The Rocky Halls of This Rock: Rocky Theology and Science?

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by Dr. Robert Bennett and Hugh Owen

It is sensible to infer that one formally trained in civil law would be most apt to be logical in reasoning about natural law, in separating fact from interpretation, true cause from probable cause. So also we expect one trained in theology and preaching the gospel publicly to be well versed in the interpretation of Scripture and the separation of literal from liberal translation. And to find both skills in one person would seem to be ideal for truly deciding issues which fill the public square, such as whether the earth is young or old, using both science and Scripture as sources.

But we all have our weaknesses, even within what are thought to be our professional strengths. By looking in the wrong places and listening to the wrong voices, perhaps being intimidated by social contacts, such a person can lose faith in the orthodox tradition of the Church and take the secular view of science to be correct, even while challenging almost every other modernist ethic.

So many people rely on and have respect for Karl Keating’s apologetics, that they are easily persuaded to accept the Old Earth proposition on his word alone. It is this danger that we address, reluctantly but firmly, in the following discussion of :

The Testimony of Rocky Halls, Karl Keating, This Rock, Jul-Aug 03.

Mr. Keating claims that some young earth Catholics, like the Fundamentalist sects, contend their position is mandated by Scripture and supported by science. He considers them mere eccentrics, but he fears they bring the Church into disrepute and would rather not be weighed down with this annoying new baggage.

Mr. Keating refers to a stereotype of Catholic “traditionalist” thought by citing the work of the Anglican Bishop Ussher of Armagh. By resorting to mind-reading he says that advocates of a young earth aren’t motivated by the earth’s age per se, but by the deconstruction of evolution and the opposition to anything that might seem to give the theory a foothold. According to Mr. Keating, we argue that evolution is false, so the earth must be young.

We are thought to be sloppy thinkers, by insisting on ‘plumping’ (sic) for the young earth hypothesis, when there is no need to. He distinguishes between evolution and Darwinism, its mechanism (the vacuous tautology of natural selection), but his argument is that rejection of evolution and Darwinism results in a problematic approach to Scripture and science by Catholic promoters of a young earth. According to Mr. Keating, we first assume that these theories are erroneous and must adopt the young earth hypothesis to justify our assumption. (Mr. Keating couldn’t be further from the mark for the case of the current writer, having spent 36 years as an Old Earth (OE) scientist, last 3 years as a Young Earth Creationist (YEC).)

He attempts a personal refutation of Young Earth (YE) belief, which is admittedly not so much scientific as affective, not so much conclusive as indicative. What then follows supplies a historical and emotional description of the impressive immensity that the Grand Canyon spectacle presents. Mr. Keating relates his seven hour descent from the rim to the Colorado River below, noting the antiquity of the Indian and prospector trails but seeing scant evidence of their erosion. Emulating Einstein, Mr. Keating engages in a thought experiment, assuming (sic) the rock erodes at one inch per century to flush out the equivalent of whole mountains of debris. His math shows a drop from rim to river of 4,600 feet would have taken 5,520,000 years to form the Grand Canyon.

Now he turns to advocates of a young earth, only 6,000 years old. This age requires an erosion rate of 920 inches per century – not at all what century-old photos show. He points out that there is not remotely enough water (now) to carve away nine inches of rock each year.

In his canyon trip reverie he knew viscerally (sic) that it was not formed recently. He says it could not have been so (remember, using a gut feeling). His eyes and aching feet were apparently proof enough. So much for the scientific method and the legal criterion of reasonable doubt. Mr. Keating’s gastric testimony convinces him that the rocky halls are far older than 6,000 years – or even a hundred times that.

Mr. Keating thinks proponents of a young earth will not accept what he says as determinative. But we wonder why, with such strong New Age evidence? He thinks a trip to the Redwall would convince us.

Kolbe Center advisors were independently inspired to challenge the article’s position with letters to This Rock. There was one private response to these but none was published by This Rock; they are all reproduced here.

Initially there were three (negative) replies that were published in This Rock; they all pointed out the similarity in the paleogeology of the Grand Canyon with the neogeology of Mt. St. Helens. It’s interesting that no positive replies were printed; were none received? It’s heartening to know that some This Rock readers noted the inconsistencies in the article and were not ‘affected’ by their obvious loyalty to Mr. Keating or his maudlin response to the Canyon spectacle. Perhaps there still exists today a “silent majority” of Catholics that are faithful to Scripture when challenged by modernist science.

The letters linked below represent a summary of the opinions of This Rock readers; they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Kolbe Center.

Karl Keating replied to these three writers:

  • The Mount St. Helens comparison is not apt. The explosion produced mud flows that … involved ash and igneous material. The Grand Canyon, by contrast, is composed mainly of sedimentary rocks, with no evidence of equivalent pyroclastic activity.
  • Tremendous amounts of runoff in a very short time would have to run off something higher, and (nothing is higher than) the plateau at the top of the Grand Canyon. If (Noah’s) Flood carved the Grand Canyon, we would find many similar canyons elsewhere, where water flowed down mountain ranges.
  • Steven Austin’s book, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, says the gorge may have been carved by waters released from giant lakes formed after the Flood, accounting for an east-to-west flood drainage but not for the dendritic drainage observed. There are miles-long side canyons coming from the north and south.
  • Walt Brown describes himself as a mechanical engineer – there is no indication that he has any formal back­ground in astronomy, geology, or biology.
  • He does not – and did not ­ endorse evolution… not subscribing to the unnecessary theory that the earth is only 6000 years old.

Let’s summarily examine these erosion arguments:

1. Keating: The Grand Canyon strata are sedimentary, St. Helens is ‘pyroclastic mud’.

  • This seems disingenuous: The same erosive mechanism is present – large water volumes over a soft substrate.
  • The common meaning of sediment is mud – what significant inhibition of erosion is supplied by the presence of ash?
  • Is Mr. Keating a geologist? Point 4 above chides Walt Brown for being only a Mechanical Engineer?! Is a lawyer or theologian better qualified?
  • If not a geologist, where are his supporting references?

2. Keating: A huge runoff requires surrounding higher ground; no equivalent canyons formed at other elevated locations.

  • This imposes its own presumptions on the first state of creation. Why couldn’t the Canyon have been created in situ, much as it is now? Does Mr. Keating or his modernist science sources know the initial conditions? Job didn’t, and neither do we.
  • This ignores an Ice Age barrier as a storage mechanism. (details in next section).
  • This ignores the rise of the land through elastic recovery of the crust as the weight of the Flood water was removed.

3. Keating: Steve Austin’s theory of ice dams releasing lake water can’t explain side canyons. The canyon mainly is composed of miles-long side canyons coming from the north and south.

  • Why attack Steve Austin’s theory? No writer mentioned him specifically. The writers may or may not agree with him, and in varying degrees.
  • Since Austin’s name was brought up, we should mention that he has recently discovered billions of extinct nautiloid fossils in the Redwall limestone at densities of over one per square meter. Secular science says this rock formation formed slowly over geologic ages but this field evidence indicates a cataclysmic event – a dense flow of submarine debris from the east trapped and entrained the swimming nautiloids as it progressed faster than they could swim. Dr. Austin has written a detailed monograph for the National Park Service…. at their request.
  • It’s evident to all visitors that the erosion is asymmetric; there is much more erosion topography on the north rim, where buttes, peaks and side canyons extend much further north of the river than south. From the north rim visitor center it is over 6 horizontal miles to the Colorado whereas the south rim road is often only 2 miles away. This erosion is consistent with huge volume flows from the north and east, as creation science authors propose.

4. Keating: Walt Brown is an M. E.; not qualified here.

  • Mechanical Engineering usually includes 2 semesters of fluid dynamics and a course in particle dynamics with topics on metal cutting with liquids. Seems right to us.
  • So then why should we consider the theory of relativity, written by a Swiss patent officer in his spare time? This is the false elitism of the specialists – no one can understand this but the illuminati.
  • This isn’t neuroscience but the interpretation of rock formations and strata. We don’t know of any GCEE degrees – Grand Canyon Erosion Engineering.

5.Keating: I support an old earth but not evolution.

  • Is this really a rational position? Would Mr. Keating believe in gigayears of history if the modernists were not promoting this, to the a priori exclusion of any religious interpretation? Or is a camping trip all it takes? Well then, emotion trumps logic ?!
  • Has Mr. Keating made any attempt to examine the creationist counter-arguments to the science establishment? Creation science answers the modernist screed of uniformity in geological processes with the catastrophic intervention of a global flood which explains the current physical view of the Canyon with credible scenarios and results which are evident today in smaller scale floods, like Mt. St. Helens.
  • If Genesis supports an old earth exegesis why has this been hidden for four millennia? To reject a literal reading of Genesis requires convincing (irrefutable?) evidence that there is no alternative, says Pope Leo XIII. Augustine would rather admit that he doesn’t understand the Word of God, than change it to suit his thinking.
  • At the very least Mr. Keating should be aware of the creationist (not Fundamentalist) scientific arguments for a YE, and the myriad problems with an OE position. The Young Earth mindset has been the belief of both science and religion until the modern(ist) era.

Curt Sewell has addressed how the Grand Canyon eroded, including the problems with the conventional explanation and a creation-compliant alternative solution. The details can be found at http://www.rae.org/bits15.htm ; a summary follows.

Several geological problems must be solved:

1) If the Colorado river had been carrying today’s sediment load over the whole erosion history of 70 megayears asserted by the modernist geologists, this would amount to about 1500 times the volume of Grand Canyon itself; there is no trace today of such a huge delta deposit. A symposium of geologists (note: not young Earth Catholic traditionalists) extensively studied the western end of the canyon and unanimously concluded that this uniformitarian theory couldn’t be true because the sedimentary deposits made by the river over many millions of years couldn’t be found!
E.D.McKee, R.F.Wilson, W.J.Breed, and C.S.Breed, “Evolution of the Colorado River in Arizona,” Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 44 (1967) ,pp. 1-67

2) The land to the west of Glen Canyon Dam rises about 3000 feet into an elevated flatland. Instead of turning north or south, the river totally violated common sense by flowing west to cut through hundreds of miles of the vast uplifted Colorado Plateau!

3) Most geologists say the uplift occurred about 60 million years ago. But the vast Colorado Plateau was already there before the river formed the canyon….. This theory of uphill flow just doesn’t hold water.

4) In modern times, most sediment efflux comes from the headwaters region, not in the Canyon itself.

“After a century of study, we seem, if anything, to be further than ever from a full comprehension of how the Grand Canyon has evolved.”
R.J. Rice of Harvard Univ., “The Canyon Conundrum,” Geographical Magazine 55, 1983, pg.291. (note: definitely not a young Earth Catholic traditionalist)
A solution based on science alone, the breached dam idea has the best experimental evidence behind it, and also fits the Genesis account of the Great Flood of Noah. It has a strong parallel in the 1980 volcanic explosion of Mount St. Helens, with the breaching of the Toutle River dam producing a 1/40 scale model of the Grand Canyon.

Catastrophism is actually the oldest of many theories, part of the legends of the Havasupai Indians who are native to the Grand Canyon. Their history says the Canyon formed just after the entire world was covered by a great flood. (Mr. Keating: While in your deep reverie at the site, did you think to consult the natives on the testimony of their ancestors, who were actually there?)

The ice age following the Flood could form an ice dam three times the volume of Lake Michigan, while the continent was still covered by melting water. There is much geophysical evidence of a very heavy flow sometime in the past (including alcove side canyons).

Most geologists today (note: who are definitely not young Earth Catholic traditionalists) agree that the Grand Coulee and the Washington scablands were formed in just this way, from the collapse of a post Ice Age glacial dam that released the waters of a smaller 500 cubic mile Lake Missoula in what is now Montana. Apparently this is acceptable to the establishment because this historical event hasn’t been connected to a Biblical event.

In the October issue of This Rock three more letters were posted on this topic-more than on any other article-which shows the importance to the readers of this Old Earth position as related to Special Creation. In reproducing the gist of the letters here, we state again that they represent the opinions of This Rock readers; they do not necessarily reflect the position of Kolbe Center.

Mr. Keating’s reply to these letters makes two points:

Developmental or theistic evolution is within Catholic beliefs. We must believe in “creation from nothing,” citing Vat II, canon 5. The Church has no official position on temporal development of life forms, except that it was under the guidance of God, as the ultimate source of creation. Leo XIII is paraphrased, in Providentissimus Deus 18. We will quote directly:

52) To understand how just is the rule here formulated we must remember, first, that the sacred writers, or to speak more accurately, the Holy Ghost “Who spoke by them, did not intend to teach men these things (that is to say, the essential nature of the things of the visible universe), things in no way profitable unto salvation.”(53) Hence they did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science. Ordinary speech primarily and properly describes what comes under the senses; and somewhat in the same way the sacred writers – as the Angelic Doctor also reminds us – `went by what sensibly appeared,”(54) or put down what God, speaking to men, signified, in the way men could understand and were accustomed to.

From the first point one would think that just creatio ex nihilo is the dogmatic content of all of Genesis. It would seem that many of the Word’s words were wasted if just that Latin phrase is “What must be believed” out of all the creation events. The specific words of Scripture only apparently have meaning when redefined by the extraordinary Magisterium.

In the second point Mr. Keating chooses to ignore, as he has done before, the words of our beloved Pope Leo in a preceding section of P.D. , which address the primacy of the literal interpretation, and the rigorous rules for opting for a secondary exegesis.

15. But he [the Biblical expositor] must not on that account consider that it is forbidden, when just cause exists, to push inquiry and exposition beyond what the Fathers have done; provided he carefully observes the rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine – not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires;(40) a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate.

A final word.

As brothers in Christ in the true Church we find ourselves on much common ground with Mr. Keating as we both seek to rescue the lost sheep of the world by preaching the gospel, each in our own way. But there is deep regret that his mission includes rejection of the plain sense of the Bible as taught by the Magisterium and fancies the junk science of today’s corrupt culture. He has been given the talents by God to easily see the truth of the former and the deceit of the latter. The liberal deception of the culture of death and the homosexual agenda are as manifest to him as it is to us. But apparently on matters of creation he is influenced by materialists and some Catholic scientists who are either docile dupes of the modernists or Catholics in the sense of a “Catholic” pro-choice politician. So for a change, why not listen to science-savvy Catholics (Catholics first, scientists second) from the Kolbe Center who are informed professionals on natural facts and loyal to the Church’s immutable teachings?

In our role as Special Creation apologists we hope and pray for the opportunity to personally meet with Mr. Keating to justify our beliefs in the Word of God as given to us and the ability of reason to interpret natural facts without a modernist metaphysics.

Isn’t dialogue what apologetics is all about? Spirit, guide us!