Relying On Ignorance

Relying on Ignorance of Grand Canyon Formation
We often hear from young people who have been taught something in a Bible class or sermon or a religious publication or video that they know cannot be true. Many creationists and creationist groups lack training in the fields in which they claim to be experts, and they are relying on ignorance of their hearers. When smart young people hear something they know is incorrect, it gives them a reason to reject the church and perhaps reject God’s existence.

A classic example of this is shown in explanations of the Grand Canyon. Many writers try to explain away the formation of the Grand Canyon by saying that the Flood of Noah did it. They say the Flood formed the Canyon in a short time just a few thousand years ago. They claim that the Flood laid down the sediments, and when the water swept off the land, it carved the Grand Canyon.

As an Earth Science teacher in the public schools in South Bend, Indiana, I taught young people about petrology — the study of rocks. Knowing how rocks were formed enabled scientists to find resources such as copper, oil, marble, iron, and certain gems. We can now synthesize some of these materials by copying the methods by which they were formed in the Earth’s past. Relying on ignorance would not allow us to find or synthesize these materials.

We know that the deposition of materials and subsequent erosion by the Flood did not form the Grand Canyon. The dominant rock in the Grand Canyon is limestone. Children taking Earth Science courses learn that limestone is a chemical precipitate. Quiet waters produce it over a long time. Most of us know about rock candy in which a solution of sugar crystallizes to create the candy. Limestone produced by a similar process, as is halite, dolomite, and gypsum. These are chemically precipitated rocks, never deposited in moving water.

A recent headline in a creationist journal reads, “Rapid Limestone Deposits Match the Flood.” A young person told me that she didn’t want to hear anything else from the Church because the statements in the journal were clearly not true. She doubted anything the Church said was true as a result. She also pointed out other problems. The Canyon is not just one rock type. It has alternating layers of different materials produced by different climates and processes. There are desert-produced sandstones, conglomerates which are produced by running streams, salt deposits produced by evaporation, and lavas that flowed across the top of the rock layers below them and were not injected as sills.

There is a huge burden on us to know what we are talking about. We must be as accurate as we can in understanding what the evidence shows. The general public is ignorant of most of these things and will not call an error to our attention. However, young people today are better educated in scientific facts, and we must not be relying on ignorance to expect our explanations to go unchallenged.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

The Mountains and the Sand

One of the interesting studies available to students of geology is the way in which various structures on the surface of the Earth are formed. Where does sand come from and what message does it carry for us? Where we live in the Great Lakes area, there are massive amounts of sand. Areas to the south of us have lots of rocks, but relatively small amounts of sand compared to our area. This has not always been true, however, because deep underground in that area there are massive amounts of sandstone–the same sand we have around the Great Lakes but cemented together into rock.

Sand can be produced by the smashing of rocks. In places like Hawaii, there are beaches made up of black lava pounded into sand by the waves. There are even green and pink sand beaches made from rocks that contain colored minerals like olivine. Most sand, however, is made of quartz and is the by-product of the breakdown of volcanic rocks. Granite is made up of three basic minerals: orthoclase, hornblende, and quartz. There can be smaller amounts of other materials, but these are the dominant ones. These minerals have different hardness levels and are eroded at different rates. Orthoclase is quite easy to erode and has a pinkish color to it. This material erodes to become clay. The dark colored hornblende is also fairly easy to weather and erode. Quartz is extremely hard and durable. The result is that when weather and physical processes work on granite, the orthoclase and hornblende are carried away and what is left is quartz sand.

The massive amount of sand seen around the Great Lakes has come mainly from the granite that makes up the Canadian shield–the bedrock underlying much of North America. Any mountainous area will ultimately be reduced to nothing more than sand. One lesson that comes from mountains and sand is that nothing in this physical world is permanent. Jesus stated this eloquently when He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19, 20).

When I studied geology at Notre Dame University, we had a professor who would take us on a field trip to the cemetery. Headstones erected in the early 1800s already had disintegrated into piles of sand. One has to be reminded of James 4: 14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Through all of this, however, there is the message of purpose and design by God. The mixture of sand, hornblende, and clay lead to soil. Life could not exist on a planet made of rock that could not be eroded. The waters that erode the granite sustain life, and the erosion process produces the topsoil that feeds us. The change of mountains into sand makes Earth a vibrant, living thing of beauty. So too, our lives can be beautiful if we allow God to mold and shape us. That is one of the key messages of 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. As the writer tells us about the most beautiful change of all:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will all be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

How Long Does it Take to Make a Canyon?

Yellowstone Canyon
Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone National Park is one of our great American treasures. During several summers at Montana State University, we spent a lot of time wandering around this huge wilderness. Most people think of Old Faithful and the geyser basin when they think of Yellowstone, but the canyon and falls are some of Yellowstone’s most beautiful places.

What does it take to make a canyon like this, and what does this tell us about the history of the Earth? The answers to these questions are remarkably simple. You need something that is capable of cutting down through a material, and you need a material that can be cut. On planet Earth, the primary geologic cutting agent is water. When water is frozen, it gouges and cuts a wide U-shaped channel. This is called a glacier, and the shape of its canyon is easy to identify. In the liquid form, water makes a V-shaped channel like the Yellowstone Canyon. How long the channel is and how deep it is cut are determined by how much water flows, how long it flows, and how hard the rock is. In Yellowstone, most of the rock is geyserite, a soft yellow rock easily cut and eroded by water. This soft rock is produced by volcanic processes, and deep canyons can happen quickly when flooding occurs.

In other places like the Grand Canyon and most of the eastern part of the United States, the rock is much harder and takes much longer to erode. Yellowstone is a young topography caused by recent volcanism. The sedimentary rocks of the eastern United States and the Grand Canyon took a long time to deposit and a long time to erode. All of this points to God’s patience and timelessness. We should not try to lock God into a time-frame that makes God look small and trivial. Remember that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
–John N. Clayton © 2017