November 16, 2018

Cliff's Edge--And God Made a Wind


In 2017 I wrote “Why Science Gets Origins So Wrong,” a column about, well, why science gets origins so wrong. That’s because two assumptions of science—(1) only natural causes can explain natural effects and (2) the constancy of nature—are both false.

I want to explore in more depth why the second premise, the constancy of nature, all but guarantees science’s error on origins.

To start, science is an epistemology; that is, it’s a specific way of seeking knowledge. How we know that sugar is sweet, differs from how we know that 2 + 2 = 4, which differs from how we know that all copper conducts electricity—even though in all three examples the verb “know” was used.

Science is also an empiricist epistemology. It is knowledge acquired through our senses, either unaided (staring up at the clouds), or aided (smashing sub-atomic particles at CERN and using powerful sensors and computers to detect what comes out). By tasting sugar, by using our senses (empiricism), we know that sugar is sweet—which is, decidedly, not how we know that 2 + 2 = 4.

As an empiricist epistemology, science works by induction or “inductive inference,” the process of inferring from particular instances to a general proposition. Inductive inference is how we know, for example, that copper conducts electricity. From examples of some copper doing it (the particular), we infer that all copper does it (the general), even though we have not tested all copper, so we have no way of knowing if the sentence “All copper conducts electricity” is actually true. We just infer that it is.

If we put all these terms together we get the fancy sounding phrase, “inductive empiricist epistemology.” But it’s no big deal. It’s not only how we learned to split the atom or go to Mars; it’s also how we live our daily lives. From the experience of turning the key in the ignition (empiricism) and the car starting, we assume that the next time we turn the key in the ignition the car will do the same (induction).

Voila! We’ve just done inductive empiricist epistemology.

However, as anyone who have ever experienced a dead car battery can attest, turning the key in the ignition is no guarantee that the car will start. This problem has been called (poetically enough) “the problem of induction,” and it helps explain why the constancy-of-nature premise leads science astray on origins.

Let’s begin with Noah’s flood. Scripture says that every rainbow is a sign of God’s promise: “Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life” (Gen. 9:15). The flood, then, was a supernatural event that will never be repeated. And not only was the flood itself a unique supernatural event, but the cleanup was as well. “God sent a wind to blow across the earth, and the floodwaters began to recede” (Gen. 8:1).

The implication of this verse is that God used wind to dry up the water that had covered all the earth. We don’t know how fast this wind was, or for exactly how long it blew, but no spring zephyr could have caused the water of a worldwide flood to subside in the time given in Scripture from the flood ending to Noah leaving the ark.

Ellen White elaborated on this idea of a supernatural wind after the flood: “Everywhere were strewn the dead bodies of men and beasts. The Lord would not permit these to remain to decompose and pollute the air, therefore He made of the earth a vast burial ground. A violent wind which was caused to blow for the purpose of drying up the waters, moved them with great force, in some instances even carrying away the tops of the mountains and heaping up trees, rocks, and earth above the bodies of the dead. By the same means the silver and gold, the choice wood and precious stones, which had enriched and adorned the world before the Flood, and which the inhabitants had idolized, were concealed from the sight and search of men, the violent action of the waters piling earth and rocks upon these treasures, and in some cases even forming mountains above them."

A wind that used water to carry away the tops of mountains? That heaped trees, rocks, earth on the bodies of the dead? That was powerful enough to bury silver, gold, and other precious stones, even forming mountains above them? And all in a matter of at most, what—months?

Come on! What kind of wind, as we now experience wind, could do what was depicted here? This is a process unknown today, even if science assumes that the physical laws of nature that exist now have always been there. (This is inductive inference going backward instead of forward.)

However, what exists now is nothing like what Scripture and Ellen White revealed. The models used to describe today’s rates of erosion by air and water surely don’t include what Genesis 8:1 depicts (they can’t, because science rules out supernatural causes). Thus some rock formations that, following current rates, would have taken millions of years to have been created could have been created, actually, in weeks or months by this supernatural wind, or, as Ellen White described it: “the waters piling earth and rocks upon these treasures, and in some cases even forming mountains above them.”

Using inductive inference, that is inferring that what happens today (the particular) is what happened in the distant past (the general), science demands millions of years for an event that could have happened in months. Assuming the constancy of nature, scientists inductively infer that the past is like the present; but because it wasn’t, they make a mistake regarding how long-ago certain events occurred, another reason why science gets our origins so wrong.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.