Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Atheist and an Evangelical Walk into a Grand Canyon --An Exercise in Epistemology Part I

I've spent the past three days here on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This is my third trip here and the first for my wife. While she branched off today to do some hiking, I wanted to focus an entire day on the geological history of this area.  I'm extremely inquisitive and I love to learn things I don't know, and there is a lot of those things.  While I've heard the entire story of the Grand Canyon before, I wanted to hear it again and in detail. 

Jumping ahead, I've always said that there is a serious (intellectual) problem that we all share in and that is one of existence. There are no easy answers. The Atheists-evolutionists have huge problems . . . but the Christians do too. When they say, I know the answer because the Holy Spirit has revealed truth directly to my heart, then, in my humble opinion, that is a lazy cop-out.

So imagine that two cars enter this fine national park and drive up to the south rim and stop at the Mather overlook. While they both are standing side by side, here are some problems that they must face.

I will only quickly address the problem with the Atheist. He (or she) will look out over the incredible scene and feel something overwhelming, which is almost a universal human feeling. I only say "almost" because some of the early white explorers saw the canyon in a frame of disgust (for interfering with their travel plans and having no value to feed cattle or raise crops). But the atheist has to suddenly do some form of mental calisthenics to soak in that moment. They may think of these feelings as an evolutionary development that causes us to feel pleasure in such sights . . . for no clear reason. Some of the more dishonest ones will come up with terms like "feeling energy" at the sight of amazing things.  They hint at spirituality like Sagan habitually did.

The honest atheist (which are very difficult to find) must reduce the experience to a clump of material (him or herself) standing in close proximity to another clump of material . . . or in the case of the Grand Canyon . . . the absence of material. That is all. It is final. You can add no other meaning to the experience if you are a faithful atheist.

Now to the Evangelical. But I will define them as the typical young-earth creationist to be clear.  They will have even greater problems, which they would rarely admit.

I realize that not everyone cares for science like some of us do. For some don't care about how geological features are formed. But this issue goes beyond geology to one of epistemology, or the whole process of finding truth.

In my early days, soon after I suffered a great disillusionment with Christianity, I was trying to answer my questions about creation and discovered The Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I got quite involved with them. I attended a week-end seminar. Then I gave them money and a year later volunteered to help them put on another seminar. It was while I was in the middle of the second seminar, that I had an eureka moment and realized all the things they were saying was . . . well crap.  Here were smart scientists (not in earth sciences) who had a specific belief (the earth was six thousand years old) and therefore were forcing their interpretation of science to conform to that model. It was a broken epistemology.

Back to the Grand Canyon.

ICR uses the Grand Canyon to prove that the earth is very young.  They chose this incredible geological feature because the old-earth geologists (or I could just say geologists) use this place as a well-written history book of a very old earth.

When Mount Saint Helens exploded in 1980, many feet of light ash fell around its base and inches fell for hundreds of miles to the east. The ash also damned up natural streams (and new water form rapidly melted glaciers) high on the mountain into makeshift lakes.  When the dams broke, then water plummeted down the mountain side and created small canyons of layered ash. Because the ash was laid down in layers, with a slightly different composition over hours and days, the appearance resembled a Grand Canyon in a microcosm.

ICR used the rapid (weeks) formation of ash "canyons" to prove their interpretation of the Grand Canyon, as a geological feature formed in weeks by Noah's world wide flood. In their view, the world wide flood laid down huge layers of mud (looking out my window right now, I estimate that mud would have to have been 6,000 feet  thick) then the sudden retreat of the flood waters washed out this magnificent canyon in a matter of days or weeks.

To the Christian who has no training in the physical sciences, especially the earth sciences, they could accept this theory comfortable as the true Christion view.  I'm not here to criticize people for not knowing or caring about science. However, part of me wonders how can you say you love God but not have a passion for knowing as much about his creation as possible. But I know that people have different reasons for not caring about science. I don't know much about being a collector, you know, those people who have 100,000 different thimbles and could tell you everything you could possibly know about them.

The problem is, and I will try to quickly summarize here, the real Grand Canyon formation is very complex. It is made up of layers upon layers of complex rock formations, not layers and layers of simple shales (mud that has turned to rock).  Some of the rocks are formed from a type of limestone that is made by bacteria in shallow, warm seas. Some of the rocks are formed from desert sands, which have been compressed. Some are from lava flows. I'm here to say that the relationship between the real Grand Canyon and layers of light weight volcanic ash is nil.

I'm not being brainwashed by the liberal-evolutionists, as a friend at my old church use to tell me. He would always start to tell me how those liberal god-haters had intentionally used a mixture of monkey and human bones to create "missing links."  I would smile and walk away.

But there is a more serious point I want to make about epistemology and I will try to do that in part II. This goes far beyond the young earth vs old earth controversy to how we know truth. 

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