Ask a Pastor Ep. 48 - Science and the Bible (Part 2)

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Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.

This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Geologist, Dr. Steve Austin, about some topics related to science and the Bible.

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This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

Kurt Bjorklund: Hi, welcome to Ask A Pastor. I'm joined again today by Dr. Steve Austin. He's a well known geologist, professor, researcher, author, and he is also a part of Orchard Hill Church, has been for many years, along with his wife, Dr. Kelly Austin. Welcome. Thanks for taking some time to sit with us today.

Kurt Bjorklund: So one of your areas of expertise is the are of geology, which obviously plays into how people come to dating the age of the earth. There are other issues that play into that, that's not the only thing. But one of the conversations in the church today is, is the earth young or old? For those of you who maybe aren't familiar with the conversation, young meaning you take the Biblical accounts as basically being within the ballpark, so when the early accounts of Genesis talk about the creation of the earth, that it's thousands of years ago, not millions. Whereas, an old earth perspective says the earth is millions of years old. And then the Biblical accounts are seen to either refer to day and ages, be irrelevant, to be something that is explained through a gap, created with apparent age, some other explanation for how we have what appears to be a young earth text and an old earth.

Kurt Bjorklund: So help those of us who maybe would say, you know what, I hear people talk about this, even Christians on both sides, there's now Christians who will say we're old earth, there's people who are passionate about it being a young earth, the Creation Museum, those kinds of things. Help people wade into this topic and make some sense of it.

Steve Austin: I would say from my experience, I've been involved with the radioisotope dating methods, which are supposedly the proof of millions of years for earth history. I've spent a quarter of a million dollars on radioisotope dating, and I've come away believing that no one has a successfully dated rock.

Kurt Bjorklund: So explain that again to somebody who isn't familiar with the process. Why would somebody say, "I know", and why would you as you've researched it say, "I don't know anybody can know"?

Steve Austin: Radioisotope ray shows a parent and daughter product. It's like a candle burning in a room, looking at the smoke in the room, suggesting how old the room is and the smoke in the room, that kind of thing. And the idea that radioisotope decay is constant with time. And we know the parent and daughter ratio, and that's the idea of the age of things. I've dated one rock by four different methods and got four different ages. I should get one age if the method's working right for the rock, not four different ages.

Kurt Bjorklund: When you say four different ages, you talking about separated by thousands or millions?

Steve Austin: Millions of years.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.

Steve Austin: I've dated one rock in the bottom of Grand Canyon and got four different ages spread over hundreds of millions of years for the rock. So I've become a skeptic of radioisotope dating of Grand Canyon rocks in particular. But we look at Grand Canyon, and what is it that fascinates me? It's the strata and the erosion of the strata in Grand Canyon. As you look at Grand Canyon, you can see the Colorado River in the bottom of Grand Canyon, and you might think, along with the culture, the 20th century cultural icon that came to us, that the Colorado River eroded Grand Canyon over tens of millions of years. That was the ranger explanation at the rim of Grand Canyon for 100 years. It's part of our culture. It was taught to me in grammar school, that Colorado River was in Grand Canyon over tens of millions of years. That's the issue that needs to be addressed. Is it the Colorado River that eroded Grand Canyon? Believe it or not, most geologists have jettisoned that idea that the Colorado River eroded Grand Canyon.

Kurt Bjorklund: Really? Why is that?

Steve Austin: There's no evidence of the enduring river, if you will. The Colorado Plateau is sitting there, and with all kinds of strata and deposits around it, but no evidence of an ancient river. The ancient river is not found, and so geologists find themselves trying to explain how the Colorado River got positioned over this plateau in the blink of an eye, essentially.

Kurt Bjorklund: So in other words, as you have, and others have gone to the Grand Canyon, dug, looked at rocks, studied rocks, used all of the scientific methods, what I'm hearing you say is that the consensus even of most geologists who physically do that work, is that the Colorado River did not cut the path, as much as they have to find an explanation because they can't find evidence for the river, basically higher up in the canyon even, or on the surface.

Steve Austin: Precisely. And then the discussion gets a little bit complicated, but we either need to talk about gully erosion making the Grand Canyon, or some type of overtopping or over-spill explanation. Now, these two explanations for Grand Canyon are being seriously considered by geologists without immense periods of time. In other words, the Grand Canyon just appears abruptly recently and it's explained by one of the other options, the runaway gully erosion, or some type of overtopping thing. I like the ideal that ponded drainage east of Grand Canyon created a lake, and that lake over-spilled the rim of the plateau, and the drainage of that lake created Grand Canyon.

Steve Austin: The other explanation is that the canyon was eroded from west to east, not from east to west, but from west to east by a gully that intercepted the upper drainage basin of Colorado Plateau and diverted the river or formed the river through the gully.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So now, explain again why that ties into understanding young versus old earth in your way of thinking.

Steve Austin: It shows me that time is not a magic wand. Our culture has delivered to us the notion that time is the ultimate explanation for everything geologic; you wave the magic wand and it explains everything, and it's the hero of the plot, that type of thing. Time is not a magic wand. Time is actually the villain of the plot. It keeps us from understanding the true explanations for the things that we see around us, like Grand Canyon. So the Grand Canyon is like Johnny-come-lately Canyon that needs to be explained, and our understanding or thinking about geologic time is foreign to the data that we're looking at. So we think about time being a magic wand, it explains slow and gradual evolution, it explains the geologic ages between the rock layers and that type of thing. Time is not a magic wand. It's not the hero of the plot, it's the villain of the plot. So geologists might be working with a concept of geologic time that does not explain things, it hinders the explanation. And that's what geologists are coming to grips with. So I'm comfortable with a young earth explanation for earth history.

Kurt Bjorklund: So what would you say to somebody who would say to this, "Okay, I'm a person of faith. So I want to believe that God created the earth. But I'm not quite ready to cede to the young earth, so I want to believe the "science"," and again, I'll use air quotes, not to say I don't believe that science, but just to say you're questioning the legitimacy of the dating, "but I want to say the old is earth somehow." So they would say either, God used an evolutionary process, that's certainly a common view in the Christian world today, that it follows what evolutionists say, but God was the original creator, mover of it, and now it's moved along. Or they would say, "I won't necessarily go to evolutionary process, but I'll still say the earth is old, and there's just another explanation for why the Biblical narratives don't start until several thousands of years ago." What would you say to somebody who, that's their response to the science of the young earth?

Steve Austin: Well, I would say it's unnecessary to have the hypothesis of geologic time built in to your worldview, you don't need it. So Genesis is a historic narrative that allows me to explain recent creation, the design of nature we see around us, the incredible design. It allows me to understand the fossil record as being the result of what? The Fall and what the flood followed, and human history following Tower of Babel. So the Biblical framework works fine. So I don't need to have a foreign concept of tens of millions of years in my thinking to do what I-

Kurt Bjorklund: If I've heard you then, if somebody though says, again, and I'm pushing just to say like somebody listening may say, "Well, it's not a hypothesis in my mind, what I'm seeing is what I've been taught my whole life, this is science that tells me that the earth is not as young." So your answer is that the dating methods and the science of that is wrong?

Steve Austin: Yeah.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay.

Steve Austin: The appearance might be old age. It appears that Grand Canyon is tens of millions of years old because the Colorado River is sitting there, but you don't need to go that direction with your understanding. So built in to this idea of slow and gradual process over geologic ages, that part doesn't need to be brought in to the science and discussion of science.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So what's at stake in this conversation? In other words, why should somebody say, "This matters to land on a young earth versus an old earth"? In other words, what I hear from people frequently is, "Ah, it could be young, it could be old. I know God created it, I believe that, maybe God fashioned after millions of years, maybe God created thousands of years ago." Why do you think this matters in the broader conversation?

Steve Austin: I'm not a theistic evolutionist, and I would not recommend to anybody try to be that way, okay, compromise between evolution and Christian faith. I want to get my vitamins and hormones for thinking about the world from the Biblical framework, and from the historic narrative of Genesis. So that matters to me. So historic Genesis, Adam in my ancestry, a global flood in earth history, those things are very important. And ultimately, it leads to the view of the greatness of God. God is big. God is great. And we see God in creation all around us, and it helps me worship him and appreciate him and walk with him. I'm a scientist, and I just love doing my work, and I think it praises God. So that's why I want to have this corresponding framework.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yes. And again, just one more throwback, so if somebody said, "Okay, yes, I agree with that. I don't want to be a theistic evolutionist either. I believe in God. I believe that God created. I believe in the flood. But it seems like there's some room for interpreting Genesis as ages rather than days, literal 24 hour days, and there's some places where a day appears to mean something more than a day, it seems to refer to a season or an age." Why is that not an acceptable interpretation of Genesis based on theology and science?

Steve Austin: For me, in the fossil record there's all kinds of evidence of death. I don't want to say God is the author of death over geologic ages. In other words, that's what theistic evolution says. And so my God is greater than that, he's not the author of death, he created a perfect creation, and death and sin and suffering entered the world from man's choice. So I believe in a historic Adam. So that's the important area for me, is to understand that. The framework of Scripture works with data and leads to my understanding and a good understanding of who God is.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. One of the challenges, and I think this is what you're alluding to, of saying that the days are ages, is death then was part of creation, not after the Fall, which changes the Biblical narrative that has been standard Christian theology for millennia, which is the idea of, God created things good, right and proper, and then the Fall happened, sin entered the world, that's when death came into the world. So to move pre-Fall for an old earth, you have to account for death somehow, and there's no good answer for that. So that makes the day/age theory at least a more challenging theory to sustain in terms of trying to explain the age of the earth.

Steve Austin: It's questionable geologically and it's questionable theologically, or questionable in our Biblical understanding of the world.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. So you mentioned the Grand Canyon, you've talked about dinosaurs in the last podcast that we did. If you had a single geological discovery that you could point somebody to and say, go see this, go study this, go look at this, and this would be the most persuasive thing you would see, what would that be for you?

Steve Austin: For me, Grand Canyon. I've been 27 raft trips through Grand Canyon, spent two years of my life below the rim of Grand Canyon. I just love the place. Grand Canyon, Arizona, Utah, that type of thing, I love the geologic formations that I see out there. And take a look at the world we see, and just appreciate how great God is. He's the creator and we see his awesome hand in the world around us.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah.

Steve Austin: I think a place like Grand Canyon is a good place to draw my attention back to.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. If somebody wanted to say, "I'm not ready to cede to young earth, but I want to hold to a younger earth theory, but still say I believe the prevailing notion of modern science." What if they said that the world was created with apparent age? In other words, presumably when God created a tree, he didn't create a little mini tree, he created a full grown tree. You know, when he created Adam, he didn't create a baby, he created a full grown man. So what if somebody said, "The earth was probably created with apparent age, because God didn't create something from the beginning." Is there any geological or, other than it's not proven, or theological problem with that position?

Steve Austin: There would be evidence of appearance of age. It would look like from creation that all the soil in the garden weathered from bedrock over millions of years perhaps. But it didn't. God created it that way. He created mature trees that would appear to have sprouted from seeds. Okay, there's appearance of age. There was a river and a canyon associated with the Garden of Eden, and so it would appear... And so all of these appearances would lead possibly to your understanding of millions of years, but God created with this appearance of age. Light from stars. The whole world in which we live would have the appearance of age as God created it.

Kurt Bjorklund: Rather than as it does, which is that these things just were.

Steve Austin: Yeah.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay, thank you. So last question, this one came from Josh, who makes sure that we get these recorded well, and that is, in the last podcast we talked about dinosaurs being pre-Fall, being wiped out, meaning they're part of God's good creation. In the renewed heavens and earth, the future, assuming there are dinosaurs then if they're part of God's good creation, which one do you want to play with?

Steve Austin: Well, my favorite dinosaur is Apatosaurus, the sauropod dinosaur. He probably wasn't very ferocious and wouldn't think of me as a food or anything like that.

Kurt Bjorklund: As a meal, a snack.

Steve Austin: As a meal, a snack. But yeah, they're marvelous creatures, and yeah, we should understand and appreciate them.

Kurt Bjorklund: Great, great. Well, Dr. Steve Austin, thank you for taking the time and helping to bring some light to this subject. Again, if you have questions, you can send them to and we'll be happy to address them on a coming podcast. Have a great Friday. Thanks for spending part of your day with us.