Faith & Science Forum Questions: Part 6

So it has been a long, long while since I last posted some answers to questions from the Faith & Science forum at the Living Stones church this spring. There is one last set of questions I received from a reader:

Question: Did Pangea exist?

Answer: Pangea is what is known as a supercontinent. The idea is that all seven of the current continents (North America, South America, Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Antarctica) were actually one giant continent some time in the past and that continental drift (the various “plates” that make up the surface of the earth moving away from each other) has caused the supercontinent to break up and give us the Earth we see today. This theory was first formulated in the 1920s but since the 50s-60s has become generally accepted. The evidence for its existence basically comes down to an argument of similarity. There are 3 main similarities that people find:

  1. Geographic – if you look at a globe, you can see how it looks like South America and Africa fit together like puzzle pieces.
  2. Geologic – geologists have discovered similar rock formations that line up squish the continents together. Also plate tectonic theory gives a mechanism by which the continents have drifted.
  3. Fossil – many fossils of similar organisms are found on continents that are on opposite sides of the earth. Given that many plants and animals are fairly region-specific the indication is that the areas where the similar fossils were found were once in closer proximity than they are now

Almost all forms of origins theory (including most young earth and old earth creationism) have no problem with the existence of Pangea. Many young earth creationists, for instance, believe that Pangea was broken up during the Flood.

Question: Was the flood described in Genesis universal (covering the entire earth), or the Black Sea flooding of 5540 BC?

Answer: The question of the extent of the Flood found in Genesis is still very hotly debated among Christians. Some of the “how would that work?” questions from a universal flood are:

  • how much water is needed to flood the entire earth? If there were not any Mt. Everest type mountains at that time and Pangea existed, perhaps the necessary amount is not completely unreasonable.
  • how many animals would Noah need to preserve on the Ark in order to have the present diversity since the Ark was not big enough to hold everything we see today? Many young-earth creationists appeal to rapid adaptation, natural selection, and speciation to go from general animal “kinds”  to the present number of species, e.g. a single pair of cat-like creatures produced all the cat-like species we see today.

Many Christian thinkers have held that the Genesis Flood was not necessarily a global flood, but rather  a catastrophic, but localized, flood in the Middle Eastern region.

Two geologists from Columbia University proposed in 1997 that a catastrophic flood occurred around the Black Sea as it became connected to the Mediterranean Sea around 5600 B.C.  It is thought by some that this flood event may be what is described in the Genesis account.

For a much more thorough discussion of a localized flood interpretation for Christians wanting to be faithful to the Scriptures I would highly recommend a short blog series by apologist and biologist Rick Gerhardt:

  1. Why See the Flood as Global?
  2. Flood Geology
  3. Science and the Flood
  4. Strained Arguments

Question: Is the Earth old or young?

Answer: That is an important part of interpreting scientific data and yet is somewhat of a secondary issue for the Christian. The clear scientific consensus is that the Earth is something like 4 billion years old. The alternative view of young earth creationists is that the Earth is something like 6-10 thousand years old. The first thing to note is that this is a huge difference. Scientists are reporting that the Earth is 400,000 times older than what Biblical literalist suggests. That’s more than just a little error. It suggests that there are 3 possible explinations:

  1. there is something pretty major that scientists are missing from their understanding about the way fundamental physical processes work
  2. God created the Earth 10,000 years ago to look 400,000 times older
  3. the literalist interpretation of Genesis 1 is not correct

As a physical scientist, I have a hard time seeing how 1 is very likely. Certainly scientists do not claim to know everything, but to get from 4 billion to 10 thousand years requires some very dramatic changes in things like nuclear decay rates or the speed of light and we’ve never seen any significant changes in those.

Explanation 2 is possible, however it does not seem likely as it suggests that God is somehow tricking us. Additionally this idea has virtually no explanatory power, it doesn’t explain “why?”. Lastly, there’s no way to verify it. If we start claiming that God just made reality look like reality, but that it isn’t really real, then how can we trust anything?

This leaves possibility 3. While this flies in the face of my conservative Evangelical upbringing, this seems the most likely. Over the next few posts I think I’ll try to develop this idea more. I think it is important to note that people often see 3 as being less faithful to the Bible or as an open door to taking everything in the Bible figuratively or an open license to throw the doctrine of  Biblical inspiration and inerrancy out the door. I don’t think that is the case. I’ve known too many people who are faithful followers of Christ and defenders of the Bible who happen to believe the best interpretation of Genesis 1 is that of an old earth.