Bro Alan Eyre is well known to many in the community. He is also a lifelong scientist. In 2015, in response to anti evolution articles in many of our publications (particularly The Christadelphian Magazine) he released an open letter which among other things asserts:
- The universe and life is old
- The science of dating is secure by multiple lines of evidence
- The geological column is reliable
- Anti science and evolutionary articles in our community are poorly researched and based on flawed information
- Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled to the physical facts obvious to our God given senses
The full letter follows
Should Christadelphians reject the sciences, become biblical literalists, or teach ‘young earth creationism’?
20 September 2015
In July 2015 a series of professionally made “science” videos was shown at an ecclesia in the Birmingham area (UK) which purported to demonstrate that modern, recent, scientific astronomy had “proven” that the solar system and the entire known Universe were only approximately six thousand years old, thus supporting the “young earth creation” concept.
When visiting Australia recently I was given to understand by certain prominent brothers that unless I believe, and agree to teach, that every word in Genesis chapter one is absolutely literal, and that therefore life on earth and the sun, moon, stars and galaxies in the sky did not exist before 4004 BC, I cannot be considered a genuine Christadelphian.
Except for a few individuals, Christadelphians have never been committed to a literalist interpretation of Scripture; in fact, quite the opposite. We have strongly resisted literalism, with its doctrines of the heavens and earth being burned up when Jesus returns, possession by literal devils or demons, and enigmatic codes based on numbers and letters supposedly traceable throughout the Bible.
I have been a Christadelphian for seventy years, and published more in our Brotherhood’s literature than any other living writer. I have also been a professional earth and space scientist at a world class university for sixty years, with a curriculum vitae of thousands of pages of peer-reviewed books and articles.
You can see my dilemma. I am being told that the facts on which I base my faith and my understanding of God’s word, and the facts on which I base my university research, and on which my livelihood depends, are totally incompatible. One or other – my science or my religion – must be false (or both).
This is a relatively new dilemma for sincere Christadelphians. It was not a dilemma for Islip Collyer and Louis Sargent, who were two of my early mentors in faith. Islip Collyer personally encouraged me to be both a brother in Christ and a scientist. He suggested that if Job and Solomon had been living today they would both have been active scientists (Job 28:1-11; I Kings 4:33).
“SCIENCE AND THE DISCIPLE”
During 1989 The Christadelphian Magazine published a series of twelve articles entitled “Science and the disciple” by John Morris, assistant editor and previously a science journalist and no mean scientist in his own right.
John Morris concedes that “there appears to be reasonable geophysical evidence” that the continents were at one time joined up and then split apart. Like some young earth creationists, he suggests that the break-up of the super-continent of Pangea, and the separation of Europe and the Americas may have taken place suddenly during the life of Peleg (Genesis 10:25). This would have taken place in 2240 BC, when the Druids were leading Britons in worship at Stonehenge, and a hundred years after vizier Hemiunu had completed Pharaoh Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Gizeh.
There is no evidence whatsoever for a three thousand mile wide separation of the continents in historic time. It is in fact a geophysical impossibility without totally destroying the earth itself. We can see exactly how rapidly the separation is taking place today by taking a flight to Iceland and watching the split occurring, with fountains of lava and long cracks in the earth’s thin crust. The continents are splitting at a rate of three meters per century and we can date each crack easily and precisely, going back several million years before present.
Surprisingly, John Morris states that “fossils are highly exceptional phenomena”. He quotes Charles Darwin’s assertion that the absence of a chain of “intermediate” fossils linking genera, which he knew would disprove his theory of evolution, was due to “the extreme imperfection of the geological record”.
But Darwin was wrong about the fossil record even in his day. And since then, millions upon millions of fossils have been found, studied and stored. Many thousands are being discovered every day all over the world. As I did seventy years ago, in most areas of the world, schoolboys and girls can find all kinds of fossils in the vicinity of their homes.
John Morris asserts: “the geological ‘column’ is itself in many respects a fiction. Nowhere can one find an actual ‘column’ such as is portrayed in textbooks – it has been pieced together from smaller sequences, often on precarious grounds. Moreover, palaeontologists are notorious for, one the one hand, dating layers by their fossil contents, and, when it suits them, dating the fossils by the layers in which they occur”.
As an academic palaeontologist early in my professional career, I can say that this allegation is absolutely untrue, and borders on an insult to thousands of careful scientists, many of them practising Bible Christians, including some of my own colleagues. If we are “notorious” for anything, it is for being fastidiously accurate in our methodologies. Every new fossil I have discovered has been meticulously checked and re-checked and subjected to very robust peer review. “Precarious grounds” are soon eliminated in the review process.
A century ago, dinosaurs and big seashells were the rage, and fossils of small creatures were rare. Now, perfectly preserved insects, sponges, fungi, jellyfish and microscopic marine foraminifera are the most studied fossils and can be dated with quite extraordinary accuracy.
Fossils that might be considered “missing links” are indeed “meagre”, and there are a few sensational finds like the coelacanth and stromatolites that are virtually identical with living animals. But there is no “embarrassment” about the fact that an overwhelming proportion of fossils represent extinct forms of life, usually long extinct. The finding of human and dinosaur footprints together is a foolish and cruel hoax comparable with Piltdown Man.
The “geological column” as in textbooks is certainly not fiction, and actual ‘columns’ can be found and visited by anybody all over the world. I am sure that John Morris would be very impressed with three that I am personally familiar with in my own research. There is the Grand Staircase in Arizona (USA). You climb through thirty successive named younger and younger strata (layers) of rocks from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest, a distance of 130 miles, and covering 940 million calculable years in time. Each clear stratum has its own suite of fossils from simple algal mats, then marine molluscs, dragonflies, scorpions, and finally dinosaurs and fossil trees, each layer dated precisely.
Another actual column extends from Snowdon in Wales to Harwich in England, passing under John Morris’s home in Rugeley, Staffordshire . You can see the same dated succession of strata as in the Grand Staircase in the USA, with the same kinds of fossils in the equivalent age layers. This transect of carefully dated stratification from Snowdon to Harwich was so carefully researched by Sabine Baring-Gould (author of Onward, Christian soldiers) one hundred and five years ago that it is still being used to predict that fracking of oil shales a mile and a half beneath Rugeley’s houses will be both productive and profitable. After all, predicted profit is the main rationale for investment in science and technology today. If science is all bunkum and make believe, as young earth creationists claim, it would never work.
A third actual column is a traverse of the Himalayas along the Friendship Highway between Kathmandu, Nepal and Lhasa in Tibet. Near Kathmandu there are fossil whales, and at 14,000 feet altitude near Lhasa there are sandstone beds filled with fossils of marine animals that were clearly living on the ocean floor. Once the verifiable facts of tectonic plate movement are understood, it is clear how the marine fossils got to the top of the Himalayas.
I am told by some earnest and dogmatic members of our Brotherhood that all the dating methods I have used, including successful exploration for minerals, for the past sixty years in my professional career, are just imaginary guesswork. I have been told to read John Woodmorappe (1999), The mythology of modern dating methods. His most cited statement is this: the fossil record “testifies to the Noahchian Deluge, and all life, fossil and extant, is then mutually contemporaneous, as is demanded by a literal six twenty-four hour day Creation”.
This book is the only serious challenge to the now exact science of geochronology, that is, the dating of events in entire earth history. It is unfortunate for his credibility that Woodmorappe is a pseudonym, so there is no way of checking his credentials. But his claim to be a university research fellow has been exposed as fraudulent. Perhaps some writers in the Christadelphian have been deceived by his pretended academic style and vocabulary, and his bogus scientific CV.
I can cite four areas of geochronology in which I have engaged personally in research and publishing. These are: identifying and dating the world’s oldest rocks; the dating of asteroid/comet impact craters on earth; the dating of supernovas; and the dating of supervolcanic eruptions.
Involvement in the first two was when I was on the personal scientific staff of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s; the third was on a sabbatical at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, Australia (Australian National University); and the fourth was a consequence of my being a faculty member at the University of the West Indies.
Even in 1967 there were several reasonably accurate methods of dating the Isua greenstone belt in southwest Greenland. Checking the results of each method carefully, our team came to the conclusion that the rocks were formed 3,750,000,000 years before present. We did careful measurements, and compared them with other results; it was not a guess.
Four gigantic asteroid/comet impact strikes on earth were dated, using several different methods: Vredefort, South Africa, 2,200,000,000 years before present; Chicxulub, Mexico, 590,000,000 years, which destroyed the dinosaurs and most other life on earth; Acraman, Australia, 580,000,000 years; and Brent Crater,Canada, 450,000,000 years. We prepared a brochure for visitors to Brent Crater, near North Bay, in 1967. Imagine my amazement when, visiting the North Bay ecclesia in 2014, the very same brochure was still being distributed at the visitor centre!
The great supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud on February 23 1987 was a sensational lifetime event in space science. After two junior observers, one an amateur, alerted the scientific community, all the telescopes in the southern hemisphere were soon focused on this extraordinary phenomenon. Although observed by us in 1987 CE, it was accurately dated as actually having occurred in 164,000 BC. The light had been travelling that long to reach us. The idea that the Large Magellanic Cloud was “made” and “set in the expanse of the sky” in 4004 BC is not supported by any serious evidence at all. As an indication of the precision of the modern science of measurement, it should be mentioned that at the very time telescopes in Australia were focussed on the supernova’s visible light, the Kamiokande laboratory in Japan detected 1000 trillion invisible neutrinos radiated from the supernova passing through its tracking facility, and accurately measured their energy. Two of the world’s most eminent measurement scientists have been Christadelphians.
Ice cores, one of the most useful and accurate of data bases, dated the “colossal” eruption of the volcano Samalas on the island of Lombok in the East Indies to precisely mid-year 1257 CE. It was the most violent in human history. It turns out that documentary records in China and Europe at the time noted its effects but could not identify its location, which has only been pinpointed very recently. This concurrence of geophysical dating methods with historical records is a good confirmation that we are on the right track.
The principal methods of dating include the following: optically stimulated luminescence; thermo-luminescence; uranium/lead; argon/argon; uranium/thorium; rubidium/strontium; potassium/argon; electron paramagnetic resonance; fission track measurement; cosmogenic nuclide geochronology; dendrochronology; ice cores; lichenometry; glacial-lake varve layering; magnetic polarity; correlation of marker horizons; dating of pottery and other artefacts by style and origin; and, the least reliable, historical documents. Combining several independent methods guarantees accuracy.
A VERY OLD UNIVERSE?
A very old Universe and very old life on earth are not the quaint ideas of twenty-first century atheists. It will be helpful to give a very short list of individuals who lived long ago (with their birthdates), and who were firm believers in the Bible as the word of God, but who were compelled by the evidence of their investigations to reject a literal creation of the entire Universe just six thousand years ago.
We can begin with Leonardo da Vinci (1452), founder of systematic palaeontology and sedimentology, based on his studies of fossiliferous strata in the Alps. Johannes Kepler (1571), a serious Bible scholar, was convinced that the Universe was both very vast and very old. Niels Stensen (1638) showed that strata and the fossils in them were not random or due to a universal Flood, but the fossil record was a chronology of different living creatures in successive eras through long aeons of time. Sir Isaac Newton (1642) rejected a very young earth creation. John Michell (1724), another Bible scholar, founded the exact science of seismology (earth movements), studied gravitation, and discovered black holes. William Buckland (1784), at first accepted Ussher’s 4004 BC date for the first life on earth, but later published abundant evidence from his own meticulous field work which demonstrated that living creatures had been living and dying on earth for millions of years. Louis Agassiz (1807), a Swiss Christian who strongly rejected macro-evolution but saw from his field studies that ice sheets had covered Europe and North America many thousands of years ago.
Philip Gosse (1810), an outstanding biologist and Bible believer, resolved the problem by suggesting that the Universe is not really old, but only has the appearance of age so as to delude us into thinking it was old (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Fossils were made as fossils and were never alive. Coal seams with their abundant plant remains were never really forests or peat bogs, but only made to look like them. Thoughtful Bible believers felt that the whole idea was incompatible with divinity, and most copies of his book Creation, intended as a best seller, were pulped as waste paper. I find it hard to imagine the angels engaged in a huge six day hoax to delude us. Indeed, I find it hard to believe that Gosse was really convinced himself.
Biblical literalists, including young earth creationists, do their cause no benefit by many slick but quite incredible dramatizations of their views. Official National Park tours of the Grand Canyon show convincing, indeed quite fascinatingly obvious, evidence, through successive layers of fossils, of different life forms over geological periods of time, now being exposed by the down-cutting of the Colorado river while the land is being uplifted by tectonic forces. Meanwhile, rival tour guides for “Christians” try to persuade sincere visitors that the mile deep, 277 mile long chasm was cut in a few weeks in 2340 BC by the rain of the Genesis Flood, with all the American Indians known to have been living nearby at that date swept away and drowned.
In a similar vein, visitors to the Museum of Creation and Earth History near San Diego, California, or its bitter rival the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, are encouraged to believe as fact that Adam and Eve’s children could have ridden the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex (‘Rexy’) in the Garden of Eden. These follies only expose serious and sincere Bible believers to unnecessary ridicule.
As an antidote to this puerility, a visit to a good planetarium will enhance our conception of the divine in the fashion of Psalm 8:3-9 and Psalm 33:4-8. We will see the wondrous spiral of the Andromeda Galaxy 1.2 million million million miles away. We will understand that what we see with the unaided eye today is actually the galaxy as it was two million years ago.
Biblical literalists vehemently insist that the Bible, including the early chapters of Genesis, can and should be used as an accurate science textbook in schools and colleges today: this is called Creation Science. The cosmology and ecological sequence are very different from observational ‘natural science’. The earth preceded light (Genesis 1:1). There were “day” and “night” on the first day, but “the sun” was “made” only on the fourth day (1:5,16). There was no dry ground anywhere on the planet until the third day (1:10). God “made the stars also” on the fourth day, after the appearance of “seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit” on the third day (1:11, 16). There was teeming life in the waters only on the fifth day, two days after flowering plants (1:20). “Creatures that creep along the ground” were made to appear on the sixth day (1:20). There is no possibility that all this can be spliced into current observational science, as the articles in the Christadelphian magazine suggest. If both are literal, then it is one or the other.
ARTICLES IN 2015
The Christadelphian Magazine published another series of articles in 2014 and 2015 which was rather more biased towards young earth theologians than the series in 1989. In the February issue is this statement: “The scientific understanding of life does not exclude God; it exalts Him”. With this I heartily concur.
In this response, my concern is not with the random evolution versus divine creation issue as ideas. My concern is the cavalier and dismissive treatment by the authors of the work of scientists and the “verifiable facts” with which we deal, especially in the sciences in which I have some claim to long experience and expertise. We are not all gullibly accepting antireligious dogmas in our interpretations. We have listened carefully, for years, to the crackpot notions (forgive the term, but it is justified) of some creation “scientists” who do not engage in any valid observational science at all, but are simply literalist biblical scholars (at best). We have had to reject their stories as invented “myths” (I Timothy 1:4).
In Robert Talbot’s superb article on cell chemistry, he expresses the conviction that because God has “complete mastery of time”, the six day sequence in Genesis chapter one is “readily believable”. He continues: “if we accept [God’s] ability [to perform the acts detailed in Genesis], why doubt that He did it?” We do not doubt God’s power; we just doubt that He made sun, moon, and all the stars and galaxies in six twenty-four hour days six thousand and eighteen years ago. We doubt that He “did it” then because the evidence of our God-given senses everywhere in the world and the experiences of daily life show that He “did it” over a very much longer period of time – of which he has an eternity.
John Hellawell, who has been involved in science himself, has a surprisingly dim view of scientists: “Mark Twain commented that science tended to generate a very large dividend of speculation from a very small investment of fact”. Mark Twain lived more than a century ago, before the space and electronic age. And moreover, he was a humourist, not a serious writer, who knew next to nothing about “science”, even the science of his own time. It is a jaundiced view, and everyone knows that it is certainly not true today. Among the vast majority of scientists, “speculation” is rank heresy. Science is the systemic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical Universe, based on observation, experiment, and especially measurement, and the formulation of workable laws to describe the facts in general terms, and make predictions based on these. As religion is spiritual and supernatural, and based on faith, it is not amenable to the kind of analysis that “science” undertakes.
Bible believers who are scientists – Jewish or Christian – do not believe in the “theistic evolution” John Morris describes. The Bible tells us that “chance” has a role in life (Ecclesiastes 9:11). But we do not believe that “chance” created life on earth.
THE NEED FOR FAITH
My friend Stella was conceived as the result of gang rape. Is God her “Maker”? (Isaiah 51:13). No, not in a literal sense: her maker was the rapist, who cruelly and viciously abused his Godgiven reproductive powers. Yet in an ultimate, supernatural, Scriptural, pantheistic sense, yes, God is the “Maker” of us all (Proverbs 22:2). Pantheism is the doctrine that God is the transcendental reality of which man, nature, and the material universe are manifestations.
“The LORD determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit. He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain, and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they cry. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down His hail like pebbles”. (Psalm 147: 4-5,8-9,16-17).
And yet in the same psalm, amazingly and thankfully, we learn:
“He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. The LORD delights in those who fear Him, who put their faith in His unfailing love” (vv.3,6,11).
This is far beyond science. This takes real faith.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 6:26; 10:29).
This is far beyond any science. This takes real faith.
“By faith (not science) we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
These wonderful inspired insights of David and the Lord Jesus are not literal in the observational sense. They cannot be taught in a course on meteorology or ornithology. Nevertheless, in 1969 I used Psalm 147 effectively in a university educational film on environmental and ecological responsibility and, to my surprise, received an award from the Florida State Universities Board of Regents. I do believe these words to be true, pantheistically, deeply, and fundamentally true. They tell me more about God the Creator than do the bizarre stories in the Creation Museum at US $30 a visit.
Personally, I believe that there must be much deeper spiritual truths God intended to convey in the original documents in Genesis, both for its first readers and for us forty centuries later, than to provide a substitute curriculum for modern geology, biology, and physics courses.
You may be surprised that if you wish to become acquainted with reputable academic dialogue on the issues of religion and science, and particularly on the creation/evolution debate, the two most outstanding sources are the world’s two premier universities, Oxford and Cambridge. These are: The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford; and The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. All publications are peer reviewed and by reputable scholars.
From 2009 to 2013 I was attached to the University of Oxford, through the kind recommendation of its Bodley Librarian, Reg Carr, a Christadelphian. While in residence there, I attended the launching of Professor Richard Dawkins’ book The God delusion. I can describe the event rather kindly as a flop. That same evening, I suppose by way of response, university dons, fellows and students joined in a choral event in the famous Merton College Chapel. It began with creation, through the birth of Jesus, to his passion, resurrection, second coming, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Chapel was packed and overflowing. Many science students and staff were there, not at the launching. Enough said.
ETERNITY AND INFINITY
Eternity and infinity are concepts beyond our comprehension. Because of our brief life span, time and distance frighten us. As Moses prayed:
“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night (Psalm 90: 2,4).
Chronology, the science of time, is the weirdest science of all. Many physicists have concluded that actually time may not exist. Time is a flowing river that varies its rate depending on local circumstances. It does not exist as an absolute. There are places in the physical Universe where a million years elapses while a mere second simultaneously passes for us – and vice versa.
Moses may not have been a scientist by our contemporary definitions, but many scientists share his wonder and his faith. I can assure you that a praying scientist is not a freak. A poetic prayer of mine before lecturing to my university science students eager to learn about God’s amazing Universe might be a fitting conclusion to this contribution to a serious discourse among brothers and sisters in our wonderful Brotherhood.
How can I help them comprehend such energy:
Titanic tectonic plates clashing in synergy? Beneath our feet roiling convection currents Suture, then rip apart, whole continents.
A thousand lifetimes for a mile of North Coast fault to shift, Iceland to split in two, Blue Mountains to uplift.
Whence the power of global warming, then of deep freeze?
Gigantic layers of crust to twist and squeeze?
Magmatic heat and dynamic thrust beyond all calculation:
Whence all the fuel to energize this vast creation? How can I explain wild hurricane Gilbert’s power, Or the miraculous photosynthesis of a flower?
We are so small. Ten thousands die,
When Haiti slips an inch; cities in ruins lie.
How can I convey the horror of expectation
As a tsunami spreads along the shore its awful devastation, When volcanic isles explode, or lightning splits the sky?
With all our science we helplessly stand by
While all our mighty works in sad destruction lie;
How can we grasp such forces, which all rational thoughts defy?
Help me to marvel at your ways, so I can share
My faith that you are in control, and not despair.