Faith and Geology
|This article looks at the important new scientific discoveries which have been made in the field of sedimentology in the light of the teaching of the Catholic Church and the Bible. These discoveries call into question the uniformitarian assumption that the geological rock strata were laid down over millions of years, one of the cornerstones of evolutionary thinking - rather they show that the strata could all have been laid down very quickly at the same time. The fossils found in these rocks thus provide evidence for a world-wide cataclysm - the Flood of Noah - rather than support for evolution.
Unbelievably for many, the link between geology and the decline of the Faith is direct and disastrous. For over a century geology has stated that the rocks are positive proof of millions of years between the appearance of man and the era of Abraham. Until the beginning of the twentieth century Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians were all agreed that about two thousand years separated Adam from Abraham.
As predicted by nineteenth century geologist Charles Lyell, attacking the Mosaic geology of the Genesis Flood, was a more effective way of bringing into doubt biblical inerrancy than any theological argument. He was right. Not only Noah's Flood but all the Creation account and Adam's sin, held by Hebrew scholars and the entire tradition of the Church to be historical, were discredited by the 'new' geology.
They were rejected as history and reinterpreted as allegory. Inevitably, the reliability of all Scripture was put into question. Why place confidence in the rest of the Bible if its first eleven chapters, believed for nearly six thousand years to be the literal Word of God could suddenly be declared, on the authority of science, to be no more than poetry?
Contrary to the non-Catholic Bible believing communities, whose only authority is Scripture, the Catholic Church, whilst accepting the Bible as the infallible Word of God, looks to the authority of the Church established by Christ as its interpreter. The revealed truth, to Catholics is, therefore those parts of the Bible whose meaning has been infallibly defined by the Church through its Councils. It forms part of Her deposit of faith or teaching Magisterium.
So when, because of geology, the Protestants had their faith shaken in the literal meaning of Genesis 1-11, officially the Catholic Church could appeal to its Magisterium which, as the Bible, is considered to be without error. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Catholics, like Protestants, felt bound to accept the supposed scientific proof that man appeared hundreds of thousands of years ago.
So certain were the geologists and palaeontologists of their data that the apparently contradictory statements from the Magisterium were ignored. Appeal to development of theology to avoid the evident meaning of Scripture led to abuses of the Magisterium. Adam as the first man, and Eve's creation from Adam's side were obvious targets for revision. Adam became for many theologians the collective name given to the first group of men having evolved from the primates, and Original Sin, primitive man's awareness of guilt.
Once such deviations from defined doctrine reached the seminaries in the guise of doctrinal development, nothing was sacred. Change became the buzz word and traditional teaching, passé. The anchor of the bark of St Peter seemed to have been pulled up. The hallmarked guarantee of Catholic doctrine was questioned from within. During the twentieth century, as the new theology spread, seminaries and convents emptied, the priesthood lost its lustre and Catholics lost the faith.
Tolerance of divorce, homosexuality, and other abuses of the natural law were the inevitable consequence. Man had replaced God in deciding what was right and wrong. It seemed overlooked that development of doctrine by 'experts' was devoid of value, if not integrated into the Magisterium by the Pope acting in conjunction with the bishops.
Prior to the belief that millions of years were needed to form the Earth's fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks, the Creation account and the Noahic Deluge were read as actual history. As late as 1909, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, composed of Cardinals, taught the historicity of the first chapters of the Bible. The biblical genealogies indicated the time between Adam and Christ as being around 4,000 years.
The fossils in the rock strata were held to be the register of life destroyed by the Genesis Flood. The Church's doctrinal teaching on ex-nihilo creation, and the theology of the great theologians of Christianity such as Augustine, Bonaventure and Aquinas fitted into this scenario.
In traditional theology, a straightforward reading of the Lateran IV (1215) de fide teaching on creation, positively excludes evolution. Read in conjunction with Canon 5 of Vatican 1 (1869-70), it is difficult to see how God could be relegated to creating just particles, or seeding primeval matter. The infallible dogma is explicit: If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing - let him be anathema.
It is clearly stated that each thing (such as each Genesis kind) was created from nothing (instantly) in its whole substance, not one thing gradually transforming into another over millions of years. It is a mystery how this Magisterial teaching could have been interpreted to accommodate evolution.
The beginning of the twenty first century, however, is far from propitious to evolution. A new recently reported scientific discovery vindicating the exegeses of the Church Fathers regarding creation, is causing acute embarrassment for evolutionists. Added to other evidence seriously opposing evolution theory, it is time to take stock. This means, of course, ignoring the hard core of secular humanists who rightly say there is no alternative to evolution other than the intolerable Creator theory.
Evolution has never been seen to happen in the several thousand years of reported human history. Evolutionists say it happens so slowly that it cannot be observed. They say it cannot be detected by modern instrumentation but is still happening. The opponents of evolution, say if it cannot be seen, on what grounds can it be said to be still happening?
This question irritates evolutionists, because they claim clear visual evidence of development of change of species can be seen from fossils in sedimentary rock strata.
The fact that some fossils in the higher strata are different from those in the lower strata is interpreted as evidence that evolution has taken place. Even, as most knowledgeable evolutionists admit, there are no unambiguous transitional fossils, it is claimed that there are sufficient characteristics in the fossils to demonstrate a species change.
They say that as strata formed one on top of the other over millions of years, the fossilised organisms buried in them provide a record of species evolution. The column of stratified rock in the Earth's crust is used as a scale of geological time from which the date of burial of the fossil is determined.
If, due to tectonic activity, doubt exists as to whether the strata are in the same position as when they were formed, radiometric dating methods are used to provide an absolute date of burial.
The case for evolution of the species rests, therefore, upon:
1. the sedimentary strata having been accurately dated (strata are used to date the fossils)
2. the assumed generic relations between fossils of different species being correct
3. confirmation by radiometric dating of fossils
Until recently, the principles governing the formation of strata had not been tested in the laboratory. The basic principles of superposition, continuity, and original horizontality, were formulated by Nicholas Stenon in the seventeenth century. They were subsequently used in the
It stated that any strata was younger than the one underneath it and older the one on top. How could anything so obvious be doubted ? When the illustrious pioneers of geology such as James Hutton and Charles Lyell examined stratified geological formations, hundreds of meters high, there was no reason not to interpret the successive strata in terms of the principle of superposition. It seemed logical that strata, anywhere in the formation, should follow the principle of the lower being older than the higher.
When the aforementioned basic principles were eventually put to the test in the 1990's (Guy Berthault - Geological Dating Principles Questioned - Fusion May/June 2000), the experimental results disagreed entirely with Nicholas Stenon, Hutton and Lyell's interpretation. The experiments showed that in the presence of a water current, none of the principles of stratigraphy, including superposition, applied. Geological interpretations, stand or fall by the peer reviewed results of laboratory experiments. In this case, the interpretation by Stenon, passed on to succeeding generations of geologists, has fallen.
The only criticism from a minority of geologists is that laboratory experiments cannot be extrapolated to explain natural geological formations in the field. The scientific response is that the laws of mechanics governing sediments and fluids are universal. They apply just as much in the laboratory flume as in the oceans and seas. The article in the scientific journal Fusion gives examples.
It should be explained that 95% or more sedimentary rocks were originally formed under water. This fact is attested by the ubiquity of marine fossils in such rocks. Stenon and his successors were, of course, quite aware of the mainly marine, or ocean environment, in which sediments were deposited, yet had overlooked the effect of water currents.
Stenon's principle of superposition required completely current-free water. For it to apply, the particles of sediments concerned, such as sandstone, limestone and clay, would have had to fall vertically, but gently (so as not to create a current), into the water from an unknown
Stratification and lamination experiments, as published by the Geological Society (1993) and the Academy of Sciences (1986, 1988) in France, demonstrate how the action of water currents on sediments cause the constituent particles to segregate according to size. As a result, each stratum tends to be composed of the same type of sediment.
In transgression conditions, whereby the sea water rises, sediments are eroded and transported by fast flowing currents. As the velocity of current slows the large particles drop out, next, the less large ones and finally, when the water level reaches its maximum, and the current speed is reduced to nil, the fine particles deposit. The resultant bed of fine sediment contains particles which were carried by the current until the velocity was sufficiently slow for them to deposit.
The larger sized particles in the bed below could have been eroded at the same time as the finer particles in the upper bed. Both beds, apparently successively deposited, have sediments of the same date of erosion. It follows that the principle of superposition is invalidated because the lower bed cannot be said to be older than the upper bed.
The term principle in the science of stratigraphy implies universal application in all normal conditions. This is clearly not the case for successive superposition of strata which does not take place in moving water.
It cannot be said, therefore, that the sedimentary strata, and therefore the fossils in them, have been accurately dated.
Generic relationships between fossils
The second condition necessary to validate evolutionary theory is that the assumption of generic relationships between fossils of different species is correct. Phylogenetic trees are constructed on the assumption that organisms in lower strata are ancestral to those higher up.
The assumption of evolutionary links between fossils in lower and higher strata depends upon the validity of the principle of superposition of strata. This principle having been used to date both the strata and the fossils they contain, the fossils in lower strata were considered to be
Radiometric dating, long held as the means of confirming ages calculated by stratigraphy, is now being seriously questioned (Guy Berthault - Geological Dating Principles Questioned - Fusion May/June 2000). It has been discovered that historically dated eruptions have been given ages of hundreds of thousands of years by radiometric dating.
For example the 1986 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, according to radioisotope dating, took place between 350,000 and 2,800,000 years ago. There are many other similar discordant radiometric dates. As with strata dating, radiometric dating is based upon a number of unproved assumptions.
Take the potassium-argon method as an example. Radioactive potassium decays to the non-radioactive daughter product argon gas The freshly erupted lava is assumed to contain radioactive potassium only. All the residual argon is thought to have been evacuated as the liquid lava cooled and transformed into crystal.
The extraordinarily great ages given for the very young lava from Mt. St. Helens is due to the simple fact that argon gas continued to exist in the lava after the lava had hardened. The false assumption led to lava less than twenty years old being given an age of millions of years.
The final requirement of evolution theory, the reliability of radiometric dating, is also not fulfilled.
The discovery of invalid dating principles in geology has highlighted the two major misconceptions of the past century. First, fossils in strata sequences, do not necessarily succeed each other in time. What appeared to be a fossil series linking man with ape was based upon false assumptions. As a result, the millions of years believed to separate the two species, have no scientific support.
Second, the vast number of years calculated by stratigraphy led to Genesis 1-11 being dismissed as having no historical basis. In the new situation, there is no further need to insert long geological ages between Adam and Abraham causing acute embarrassment to exegetes like Dominican Père Marie-Joseph Lagrange, founder of the Jerusalem Biblical School (Ecole Biblique de Jérusalem).
At the time of Fr. Lagrange, palaeontologists supported by geologists were proposing that man appeared hundreds of thousands of years ago, and rejected Noah's Flood as myth. This figure has subsequently been increased to nearly three million, and is still rising. Fortunately, the refuted principles of geology have caused the inflating bubble to burst. Biblical history, which was robbed of its dignity by speculative science, has had it restored by experimental science.
The refutation of the stratigraphic principles is not just a matter of geology, it impinges heavily upon a majority world-view that given enough time anything can happen. The notion of an omnipotent deity as a creative cause can be dismissed. The geological time-scale, constructed on the basis of these invalidated principles, introduced people to the concept of the first living organisms being hundreds of millions of years old.
Instead of being a measure of how long a process takes, time gradually assumed the status of an element influencing the result. Time, it is suggested, will make things happen. No scientist would disagree, that the probability is virtually zero of inorganic matter can changing into bacteria and bacteria into people. Add the ingredient of time, it is said, and the impossible becomes possible. Of course, either chemicals can combine to produce life or they cannot. Time is not a factor.
Yet the biogenetic law stating that only life can produce life, has been rejected on the same non-scientific claim that given enough time, life will evolve from nonlife. The now invalidated stratigraphic principles provided the rationale for immense ages and under gird this reasoning.
There is the story of the man who bet that people were so proud that they would refuse gold rather than risk looking silly. He stood on London Bridge, when the UK was still on the Gold Standard, offering gold sovereigns to passers-by. He was ignored and ridiculed, but won his bet. Nobody accepted the sovereigns.
This is the situation today. Catholics need reassurance that the traditional meaning attributed to magisterial teaching has not changed. A counter-reform is needed to restore confidence in the Church. For the time-being, however, the data to produce that reassurance and confidence is being ignored and ridiculed. The pure golden opportunity is being refused.
This article appeared recently in the January 2001 edition of Christian Order (Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 63-67)
Berthault G. 1986, Sedimentology - experiments on lamination of
Berthault G. 1988, Sedimentation of heterogranular mixture - experimental lamination in still and running water, C.R. Acad. Sc. Paris, 306, II, 717-724
Julien P, Lan Y, Berthault G., 1993, Experiments on stratification of
Berthault G. 2000, Principles of geologic dating in question Fusion -
Theotokos Catholic Books - Creation/Evolution - www.theotokos.org.uk