1. Question: How do your efforts to model and understand the tectonics of the Flood square with the historic orthodox Christian view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture?
Response: I am earnestly persuaded from Scripture that not only is Christian apologetics a legitimate enterprise but it is also an urgent imperative and non-negotiable duty for every generation of those belonging to the Lord Jesus. The apostle Paul points out in 2 Cor. 10, for example, that believers are in a very real war with the forces of darkness and that “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” is genuine part of our responsibility in this struggle. Paul himself is an example in his aggressive confrontations against the Judaizers who were advocating a substitute ‘gospel’. Both he and the apostle John took an uncompromising stand against the Gnostic errors that were being introduced in their day. Jude admonished his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The apostle Peter in the third chapter of his second letter warns his readers of a devastating heresy of the last days, a prediction that indeed has been fulfilled during these past two centuries. This heresy has largely paralyzed the church in our day. One can hardly find a believer anywhere in Western society today, for example, who is willing to quote God’s Word in a public venue and to assert its divine authority. The primary reason for this shocking erosion in the confidence in Scripture is, at least in my assessment,
is precisely the heresy about which Peter wrote. This heresy, which represents a frontal assault on the truthfulness of Scripture, has gone effectively unchallenged, at least in any serious way, now for more than two hundred years.
Just what is this heresy, and why has it been so difficult to refute? The deception, in Peter’s own words, is that “all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). It is clear from the context that his error has to do with the manner in which the physical history of the earth is to be interpreted. Specifically, it involves a willful denial of the Flood cataclysm. If the reality of the Genesis Flood is the central issue relating to the viability of this heresy, why is it then that the church has been so impotent in demonstrating its reality to the skeptics? After all, the water-laid sedimentary rocks almost everywhere around us commonly contain fossils, with frequent evidence that animals were buried while still alive. Moreover, such thick sequences of sedimentary rocks blanketing such vast areas of the normally high-standing continents should obviously be testifying that some drastically different circumstances must have prevailed in the past compared to what we observe occurring today. So, again, why have Christians been so impotent in defending the reality of this world-destroying event so prominent in Scripture?
The answer, in my assessment, is fairly simple. The reason is that until not so long ago Christians were utterly at a loss for a mechanism that could produce the staggering amount of geological change evident in the fossil-bearing portion of the rock record within the short span of time provided in the Genesis account. Without a credible mechanism, they were at a distinct disadvantage in the contest to provide the best explanation for the rock record. As decade after decade and generation after generation passed without an effective answer to the challenge laid down by James Hutton in 1795 and refined by Charles Lyell through a large part of the nineteenth century, the tendency for Christian believers was to withdraw, to retreat more and more, and to allow the uniformitarian side to win by default.
However, in what I believe was God’s providence, about fifty years ago there was a major discovery within the mainstream earth science community. The discovery was that the earth’s interior was not as strong and rigid as seismologists had been claiming and that, in fact, the solid earth was a much more dynamic entity than even most specialists had ever imagined. The decade of the 1960’s witnessed a genuine paradigm shift like Thomas Kuhn had just described in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, within the earth science community. By 1970 the vast majority in that community were persuaded that the new concept of plate tectonics, which included the formation of new ocean floor along the mid-ocean ridge system and subduction of older ocean floor into the deep ocean trenches, was basically correct. This new framework unleashed a huge amount new effort to explore and seek to understand the world’s seafloor. Already by 1970 the conclusion seemed to be secure that all of seafloor crustal basement rocks were basaltic in composition, that this basalt had been generated at a mid-ocean ridge via partial melting of mantle rock below as part of the seafloor spreading process, and that all of crustal basement rocks of today’s ocean floor were no older than Mesozoic in age. Among the implications were that the entire Atlantic ocean floor had formed since the early Mesozoic and that both North America and South America had moved westward away from Europe and Africa by some three thousand miles since that point in the geological record.
Let me connect these dots with my own life. I was saved at age 26 in 1970, mainly through a verse-by-verse study of the gospel of John in a college Sunday School class while in an electrical engineering Ph.D. graduate program. My conversion was a dramatic one. My desire to understand spiritual things prompted me to begin reading though the New Testament approximately once per week as well as several books per week from the local Christian bookstore. After a few months I found that the primary motivations I had had for my academic pursuits were simply no longer that relevant. Through my undergraduate participation in ROTC I had earned an Air Force commission and with it a four-year active duty obligation. I therefore asked the Air Force to terminate the educational delay which I had earlier requested in order to attend graduate school and to assign me to active duty. I was assigned to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico where I served for four years engaged in classified research. This was an especially exciting time of Christian growth for me as a young Air Force officer. As I approached the end of the four years, I sensed Christ calling me to some sort of full-time ministry work.
I sensed His leading to join the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and was assigned to campus ministry at the University of Kentucky. One very distressing thing I noticed almost immediately on campus was the rampant devastation that was taking place in the lives of students from Christian homes, as atheist professors, beginning with the first freshmen semester, were deliberately seeking to destroy their faith. For many of these students from rural Kentucky, it was the first generation that anyone in their family had attended college. Girls from these Christian homes were becoming pregnant and having abortions. The primary tactic these professors were using was to press the claims of evolution to argue that the Bible was nothing more than a collection of fables. Witnessing this tragedy caused righteous anger to rise within me. I still remember the feelings.
Because of my scientific background, the campus director had assigned me the responsibility to help organize an outreach activity by Probe Ministries from Dallas that involved classroom lectures by guest speakers on their staff. One outcome of this outreach was securing a speaking opportunity for myself the following semester in a freshman zoology class under a professor who could not fit the Probe speaker into the current semester’s schedule. I got a copy of the Probe speaker’s slides, added some of my own, and did my first creation/evolution lecture that next semester to about 300 mostly freshmen students. The professor asked me for five questions for his next hour exam and told the students they were responsible for the content of my lecture. That launched my career in speaking on this very important topic.
I next began doing evening forums on the creation/evolution issue on other campuses where, before the event, we would saturate the campus with flyers advertising the meeting and pointing out that evolution was scientific nonsense. That plan never failed to bring out crowds of several hundred people. In these forums I began with about 45 minutes of slides and then opened the meeting to questions from the audience. I sensed I made most of my points with the audience during the question time. Whereas I could go on the attack in biological areas with almost no concern about challenge from the audience, I took what was basically a defensive tact in the domain of geology. In my slides I would show a number of field examples of catastrophic and large scale water processes in order to make the case that catastrophism on large scales in the geological record was essentially undeniable. This approach somehow always seemed to preempt the serious challenges on the geological front during the question time. Nevertheless, I was keenly aware that, if asked whether or not I had a positive alternative to the standard uniformitarian model for how the earth came to be as it is today, I would have to admit that I did not.
Although my speaking on the origins issue was a small part of my overall campus ministry, the word did get out about it. I was invited to speak at a few Campus Crusade retreats and some people in leadership roles heard my presentations. They inquired if I might be able to make my materials transferable so that other staff might be able to use them. It was suggested I spend my third year on staff at Campus Crusade Headquarters in California to undertake this project, which I accepted. During that year I was able to research some of the issues I had not had the opportunity to research before. One topic I explored was what connection if any the new concept of plate tectonics might have to the Genesis Flood. The result was an acute realization that, not only did this new understanding about the earth relate to the Flood, it had the potential for explaining it as no one had been able to do before. I realized that if all today’s ocean floor is Mesozoic or younger in age, then a massive amount of seafloor spreading and subduction logically must have taken place during the Flood. Moreover, if all of today’s seafloor formed during the Flood, then all the pre-Flood seafloor must also be missing from the earth’s surface today. The only plausible place it could have gone is into the mantle by rapid subduction. This implied that the Flood must have been a huge tectonic catastrophe involving extremely rapid subduction and seafloor spreading. I realized this insight was profoundly significant for defending the Genesis account of the Flood specifically and the Biblical time scale in general. So my prayer to God was that He earnestly move upon a believing geologist to allow this exciting result to impact the world. But somehow I did not have a sense of peace. This was in the springtime of 1978.
After a few weeks I visited a creationist geologist whom I had met previously, Dr. Ariel Roth, at Loma Linda University, not far from where I was living in San Bernardino. I shared the conclusions I had reached concerning the implications that plate tectonics observations had for the processes involved in the Flood. I also acknowledged my own almost complete lack of background in earth science since most of my training had been in physics and engineering. I wanted his candid opinion as to whether or not, given my lack of expertise in earth science, I might have missed some vital point that would render my conclusions invalid. Dr. Roth displayed genuine interest, and while mentioning some aspects of the Flood that he felt this style of tectonics did not seem to resolve, he nevertheless left me feeling greatly encouraged. I then sought counsel from several other individuals I respected. As a result of these contacts I began to wonder if perhaps God might somehow be calling me to do something with this idea, despite the fact I had never taken even one undergraduate course in geology.
To make a longer story short, by the summer of 1978 I made the decision to leave Campus Crusade for Christ and to enroll in a Ph.D. program in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at UCLA. The objective was to obtain the training and credentials to work on the mechanism behind the Genesis Flood at a professional level. I was keenly aware that this was an extremely high risk venture. The task was so huge that, if God was not truly calling me to it, I was on a course to waste some of the best years of my life. It was a conscious step of faith. Whereas I had genuine uncertainty at first, after the doors I saw to open at UCLA, doubt was no longer an honest option. Whereas when I entered the program at UCLA, I could not even conceive how dissertation research I might undertake relating directly to the Genesis Flood might be accepted and approved, I witnessed that very thing take place in a relatively routine sort of way. I could never have imagined that my thesis work would place me, for a while at least, within the inner circle of the international geophysics community and also would open to me a permanent position in the prestigious Theoretical Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory with ample time to pursue my Flood-related research. From that point until today I have continued to sense and have sought to fulfill the calling Christ placed on my life in the late 1970’s.
This then is background from which I come to this question. In summary, I believe that finding and developing the model of the Flood that agrees with what actually took place during that momentous event in the earth’s past is extremely important to an effective defense of the Bible and the Christian faith at this moment in history. I am persuaded that the lack of such a model has led to a profound erosion of confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible over the last 200 years. The awareness of this state of affairs has been a major driving force in my life over the past 32 years.