of the testimony of the Biblical witness, but also, and primarily, because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, as well as the testimony of the community of faith. I think the prologue to the Gospel of Luke is very interesting in this regard: the enscripturated testimony is offered to provide “certainty” (literally, to “secure”) what “Theophilus” already has been “taught” (Luke 1:1-4). Luke’s Gospel is not an a priori apologetic, but rather is an enscripturated confirmation of a prior testimonial witness.
Of course, if Christ did rise from the dead, we should expect that this event will also leave a trace in the order of “normal” history. This, I think, is where historical investigation of the sort done by N.T. Wright can be helpful and corroborative of the inward spiritual knowledge and the external scriptural witness. However, IMHO it’s a grave mistake to presume that knowledge of the resurrection is a priori contingent on historical investigation.
How does this relate to the interpretation of the Biblical flood story? Obviously, this is an extraordinarily complex question. I think it’s helpful here to remember that a genuinely Christian epistemology starts with the testimonial witness of the Holy Spirit and the witness of the community of faith, which is secured by the apostolic witness of scripture to the resurrection of Christ. A truly Christian hermeneutic of scripture IMHO must be Trinitarian in nature and Christocentric and Pneumotelic in focus: centered on the Christ-event and sensitive to the historical processes by which the Spirit revealed the mission of the Father in and through the community of faith.
In a sense, we look back over the scriptural witness from the perspective of the Christ-event to understand and interpret what God has said and is saying through the inspired text. We can use various critical tools, including the tools of historical study, to aid us in this task. If instead we start with the epistemic presumption that some rationalistic qualities of the text “prove” the Christ-event, we have gotten things exactly backwards — or so it seems to me. And, I would make the same sort of hermeneutical moves with respect to the “interpretation” of natural revelation.



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RJS

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:24 am


pds,
Read comment #7 – take a deep breath and bear with me. I will get to the strongest form – but want to deal with peripheral issues as well.



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dopderbeck

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:30 am


To continue what I was saying… I think the foregoing means that the non-“literalness” of the flood story doesn’t say anything at all about the historical nature of the Resurrection. Linking the two in this fashion is a hermeneutical and epistemological mistake based on incorrect notions about how we “know” Christ and the roles that scripture plays in the economy of salvation. The scientific facts about the possibility of a global flood — which, respectfully to other commenters, IMHO really aren’t in question (there wasn’t one — see, e.g., Davis Young, “The Bible, Rocks, and Time”) — therefore can be profitably employed to help us understand more fully the nature and function of the Biblical flood story. In fact, I’d suggest that it’s hermeneutically irresponsible not to use these critical tools in order to help us better understand the text.



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pds

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:41 am


RJS,
OK, as you might guess, I was writing #8 while you were posting #7. I am hereby taking a deep breath and bearing with you.



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pds

posted January 12, 2010 at 9:48 am


The Design Spectrum
At some point, it would be good to discuss the Lehigh Biology “statement” about Behe and ID. In light of Meyer’s book, I don’t think their position holds water:

The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.
The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of “intelligent design.” While we respect Prof. Behe’s right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

http://www.lehigh.edu/bio/news/evolution.htm
It seems like their position has the tendency to dumb down their students and prevent them from grasping the full nature of scientific inquiry and method.



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pds

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:03 am


David,
You said,

The resurrection of Christ is not the same sort of event as an event in natural history, and therefore our epistemic toolbox with respect to these events must differ somewhat.

You seem to be begging the question. Both the Flood and the Resurrection are “events in history.” For both we ask “what happened?” and “was it natural or supernatural or both?”



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Keith

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:16 am


Scientific problems with a global flood:
1. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers would have been covered with layers of sedimentary rock but they were not since they were mentioned again in Genesis 15.18.
2. Where did the water come from? You would need about 8 times the water that exists today on the earth. If it was in the atmosphere before the flood, the pressure would have crushed all intelligent life. It would generate more pressure than the deepest ocean canyon today.
3. Where did the water go? Did 7/8 of the water on the world suddenly vanish?
3. How did the 2 million known species of animals fit onto the ark? This excludes the unknown species which is estimated between 10 and 100 million more.
4. How did the animals get redistributed across the globe in a satisfactory way to jive with population dispersion?
5. Why is there a continuous record Egyptian history throughout this period?
6. The divergence of the DNA within species is much too large if they were all a product only of those on the ark.
7. Neither the geological column nor the fossil record indicate such a flood at any time.
There are more, of course, but this is a good start.



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Dan

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:20 am


Bring it back to Meyer. ID does not hypothesize from Biblical references, does not cite scripture as evidence, does not make inferences regarding the truth of biblical claims. ID looks at natural phenomena and natural processes, but does not limit it’s inferences to only natural law explanations.
The chicken and egg issue is at the heart of the post. It is a problem that seems to have no easy solution. The solution could be found in natural processes, but could be found in something beyond nature. Why is one possible inference permissible and the other deemed “unscientific”?



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Dan

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:24 am


Actually I overstated ID’s case. There are implications that go “beyond nature” but the solution ID proposes is simply “design” and may or may not be above nature. This opens the discussion to Theism, but does not necessarily require it.



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dopderbeck

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:40 am


pds (#15) — No, I think you are begging the question: was the flood an event in history, and if so, what sort of event?
As Christians, I think we are warranted in starting with epistemic presuppositions about the Resurrection that stem from internal evidence — the presence of Christ, the witness of the Holy Spirit, and the testimony of the community of faith. (There was “external” evidence as well, in the form of “signs and wonders” of the Spirit within the early Christian community). From the beginnings of the Church, this sort of evidence drove the development of the community. It provided the basis for the “Rule of Faith,” which in turn provided the basis for the development of the Christian canon of Scripture. Therefore, it is right for Christians to accord epistemic priority to the “internal” testimony to the Resurrection and then to work an epistemology outwards from that basis.
The same is not true for the flood. The flood is not the formational event of the Christian community. The basis of the Christian canon of scripture is not the flood event, it is the Jesus event. In fact, we only care about what the flood story means because the Rule of Faith as applied by the early Christian community causes us to view Gen. 1-11 as “scripture.”
Having said all that, I’ll grant this: when we try to understand the flood story in accordance with the sort of canonical hermeneutic that I’m advocating, it might be appropriate to see the divine judgment referred to in that story as in some way “miraculous” or “supra-historical.” If that is so, then I agree that the methods of the natural sciences are not appropriate methods for understanding “what happened.” This means, of course, that “flood geology” remains seriously mistaken in its epistemic presumptions and methods.
Nevertheless, as with the Resurrection, historical and critical methods should serve as corroborative checks on our hermeneutical and interpretive theories. The fact that the testimony to the Resurrection recorded in the Gospels can be broadly placed within a plausible historical framework helps confirm the nature of the Gospels as the testimonial witness to the experience of the Apostles and others who experienced the Jesus-event first-hand.
OTOH, the fact that the Noahic flood story taken supposedly “literally” cannot on any reasonable account be corroborated with even the broadest renditions of human and geological history can help confirm that the literary context of the flood story likely differs significantly from the sort of testimonial witness the Gospels provide. It seems very likely not to be the same kind of witness as the Gospels, and therefore it probably cannot be read with the same sort of expectations.



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BrianH

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:42 am


RJS, I appreciated your distinction between the nature of scripture and the nature of authority of scripture. It seems to me that one of the problems we run into interpretively is that we tend to have ideas about the authority of scripture that are more based on mixing proof texts with a pre-determined understanding of how scripture conveys truth. If we don’t understand the nature of scripture; how it came to be, in what contexts it was written, the communities of faith that found them authoritative, our understanding of how scripture functions authoritatively can become warped. (i.e. one scripture cited in the argument against Galileo’s heliocentric model of the universe was Joshua 10:13, which says that the sun and moon stood still — misapplying scripture to a scientific question) Even if one wants to argue the historicity of the flood back and forth, I think we should all be agreed by now that the earth isn’t the center of the universe. Would we argue that a literal stopping of orbital mechanics for the sake of a battle in Canaan is required for the story to be true? Is that the same thing as denying the Resurrection? Not to me.



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pds

posted January 12, 2010 at 11:10 am


David,
You said,
“No, I think you are begging the question: was the flood an event in history, and if so, what sort of event?”
I am begging no question. We ask the same question of the resurrection: Was the Resurrection an event in history, and if so, what sort of event?
You yourself called the Flood “an event in natural history.” Based on your last comment, I guess you were question-begging in two ways.
If you insist, let’s call them both “purported events in history.”
It is begging the question to say that the Flood is an “event in natural history.” It may not have been a natural event.
I agree that the process of evaluating both questions will be different to some extent. But in both we draw inferences based on the text of Scripture and other information.



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AHH

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:16 pm


One thing that I think gets lost in some of these discussions is that “inference to best explanation” (which people do all the time, including in science) is not necessarily the same thing as science. Sometimes human judgments about “best explanation” must bring in other factors, including some metaphysical framework for judging what “best” means. At some point (for example, when it can’t be empirically tested or invokes something outside of nature) it leaves the bounds of science — although (contra modernism) not being science does not make it invalid as a means of seeking truth.
I think some of the ID movement (not having read Meyer’s book, I don’t know if he does this), has capitulated to the Enlightenment’s placing of science on a pedestal by insisting that their arguments be classified as “science”. Of course “creation science” is a worse example of this. Science is great at studying the internal workings of the physical universe, but both radical atheists and some Christians need to recognize that there can be truth that is inaccessible to “science”.



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AHH

posted January 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm


Maybe I missed it in skimming the comments, but I am surprised nobody has pointed out one big difference in how we as Christians look at the flood story versus the Resurrection.
With the Resurrection, the event itself is central content of the Christian faith. With the Flood story, the event itself is not the central content, it is a vehicle that delivers a message about God’s distaste for sin and desire to preserve a faithful remnant. So with the Flood, the content of our faith is not affected by whether it describes a real event or not (and those under the illusion that there is scientific evidence for a global flood really need to read the book by Davis Young mentioned in a previous comment). It might affect faith in certain doctrines about the Bible (which unfortunately some elevate to centrality), but not faith in Jesus Christ.
Of course as others have pointed out there are other differences, like their amenability to scientific investigation and (especially) the genre of the texts involved. I think attempts to have a one-size-fits-all hermeneutic where such disparate texts must be viewed the same way are profoundly mistaken.



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Rick

posted January 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm


AHH-
I think Dopderbeck touched on something similar in #19. However, it is a major point, and both you and David stated it well (in your own styles/wording).



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Ray Ingles

posted January 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm


Larry – you write, “It makes no sense for unconnected cultures to have a common story unless they all experienced the story.”
Human cultures have historically lived near rivers, for obvious reasons. And rivers flood from time to time. Myths about floods are hardly surprising: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flood-myths.html (As has been noted by skeptics before, many cultures have myths of someone being sacrificed and then raised from the dead, too…)
Thought experiment: many cultures have legends of plagues and illnesses. What evidence would it take to convince you all of these stories referred to one “Great Plague”?



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Brett Allen

posted January 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm


As others have pionted out history and biology are nothing alike. Historians have facts such as historical artifacts and texts but must draw inferences about historical people’s use of such artifacts and the meaning and relative importance of such texts. When Meyer discusses inference he is trying to lend credence to his ‘sherlock holmes’ approach to biology which is not how biology is conducted. Historians do use that approach in an effort to describe ancient peoples and in doing so their conclusions will always contain doubt. However, what is not in doubt is that these conclusions are being made about intelligent humans. Meyer is using inference to claim an unknown intelligence (supernatural or alien) is the causual factor in biodiversity. It is acceptable for Historians to use inference because we know humans are a reality and we know thier methods and drives. It is not acceptable for biology to use inference of intelligence when the intelligence is not named and its methods and drives are unknown.



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Brett Allen

posted January 12, 2010 at 11:16 pm


Your ‘Noah’ versus ‘resurrection’ arguement is interesting. You accept (or could accept) the real world evidence against one but not the other. This is where this ‘world view’ thing comes in whereby you decide how much logic, reason and objectivity to apply to different parts of your faith. Just because one issue is more of a problem for your faith than another, is it being honest to use less logic and reason on one? Moreover is the ‘resurrection’ as an event that important? Jesus was supposedly ‘resurrected’ physically in this reality, but went to heaven more or less right away anyway. The christian faith does not preach that a believer will be physically ‘resurrected’ in this reality like Jesus was but that they will live immortally in heaven. So the absence of a ‘resurrection’ event would have little effect on christian teaching. The ‘resurrection’ of Jesus is thus just some proof he was the son of God but even here I can’t quite determine who did the ‘resurrecing’. Did Jesus do it to himself or did God do it to him? If it were the former than it shows Jesus had God like powers (but you don’t so it is irrelevent) and if it is the latter it shows Jesus was God’s son (which doesn’t mean you will be ‘resurrected’). Which makes the whole ‘resurrection’ think like the Noah story in that it teaches but has no real need to be a reality.



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Larry

posted January 13, 2010 at 7:01 am


Ray,
You ask: Thought experiment: many cultures have legends of plagues and illnesses. What evidence would it take to convince you all of these stories referred to one “Great Plague”?
First, I am not aware of any legend of plagues or illnesses that are even remotely similar to the flood stories. And that should lead us to believe there is a reason for that … there is not event similar to the flood stories.
Second, to answer the hypothetical, it would take evidence that there was a “Great Plague.” And there’s none.
Compare that to the flood. There is historical evidence of a global flood, and the evidence of nature is consistent with that historical evidence.
Keith, in post #16, gives seven questions as evidence against a global flood, but honestly, I didn’t know anyone even asked those questions anymore. Those questions are old tired questions that have long been satisfactorily answered with respect to the viability of a global flood. Some have them have been answered by science (i.e., genetics, geology), and others by the Scripture itself (e.g., where did the water come from? Where did it go?)
I think what we are seeing here in this discussion is pretty typical of discussions about origins. It is about presuppositions about the nature of Scripture, and suppositions about what might or might not have happened. For many, the only sure thing is that what the Bible describes didn’t happen. Other than that, all else is open. Again, as I asked RJS, why? What’s the necessity of denying a global flood? We have the historical evidence of it, and the scientific evidence has been shown to be solidly consistent with a global flood. The only downside, so far as I can tell, is that a global flood is taught in the Bible, and one looks really silly for believing the Bible. Again, I just don’t get it.



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Paul Burnett

posted January 13, 2010 at 7:41 am


“Dan” (#18) wrote: “ID does not hypothesize from Biblical references…”
Not in public, at least – just when they’re begging for money in churches. Unlike the dubious historicity of Noah’s Flood or the Resurrection, the historicity of the founding of intelligent design creationism is well documented. Following the US Supreme Court’s 1987 decision against “creation science,” the ID founders’ meetings in 1992 at Southern Methodist University, in 1993 at Pajaro Dunes, in 1996 at the former Bible Institute of Los Angeles and culminating in the 1998 “Wedge Strategy,” it’s readily obvious that intelligent design creationism is 100% religiously motivated.
The first sentence of the Wedge Document is “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.” (http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html) Does that sound like the debate is about science or religion?
And Bill Dembski’s recent public admission that he is an Old Earth Creationist doesn’t help either. See his comment at http://oursovereignjoy.blogspot.com/2009/12/book-review-william-dembskis-end-of.html



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pds

posted January 13, 2010 at 9:18 am


The Design Spectrum
Brett #26,
Your comment is not much more than a dogmatic assertion of your own philosophy of science. Studying origins is an historical science, whether you like it or not. SJ Gould has written on this extensively. Check him out.



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pds

posted January 13, 2010 at 9:24 am


The Design Spectrum
Paul #29,
You can prove just about anything with highly selective history. You just leave out everything that contradicts your preconceived notions.



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pds

posted January 13, 2010 at 9:38 am


If anyone is interested in the “chicken and egg” problem in Meyer’s book and in origin of life theories, Bradford just posted on it at Telic Thoughts.
http://telicthoughts.com/the-elegance-of-complication/
Some interesting comments there, including:

Back to the chicken-egg dilemma. If function is whatever tends to give a selective advantage then we need criteria indicating what would be selected on planets where conditions are hospitable to life but where no life exists. What approach would you take Nick to discern what is selected prior to a point in time when a self-replicator can be observed much less defined with respect to its properties? Is it any wonder that OOL research has such a difficult time making a breakthrough? If function and selection are intertwined then a break in symmetry exists at an historic moment. What’s a theorist to do?



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Paul Burnett

posted January 13, 2010 at 10:54 am


“pds” (#31) wrote: “You can prove just about anything with highly selective history. You just leave out everything that contradicts your preconceived notions.”
Read Dembski’s comment at http://oursovereignjoy.blogspot.com/2009/12/book-review-william-dembskis-end-of.html – he’s an Old Earth Creationist. This has a profound impact on the historicity of the connection between intelligent design and creationism. This is not “selective history.”
Take a look at Uncommon Descent’s article crowing about Stephen Meyer being named the “World Magazine” person of the year for 2009 – http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/stephen-c-meyer-world-magazines-person-of-the-year/ Unfortunately, “World Magazine” is a “Christian news magazine,” with a declared perspective of conservative evangelical Protestantism. Its mission statement is ?To report, interpret, and illustrate the news?from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.?
If Meyer had been designated ?Person of the Year? by “Science” magazine or “Nature” or “Cell” or “Genetics,” it would have lent credence to the ?scienciness? of intelligent design. But to have a biblical literalist magazine designate Steve as Person of the Year does not lend credence to the ?scienciness? of ID ? quite the opposite.



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Ray Ingles

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm


Larry – The questions about “genetics” cannot be dismissed quite that cavalierly. Cheetahs went through a genetic ‘pinch point’ about 10,000 years ago, where only a very few individuals survived. We know because (among other things) now they are so genetically similar that any cheetah can accept a skin graft from any other without rejecting it.
If humans went through such a pinch point too, why do we have transplant rejection? Indeed, if every animal went through the ‘pinch point’ of the Flood a few thousand years ago, why are cheetahs nearly unique? Why don’t the ‘clean animals’, of which there were either seven or seven pairs, show more surviving genetic diversity than the ‘unclean animals’, of which there was only one pair each?



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Ray Ingles

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm


Larry – There’s another problem with the Flood. Why don’t young-Earth, Flood-geology proponents put their money where their mouth is?
Finding oil is a very important and high-stakes issue for oil companies. Literally trillions of dollars are riding on it. Exxon’s exploration budget alone is around $20 billion per year. When the chips are down and they need to find the most likely spots to drill – what kind of geology do they use? Flood geology, or mainstream? Which one actually delivers the goods?
Let’s assume the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Where did the oil come from? Was it created in the ground with the rest of the Earth? If so, is there a way to predict where it might be found? Or perhaps it really did form from plankton (with a few plants and dinosaurs), but about 10,000 times faster than any chemist believes it could under geological conditions? Any way you look at it, a young Earth and a Flood would imply some very interesting scientific questions to ask, some interesting (and potentially extremely valuable) research programs to start. How come nobody’s actually pursuing such research programs?
Why don’t creationists put together an investment fund, where people pay in and the stake is used as venture capital for things like oil and mineral rights? If “Flood geology” is really a better theory, then it should make better predictions about where raw materials are than standard geology does. The profits from such a venture could pay for a lot of evangelism. Why isn’t anyone doing this?



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pds

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:41 pm


Paul #33,
More selective data.
ID is science with philosophical and religious implications.
Evolution is science with philosophical and religious implications.
Everything you cite is consistent with the philosophical implications of ID. Everyone is quite open about the implications.



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phil_style

posted January 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm


I think Brett’s questions/comment at #27 strikes to the heart of the matter, and (all ID/not ID discussions aside) this is, I think the question that RJS is also trying to get a handle on.
I would, however, tentatively add something extra to the mix. And this is the text itself. Brett’s proposal that rejecting a Noah/Flood event, but retaining it’s meaning can be similar to rejecting a resurrection event but retaining it’s meaning. However, I think this oversimplifies in so far as it ignores the text itself. What is the Genesis text doing? Many suggest it is not a historical record document anyway, and should not be treated as such. If genesis is NOT a history book, but say the Acts of the Apostles (for example) was intended to be one, then reading the “events” described in each requires a different approach.
I’m not a textual scholar (and haven’t read widely enough to be convinced), so I can’t really comment further, but I think the point should be thrown into the mix.



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John H. Guthrie

posted January 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm


AHH, on comment 23 you state that the historicity of the flood in no way bears on our faith in Jesus Christ. I beg to differ. Jesus spoke of the flood in Matt. 24 as a historical event. Since Jesus was present and involved with the creation from the very beginning, no one would know better than He. Were the flood not a historical event, this would have made Jesus a liar with a sin nature just like us. Jesus was teaching on the flood to teach the Church what to expect and how to conduct itself in the last days. He would hardly choose a non-historical event to teach his followers how to act in the future. If the flood narrative is unhistorical, then how could one put their faith in one who perpetuates untruths. If the flood narrative is not a historical event, this would call the geneologies of Jesus into question. The purpose of geneologies is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. If these are in error, then they could not be used in evidence for the claim that Jesus is the Christ.



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AHH

posted January 13, 2010 at 2:01 pm


John @38,
We probably come at this with very different hermeneutical perspectives, but I will try to communicate anyway.
The mere fact that Jesus makes a point using a culturally familiar OT story (like Noah’s flood) does not definitively determine the genre of that story. If I say today “We should love our neighbors like the Good Samaritan did” is that a claim that the parable was a historical account? Similarly with Jesus referring to the Flood (or to Jonah, which I think all but a few fundamentalists among Christian OT scholars agree is not meant as literal history).



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RJS

posted January 13, 2010 at 2:19 pm


Brett (#27)
Interesting comment. First – there is “real world” evidence contrary to the flood. A flood would leave tell-tale signs and there is no evidence for the flood and plenty of evidence against it. But the only “real world” evidence contrary to the resurrection is the fact that dead men don’t come back to life naturally … ever. I agree – but the resurrection was not natural. As far as tell-tale signs of the resurrection (historical evidence), the evidence is consistent with resurrection but is also capable of other explanation. I think that the historicity of the resurrection is the most consistent explanation of all the evidence (read or listen to Wright on this – see post above).
Second – is resurrection important? This is a great question with a many part answer.

First – The Christian hope is not “liv[ing] immortally in heaven.” The Christian hope is a new heaven and a new earth – carrying on the mission of God, defeat of evil, restoration of creation. We do believe in resurrection – although not immediate resurrection.

Second – none of the miracles of the NT are proof of divinity, or even proof of God’s power. Rather they all point to the coming restoration of all things and the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who is inaugurating that restoration. They are not “magic” for their wow content (although they can have a wow impact) rather with the coming of the Messiah the blind see, the lame walk and people are made whole – all of creation is effected. This is the beginning of the kingdom we ultimately hope for.

Third – resurrection is the victory over evil and over death.

All of these points could be discussed in much greater detail. Now you don’t have to buy any of this argument – but this is why the resurrection is the core of orthodox Christianity. If there was actually real evidence against resurrection (as there is real evidence against the flood) it would certainly cause problems.



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John H. Guthrie

posted January 13, 2010 at 11:23 pm


AHH- When Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan, the people hearing Him understood that Jesus was not refering to a historical account. When Jesus spoke of the flood, He was speaking to disciples who certainly believed that Noah was a real person and the flood was an actual historical event. And Jesus knew this when He spoke of such things. Jesus was instructing His disciples to endure to the end, a course of conduct that would prove fatal to most of those in his hearing. For Jesus to urge such devotion with historical fictions would show Jesus to be dishonest which would disqualify Him as the Son of God. Noah is listed in Jesus’ geneology in Luke. If Noah were not a historical figure, then the evidence contained in Scripture that Jesus was indeed the Son of God would be false. As for Jonah, the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that He was who He said He was. You would think that the Son of God could do better than cite as evidence a story that was not true. To make the claims He made about Himself with false history to people He knew believed Jonah was a historical figure would indicate He was maniplative, one quality indicating that sin was part of his personal makeup. Not everything in the Bible is to be taken literally, but when Jesus makes a truth claim with evidence based on the relating of events His hearers believe actually happened, you and count on Jesus believing these events to be historical as well. Context,knowledge of Jesus’ character and trust in God’s Word that the historical claims it makes are true can indeed affect one’s hermeneutics. As for your claims concerning the consensus of scholars, I would not want to be associated with those who believe the Flood was not a historical event. Most scholars who believe the flood and Jonah are not literal history also believe Jesus was not the Son of God.



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Brett Allen

posted January 14, 2010 at 11:07 pm


“As far as tell-tale signs of the resurrection (historical evidence), the evidence is consistent with resurrection but is also capable of other explanation”
What evidence? Even if it did happen than can be no ‘real world’ evidence. As for the rest:
1) What is wrong with the current “heaven” or “earth” for that matter. I can’t see how these notions constitute resurrection.
2) Jesus is credited with making the blind see etc. but that has not made such things more prevalent since. Also if Jesus is doing all this restoring (which is also not resurrection) isn’t that the domain of the divine with godly power?
3) Even if you conquer death, you are still not resurrecting anyone in the real world (or are you?) and those in heaven don’t need resurrecting do they?
As inspiring as those 3 notions are I don’t think the average Christian sees the resurrection that way. They see it as proof that Jesus is God or the son of God. It is the difference between a prophet or healer channelling the power of God and having that power yourself. This is going into the ‘doctrine of the Trinity’ area I know but the piont is people come to Chritianity because they believe Jesus was a God as evidenced by miraclous events attributed to him. A true test of faith would be to believe Jesus was God in the absence of any miracles. Would you honestly do that?



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RJS

posted January 15, 2010 at 6:52 am


Brett,
First question – the evidence for resurrection is not scientific but historical. Why,for example, do we think that Alexander the Great existed and conquered territory in India? The way to evaluate the claim of the resurrection in terms of evidence is strictly historical, similar to the way one might evaluate claims about Alexander, and this is what NT Wright does.
In terms of belief of “average Christians” there is a wide range, and you are right that many see miracles and resurrection as “proof.” But all this does is turn the story of the Gospels into disjointed bits and pieces. I rather doubt that I am an average Christian – but thinking Christians through the millenia (from the beginning) have thought about the faith more deeply and more coherently than so-called “average Christians.” It is also true that the command to follow doesn’t require perfect understanding – all Christians have imperfect understanding and many have poor understanding. (And as in any human attempt to wrestle with evidence etc. there is human disagreement at times.)
The central three numbered points of your comment – these I will come back to because I think that they are really the meat of the question.



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Lars

posted January 28, 2010 at 11:43 am


“The only reason to take the view of a literal global flood – or even a local flood that wiped out human population – is a presupposition about the nature of scripture …
You’re ignoring vast swaths of scientific and historical evidence for a great flood, and uncritically accepting claims made under presumptions of uniformitarianism. J Harlen Bretz had to battle for four decades to show that geological features in the Pacific Northwest were best explained by brief, massive flooding. He was eventually proven right, but it shows how strongly geology has been biased against catastrophic explanations since Lyell.
“not a presupposition on the authority of scripture, but a presupposition about the nature of the authority of scripture.”
Sounds like doubletalk.
To say that scripture is “authoritative” but that the nature of its authority is not always historical … is like saying a witness at a murder trial always tells the truth, but what he says may not actually have happened. You think he’s being historical, but he’s actually writing a novel out loud. In a courtroom under oath.
Oh, but it “contains theological truths”?
Yeah and my income tax statement contains theological truths…
“a conclusion that the resurrection is not historical would have serious ramifications for orthodox Christian faith, a similar conclusion about Noah’s Flood has no significant consequence for orthodox Christian faith.”
Couldn’t disagree with you more, on the second half of that statement.
Would you entrust your soul to someone whose “historicity” couldn’t be trusted? If a reader can pick and choose which parts of the Bible are true, the reader is the authority; the Bible is not.
So I think you’re mistaken on both points:
1) an orthodox Christian faith does require belief in the historicity of the Bible (regarding Noah, Jesus, and everyone else)
2) the scientific evidence against a Noahic flood is not overwhelming; the scientific enterprise has been heavily biased by the philosophical agenda of the uniformitarians.



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Scott

posted January 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm


Ray Ingles (35) wrote:

Larry – There’s another problem with the Flood. Why don’t young-Earth, Flood-geology proponents put their money where their mouth is?
Finding oil is a very important and high-stakes issue for oil companies. Literally trillions of dollars are riding on it. Exxon’s exploration budget alone is around $20 billion per year. When the chips are down and they need to find the most likely spots to drill – what kind of geology do they use? Flood geology, or mainstream? Which one actually delivers the goods?
Let’s assume the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Where did the oil come from? Was it created in the ground with the rest of the Earth? If so, is there a way to predict where it might be found? Or perhaps it really did form from plankton (with a few plants and dinosaurs), but about 10,000 times faster than any chemist believes it could under geological conditions? Any way you look at it, a young Earth and a Flood would imply some very interesting scientific questions to ask, some interesting (and potentially extremely valuable) research programs to start. How come nobody’s actually pursuing such research programs?
Why don’t creationists put together an investment fund, where people pay in and the stake is used as venture capital for things like oil and mineral rights? If “Flood geology” is really a better theory, then it should make better predictions about where raw materials are than standard geology does. The profits from such a venture could pay for a lot of evangelism. Why isn’t anyone doing this?

Funny you should ask, Ray. Prominent YEC & Flood geologist Dr. Steve Austin was recently recruited by Royal Oil (a NASDAQ company) because of his ?out of the box thinking?.



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