In "The Evolution of a creationist" (Aug. 1) Dr. Ross Olson offers an impassioned argument for a biblical/creationist view of the origin and evolution of life on Earth. As a student of both science and religion, I was fascinated with his reasoning. In my view, it serves both as a beautiful testament to Christian faith and as a teachable moment on the difference between science and religion.
Olson argues that because there are gaps in the geologic record, it must mean that the geological model of an ancient (4.6-billion-year-old) Earth must be false. He takes the prevailing model of geology to be uniformitarianism -- where geologic processes occur gradually over long periods of time -- and says it is no longer valid.
In part, he is right. Strict uniformitarianism is outdated as the prevailing model of geological change. But what does that mean? Does it mean that all of geology is invalid? Or does it mean that an updated model of geology has taken its place? The last several decades have seen a refined model of Earth change, including erosion, deposition and, yes, sudden, rapid changes.
Like all areas of science, geology is in a state of flux. Discoveries occur and, with them, new models emerge to better understand the evidence. While many geologic changes do occur at a slow pace, it has also been shown that some changes have occurred rapidly.
It is largely accepted that some form of cataclysm (either a volcanic catastrophe or an asteroid impact) wiped out the dinosaurs. It also appears that a similar catastrophe occurred at the end of the Paleozoic era, an event called the Permian/Triassic boundary. There is currently a controversy regarding which of these took place (perhaps a combination of both). But in the scientific world it is well-accepted that rapid change did occur -- far from the uniformitarian model that Olson cites.
Olson argues that gaps in ages of sedimentary layers are inconsistent with the uniformitarian model. Therefore, he reasons that this invalidates the deep-time view of modern geology. However, in nearly every location on Earth, there has been at least some period of erosion, or at least of a hiatus in deposition. Almost nowhere on Earth is there a continuous rock record through all of geologic time. Yet he claims that any discontinuity (geologists call this an unconformity) is evidence that sedimentary geology doesn't work. And for him, the only valid explanation must be biblical creationism.
There are other flaws in Olson's reasoning, but the biggest issue is that he jumps to a biblical creationist argument at any point where a scientific open question exists. Yet the beauty of science is that our understanding of the world is always in flux. The scientific community does not claim to fully understand the physical universe. That is the beauty of the endeavor; there is always more to learn. That's what makes science so much fun.
Personal faith is a wonderful thing. I have been a Christian all of my life. For me, religious faith does not conflict with scientific discovery, nor with scientific models of the physical world. God does just fine as a loving creator and a personal spiritual force in my life. This will be true regardless of what we discover about geology, cosmology, biology or any other field of science. The more we discover in scientific study, the more I see the magnificence of God's handiwork -- regardless of how long it took to accomplish.
While I commend the strength of Olson's faith, I suggest he might be better off keeping science and religion as separate pursuits. At least to me, the Bible is not a scientific document. Meanwhile, my thanks to Olson for an inspiring teachable moment.
Craig R. Lang is a certified hypnotherapist in Minneapolis.