Why Biologos Needs Geological Linebackers

“Unlike offenses that have very specific, detailed plans and assignments for each player, defenses are more reactive, with each player’s general goal being to ‘stop the offense.’” – American Football Strategy, Wikipedia

Linebackers are the most important players on the defensive lineup. There are often three of them: left outside, middle, and right outside. If you’re on the offensive team, keep your eye on the linebackers.

I remembered this a few months ago when I read a review of our film from three geologists associated with Biologos. We received a lot of reviews, but this one was different. It was angry, sarcastic even, accusing us of deception and actually mocking one of the geologists featured in the film.

I would normally ignore such a review, but considering its source, I felt it might be useful to provide a cordial, if belated, response.

So who is Biologos, and why would our film on Genesis bother them so much?

THE OPPOSING TEAM

Biologos is an advocacy group of evolutionists founded in 2007. Their primary goal is to convince ministers and lay people that evolution is compatible with Christianity.

As they say on their website: “We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent.”

In other words, Biologos consists of theistic evolutionists.

They trace their lineage back to Harvard botanist Asa Gray, a friend of Charles Darwin, who helped bring evolution into academic and religious circles in the U.S. Unlike Darwin, however, Gray was a religious man: a liberal Presbyterian who attended a Congregationalist church and who married a Unitarian.

Gray tried to convince Darwin that his theory of evolution was compatible with a view of design in nature. Darwin was not convinced.

He wrote to Gray in 1860 saying: “I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world… I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.”

After writing back and forth, Darwin voiced his final dissent in 1868: “We can hardly follow Professor Asa Gray in his belief ‘that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines.’” In other words, Christianity and evolution don’t mix.

Even today, this incompatibility is recognized by both Christians and atheists. An evolutionary view of history with its long ages, natural causes, random chance, and common descent is the exact opposite of a biblical view of history with its short ages, supernatural causes, providence, and created kinds. Darwin himself understood this, pointing out that God’s omniscience and omnipotence were incompatible with a history of evolutionary development.

Yet there will always be Asa Gray’s: well-meaning scientific and religious people who want to marry Biblical history with evolutionary history. The results, however, are troubling. For instance,

  1. Biologos teaches that Adam & Eve were not the first male and female human beings; instead, Biologos suggests a number of options, such as Adam and Eve being symbolic ‘archetypes’ and not real people; or perhaps they were a pair of evolved hominid farmers with whom God entered a special relationship.
  2. Biologos teaches that God did not create plants, fish, birds, animals, and humans fully-formed according to their kinds, but that they evolved over millions of years from a common ancestor.
  3. Biologos teaches there were 540,000,000 years of mutations, suffering, and death for trillions of creatures long before Adam. In fact, Adam’s sin did not bring death and corruption into the physical world, but has always been there.

These doctrines are essential to Biologos’s evolutionary view of history. Yet that history rests on a deeper foundation: the concept of deep time.

Deep time provides the millions and billions of years necessary for galactic, geological, and biological evolution to occur. Without deep time, evolution is impossible.

That’s why Biologos needs geological linebackers: their job is to defend deep time.

THE LINEUP

Right before the three geologists begin their review, they do something curious: they make a point to say “Our worldview is based on a belief the Bible is true – cover to cover.” So far as I know, no other reviewers begin this way.

So why does Biologos?

Perhaps because so many of their views have been considered untrue by Christians throughout the history of the Church. The historic Christian faith has always held that

  • Adam and Eve were the first humans created fully-formed by God as real, historic people;
  • There is no common ancestor between humans and animals;
  • Adam’s sin brought corruption and death into the entire world;
  • There was a global flood that covered the globe in which only eight people were saved.

Biologos rejects all of these historic views. 

It therefore makes sense why the geologists would want to persuade Christian readers at the start that they hold the Bible to be “true.” It just seems their view of “truth” departs substantially from the historic views of the Church, as well as multiple statements in the Old and New Testaments. 

Although the linebackers are not offside, their lineup should give us pause as to the type of game they want to pursue.

THE FIRST PLAY: ZONE BLITZ

The geologists’ initial strategy is to make a rush at the theme of the film asserting it presents a “false dichotomy.” In other words, there are more than two views of history than just the conventional paradigm and the Genesis paradigm.

Yet the geologists don’t provide a third option. After all, if the film truly makes a false dichotomy, it should be easy to show a third view.

History is, after all, measured by a few basic things: duration of time, dates, events, and people. We all know how to compare views of history: if someone says WWII lasted 6 years on five continents and someone else says it lasted 60 years on one continent, these are two different views of what actually happened.

What view of history does Biologos propose?

Not surprisingly, it looks exactly like the conventional view found in secular textbooks: a Big Bang brought time and matter into existence 13.8 billion years ago; there was slow and gradual development of the galactic evolution of the universe, then the geologic evolution of the planet, then the biologic evolution of life, all lasting billions of years to form everything we see around us.

In other words, the history held by Biologos and the history held by conventional evolutionists is identical. 

So why do they say there is a difference? Biologos argues that God was guiding evolution in undetectable ways. They have thus taken the conventional view of history and added God onto it.

But that’s not a different history – that’s a different view of causation. The film, however, is not comparing two views of causation; it’s comparing two views of history. (I have explained this in much greater detail here.)

It seems that by asserting the film is a false dichotomy, Biologos hopes to distance itself from the implications of their acceptance of the conventional evolutionary history.

It doesn’t appear to be an effective strategy.

THE SECOND PLAY: MAN-TO-MAN

Next, Biologos lists a number of well-respected Christian thinkers who did not hold to a literal six day creation. Their first example is Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine is an odd choice to go to in support of their evolutionary view of history.   

Like almost all other Christians of his day, Augustine saw the book of Genesis as an accurate history of the world. He held that the earth was created less than 6000 years ago; he held to a historic Adam and Eve who were created instantly by God; he held that Adam’s sin introduced universal death and corruption into the universe; and he held to a global flood.

The one curious thing about Augustine’s view of Genesis was that he thought God created everything in a single moment of time, instantaneously. As Dr. Douglas Kelly explains in his interview (part of the Bonus Features), Augustine “believed that it was in order to accommodate the angels and angelic knowledge, [and he] explained it over six days on account of the angels.”

Two things to note here. First, Augustine was being influenced by neo-Platonic philosophy in his exegesis, as can be seen in theological hindsight. Second, it shows that even the greatest theologians can be influenced by views that are incompatible with scripture.

That brings us to the three 19th and 20th-century theologians mentioned next: B.B. Warfield, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C.S. Lewis. They all felt the need to adapt some form of evolutionary thinking to Christianity. As can be seen in theological hindsight, however, their exegesis was influenced by an outside philosophy, in this case, materialistic scientism.

Yet none of them would have said taking Genesis literally was adopting “a superficial record of events.” Warfield knew many exceptional theologians such as Geerhardos Vos (Princeton) and Louis Berkhof (Calvin College) who took Genesis as literal history; Lewis did, too, in men such as Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones—perhaps the greatest 20th-century preacher in Britain.

What all four men demonstrate, however, is that even the most gifted Christians can be influenced by outside forces, wittingly or unwittingly.  As a result, they are not paragons to emulate, but examples Biologos should carefully consider.

PERSONAL FOUL

The defense reforms.

Their next tactic is to argue that the film only included young earth scientists, but should have interviewed those with opposing views. I understand their perspective; we could have made a film like that.

Instead, we felt the conventional view had plenty of representatives in the mainstream media, educational establishment, and scientific advocacy groups. None of these organizations give scientists who hold to the Genesis paradigm time to talk, so we decided Christians needed to hear the other side in as full a representation as 100 minutes would allow.

Had the three geologists stopped there, it would have been appropriate. At this point, however, their tone begins to change.

Instead of playing within the rules, the linebackers start roughing up the other team. 

At first, they make a demeaning comment about Dr. Del Tackett’s integrity. Next, they boldly assert the entire documentary is just “a tangled web of misrepresentations, half-truths, and concealed data.”

In other words, everyone in the film is cleverly lying. This not only includes the producers, but all 13 scientists and scholars, as well as one of the most well-respected Christian speakers in America.

This is known as an ad hominem attack – go against the man rather than the argument. If you don’t like what someone is saying, say he is a liar. It is disappointing to see Biologos resort to this approach. Unfortunately, it won’t be the last time we see it.

A yellow flag is dropped on the play.

TIME OUT

After calling the other team’s integrity into question, it’s important the geologists get back to their main job of defending deep time.

The primary question is therefore this: where did all the rocks come from?  If deep time is found in the rocks, then the history of the rocks is essential to the discussion.

Just as there are two basic views of history, there are also two basic answers to this question. Let’s take a minute to look a them.

The layers of rock making up the earth’s continental crust can be separated into two major sections: Precambrian rocks (making up ~85%), which are lower and do not have complex fossils in them, and Phanerozoic rocks (making up ~15%), which are stacked on top and have lots of complex fossils in them.

If one is an evolutionist, then the large mass of Precambrian rocks  were formed during the first 4 billion years of the earth’s history through widespread volcanism, tectonics, and oceanic processes; in these rocks we see the first appearance of single-celled life, but not much more than that.

If one is a creationist, then the large mass of Precambrian rocks were formed partly during Creation week and partly during volcanic/tectonic/oceanic events after the Fall and before the Flood.  The single-celled life is likely evidence of God using bacteria to create minerals and other materials found in the earth, a job they have only recently been recognized as doing extremely well.

On top of all those Precambrian rocks are many layers of sedimentary rocks called the Phanerozoic. These contain all kinds of complex fossils, with different fossils in different layers of rock. In the Grand Canyon, only the lower part of the Phanerozoic can be seen. These are the fossil-bearing rocks starting at the Cambrian layers and going up through the Permian layers. 

If one is an evolutionist, these Phanerozoic layers were formed over 540 million years by the slow transgression and regression of epicontinental seas. During that time, life evolved from marine creatures to amphibians (paleozoic life), then eventually to gymnosperms, dinosaurs, and birds (mesozoic life), then finally to flowering plants and mammals (cenozoic life). The fossil record is therefore just a series of snapshots of evolution occurring over long ages.

If one is a creationist, these layers were formed as a result of the global Flood. They represent different sediment types that were deposited during the Flood as well as during the centuries of geologic recovery after the Flood.  The marine creatures, amphibians, dinosaurs, gymnosperms were all living at the same time in the Pre-Flood world, just not in the same places. Mammals and flowering plants that we see in the upper layers were captured after the Flood during the centuries of recovery and diversification. The fossil record is therefore a series of ecosystems representing different created kinds living at different places on the earth, some before the Flood and some after.

These are the two basic distinctions in terms of the rocks and the time it took to form them. One’s view of the evidence therefore fits within either of these historical grids.

THIRD QUARTER

Instead of recognizing this, the three linebackers start running in all directions, making bold assertions as to what Steve Austin thinks, what other Creationists in the film think, then asserting that all their views are simply impossible.

Many people do not realize that Steve Austin has written and edited a technical-level book on the Grand Canyon. He has also written numerous journal articles on specific aspects of the Canyon and other geological features in the earth. It does not appear, however, that the authors of the review are familiar with any of Dr. Austin’s actual research.

If they were, they would realize that he has developed a complex model of the sedimentary structures of the Grand Canyon – far too complex for 13 minutes in a documentary. His book on the Grand Canyon explains the unique phenomena in each of the layers, including the interesting erosional and depositional patterns throughout the entire Canyon.

One of the problems with documentary filmmaking is that clarifying comments often get edited out due to time. In a section cut from the film, Steve explains that if the strata had been exposed to millions of years of erosion and river channeling, “We’d have canyons within canyons and buried canyons in the strata and that’s foreign to what we see in the big picture of strata across the North American continent.” 

In other words, the depositional and erosional structures provide evidence of a complex global flood—not that there are no instances of erosion or channeling. On this point, the three geologists are right: there are examples of channeling in the Canyon. Yet, as Dr. Austin points out, when you examine them closely, they have have some very curious characteristics.

For instance, Steve has talked about the smooth line of channeling of Temple Butte Limestone cutting into Muav Limestone in a few places in the Canyon. Unlike an ancient river deposit, however, these channels have a rounded bowl shape, as well as being limestone deposited on top of limestone. Since rivers are not known for depositing limestone, it seems to make more sense that an underwater mudflow quickly and smoothly cut into the soft lime mud that had been deposited recently.

To Steve’s original point, what we don’t see is slow and gradual erosion between layers of the Grand Canyon as would be expected by ancient rivers and long ages.

This same adjustment of perspective applies also to the geologists’ comment about the absence of fossils.  As far as the types of fossils in the Grand Canyon go, what is curious is that neither evolutionary paleontologists nor creation paleontologists would expect to find a “fossilized bird, mammal, dinosaur, flowering plant, or even a grain of flowering plant pollen” in the Grand Canyon. It’s all part of the so-called “paleozoic” layers, which were pulling from marine ecosystems and semi-aquatic ecosystems. 

Of course, scientists are supposed to talk about what they see rather than what they don’t see. As far as the film goes, we actually showed many things which were not mentioned:

  • What about the sudden appearance of every phylum of life in the Cambrian explosion?
  • Why do we consistently see fossil footprints before fossil bones, teeth, and shells?
  • Why is there a 1000 foot layer of rock deposited neatly between two other huge layers that are stacked neatly on top of each other 70 miles to the north in the Grand Canyon?
  • Why do the crossbeds in the Coconino sandstone match the angles in underwater sand dunes?
  • Why is there a Great Unconformity cutting across the entire continent, with five major sequence packages of rock stacked one on top of the other in ways that even some conventional sedimentary geologists find remarkable?
  • Why has so much soft tissue been found in dinosaur bones?
  • Why are there so many enormous fossil graveyards in the world?

We certainly realize that conventional scientists have developed explanations for these, but when taken as a whole, we think the historic picture they present is not as compelling as the one presented in Genesis. Instead, modern creationists have assembled an impressive array of evidence that fits extremely well within the Genesis paradigm.

Instead of talking about the data in a reasonable way, however, the three geologists choose to mock Steve Austin and are penalized in the process.

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT

In the original review, the authors end their diatribe against Dr. Austin with this final demeaning comment: “The global presence of the Great Unconformity exists only in Dr. Austin’s mind.”

The problem is, they’re wrong.

There really is a Great Unconformity, and almost all professional geologists know it. In fact, not long after publishing the article, this was pointed out to them and they were forced to retract the insult. 

How is it possible that three geologists would overlook something so basic to their profession?

This “interregional unconformity” has been widely known ever since Lawrence Sloss published his famous 1963 paper “Sequences in the Cratonic Interior of North America” describing it. In fact, Harry Wheeler, Steve Austin’s professor in college, worked closely with Sloss in establishing sequence stratigraphy.

I think they overlooked it because they were being influenced by deeper motivations.

There is an anger and virulence that emerges from theistic evolutionists against what modern creationists are saying.  No longer are creationists simply making anti-evolution arguments; they are now building the positive case for Creation and the Flood.

This means that Christians in the mold of B.B. Warfield and C.S. Lewis no longer have to figure out ways to merge the Bible with the conventional scientific paradigm. They can see that it is quite reasonable to accept Genesis as an accurate book of history, starting with the first chapter.

This clearly frustrates Biologos. After all, they are doing everything they can to encourage the spread of evolution in the church. It seems to annoy them that there are real PhD’s doing real research who not only disagree with their basic paradigm, but who actually have evidence to back it up. 

As a result, Biologos will say anything to discredit them.

In this case, they sent out three geologists to mock them, accuse them of lying and deception, then go so far as to say they are warping the gospel message.

But, on deeper inspection, it seems to be a losing strategy.

There is certainly a place for cordial disagreement among Christians on these issues. But from the tone of this review, that doesn’t seem to be what Biologos is interested in. Rather, they have adopted the evolutionary view of history and are doing everything they can to encourage others to adopt it, too.

We certainly respect them in their passion for spreading their views; we just hope they would play fair in doing so.