One of the more beautiful areas of the United States is Bryce Canyon. There is no other place quite like it, so the processes and conditions there must be unique. Anyone who visits the area with its rugged landscape would be motivated to ask how it got to be the way it is.
It is interesting that we frequently see atheist authors and creationist authors giving the same answer to this question. Both say that you either believe that all of these geological phenomena–as well as everything else in the creation–was either created that way by God or it has come about as a product of blind chance. In both camps, there is a prevalent view that all things are either God-designed or chance-designed and that there is no other alternative. It is understandable why atheists would want to make such a narrow choice available. Not only does it push forward their religious view that there is no God, but it also makes belief in God seem to be a shallow and inconsistent view of reality. The problem of human suffering and disaster is a much more difficult area for believers to deal with if God is pulling all the strings and making it all happen. This viewpoint places belief in God in an illogical box.
It would seem that Bryce Canyon is the ideal place to show the foolishness of forcing only these two choices. Did God sit down and carve each pillar as an artist would carve a statue? If not, does this mean that chance formation of the environment that produced the columns is the only other option? How about the option that God designed the system and let it run its course?
Geologists believe there are a wide variety of factors that contributed to the production of Bryce Canyon. When the rocks that make up the Canyon were laid down, they were deposited in a flat area near sea level. The sand and the iron oxide that colors it were deposited in beds that were flat. After many beds had been laid down, a new material was deposited with complex minerals making it very hard. After the area had been covered with several more layers of material, the whole region was lifted up to 8000 feet by forces deep within the earth. Water eroding this uplifted area found it difficult to cut through the hard material on top. Once that hard layer was cut through, the water cut deeper and deeper instead of flattening the area. The hard cap rock remained as the softer rock layers were eroded. Does this process preclude God having any role in the carving of Bryce?
Many times we have emphasized that the Bible tells us that God brings about His will in two ways. One way is the performance of a miracle that only God can do. The Hebrew word bara (create) denotes this kind of process and is only used when referring to God’s activity–never human activity. The second way is that God makes things happen in a natural way with no miraculous action. The Hebrew word asah (make) indicates this and is often applied to things that even humans can do. At the end of the Genesis account, the author tells us that God used both processes in bringing about the Creation. Genesis 2:3 says that God rested from all the work he had “created” (bara) and “made” (asah).
A failure to understand both processes that God uses in bringing things into existence leaves us with many problems in a variety of areas. God’s capacity to heal is not only seen in miracles that defy acts of doctors, but also in the design of the human body, in our mental outlook, in plants and animals that provide us with drugs, and in environmental factors. The bad things that happen to us do not happen because “God does it to us.” They come as a logical result of the struggle between good and evil and as a consequence of what we have individually and collectively done to the environment. War, starvation, poverty, and the spread of disease are not God-caused, but the result of our refusal to live as God commanded.
When we look at life itself, at the cosmos as a whole, and at beautiful places like Bryce Canyon, we are seeing the handiwork of God. The design built into everything from quarks to intergalactic space allows processes to function and bring about the beauty we see. Humans or God can direct how the processes will progress, but the initial design demands intelligence that makes mere chance a belief system without credibility.
–John N. Clayton © 2017