Category Archives: Christianity

As it says, reflecting my faith

Easter Crackers


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Yes, I kid not. You can now buy Easter Crackers! Now that is crackers! Snowflakes can also buy Hot Non-cross Buns, with no cross, so as not to offend other faiths!
But to return to Easter Crackers, there is nothing more crackers than claiming someone rose from his grave nearly 2000years ago. It was crackers in Jerusalem then and is crackers now. We know that when a person has been crucified, impaled by a spear they are not going to rise from the dead. Everyone knew that in Jerusalem in 30AD whether the Romans, Jewish authorities or the disciples. Quite simply ;

Dead man don’t rise

The Gospels emphasise that neither the women nor the disciples expected Jesus to rise and they all needed a lot of convincing. John’s Gospel (chap 20) makes this very clear. First the women didn’t realise, nor did Peter and John whom they told of the missing body. Mary Magdalene then thought the risen Jesus was the gardener, and then doubting Thomas rejected any idea of resurrection. They were all slow to cotton on.

However once they were convinced the early disciples spread the news and the infant church started and slowly spread. The message of the Christians was not some shadowy existence beyond death, whether being in “a better place” or “pie in the sky when you die.” It was more than that. Combined with the death of Christ the resurrection showed a complete change, or even volte face, on how we see both life and death.

Apart from Jews with their strict moral code, few in the Roman Empire bothered about morals except the Stoics, whose moral standards have much in common with Christians and Jews. However they had no appeal for most. Christianity had the long term edge as it was universal in scope (unlike the Jewish faith from whence we were hew) and had both a common touch and addressed the spiritual yearnings of people.

By focussing on the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity went beyond simply morals as it transforms the life of both the individual and society. We look first to forgiveness and a new start through Jesus’ death on the cross and then in His rising again we have a transformed life starting from now and continuing into the beyond, which affects both us as individuals and the whole of society.

That is why Good Friday and Easter are so important to Christians – much more important than Christmas. We focus on the Son of God who entered into all the mess of human life to forgive us by his death – something we only understand in part, then on the one who rose again, conquered death and gave us that ultimate hope both for now and all time.

Maybe this is Easter Crackers but it is true and it works.
But it doesn’t seem to for all !!

Spring is here; but are the four seasons evil?

Creation, writes Paul, has been subjected to futility (Romans 8.20). Don’t we know it: the tree reaches its full fruitfulness and then becomes bleak and bare. Summer reaches its height and at once the days begin to shorten. Human lives, full of promise and beauty, laughter and love, are cut short by illness and death. Creation as we know it bears witness to God’s power and glory (Romans 1:19-20) but also to the present state of futility to which it has been enslaved.

Read that quotation slowly and carefully and consider what it actually says. but first the Four Seasons by camera and not Vivaldi. I am puzzled by how the fact that “Summer reaches its height and at once the days begin to shorten.” show creation has been subjected to futility. Thus the four seasons are a result of creation being subject to futility. Until I read this the thought hadn’t crossed my mind and ten years on I am still baffled how anyone could write it. I thoroughly enjoy the changing seasons and never thought them futile.

But before considering the reasoning and theology behind it, I will take you through the fours seasons remaining 30 miles from our home in lancashire. (I have a small waterproof camera, which I always take when out on my bike or walking.) I will show that the seasons are not futility but utterly glorious and reflect the wonder of God the Creator.


On the 23rd March we are now officially in spring and everything is coming to life. I am waiting to see my first primrose, cowslip, bluebell and frogspawn.  just today, despite battling a headwind, all the hawthorn hedges were developing an emerald sheen.

DSCF8789 (1)DSCF8775

A favorite spot for bluebells is up by Abbeystead, but I will have to wait a few weeks. Bluebells are one of the finest British flowers. I love that steep lane, either to whizz down or struggle up.


Here are a clump of daffs by the River Wyre and then a swan on her nest on the canal two miles from home as seen from a bridge over the canal.


Soon, almost too soon, spring turns to summer and trees are in full leaf.


This is by Sykes in the Forest of Bowland (my car is just visible). I often park here for a long walk or cycle past six times a year or so on a hilly bike ride. It is in full summer (July) glory here but I love it in all seasons and once cycled it in snow. I’ve walked the ridge in the distance many times and have a variety of routes depending on mood. Purple Loosestrife is my favourite summer flower which loves the wet, has square stems and has sex in three different ways which enthralled Darwin.


I tend to go high on the fells. Here is a peat bog with cotton grass and sphagnum in the pool and next is one of the little falls found all over the Bowland fells. I had my lunch listening to the music of the water.


And so to autumn as the colours turn and nights are nippy.


Back to Bowland; here is a remote valley hemmed in by ancient landslips and the heather in full bloom. The path IS marked on the map. On a bike ride I always stop at the same place and look up Langdon Brook. This is september with the bracken turning colour.


There is something glorious about this tired old oak and the leaves turning in Nicky Nook.


And so the leaves have gone and everything is “bleak and bare”. No, it is not, it has a unique beauty of its own.


Here is Ingleborough, my favourite mountain in the Yorkshire Dales. I first climbed it in 2001 and climb it several times a year. It is gorgeous under snow, but last month I nearly turn back because of ice! Next is a frozen pool on the Howgill Fells.


One of my favourite views is Fairsnape Fell, whether in summer or winter. Shortly before taking that shot I was in a total white-out. Great fun! In January we get the portent of spring – snowdrops. These are on the banks of the River Wyre. Who would have thought that a month before the river flooded and deposited four inches of sand over the snowdrops. And so back to spring and soon that bank will be covered with ramsons reeking of garlic.

This is a snapshot of Lancashire in four seasons. It is glorious rather than subject to futility, and I think it is a perverse perspective on the natural world to say that the seasons show that creation has been subject to futility

Many think that only Young Earth Creationists have this idea of creation not being now as god intended, but some others agree!! YECs often argue that creation was perfect with a perfect climate with no frosts or hail or storms. To some this carried on until the flood when the Water Vapour canopy collapsed and we started to have our terrible weathers and seasons which mark god’s displeasure.

The ideas come out in John Milton’s  Paradise Lost of the 1650s where he weaved a fantastic poetic drama of creation, fall and flood. Or was it fantabulisation?

Here is Milton on how the flood caused  (or was it the Devil and his minions?) shifted the axis of the Poles when Adam took a bite out the apple  (or unzipped a banana).

Paradise Lost book x; 668-79

Some say, he bid his Angels turn ascanse
The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more,
From the sun’s axle; they with labour pushed
Oblique the centrick globe:  Some say, the sun
Was bid turn reins from the equinoctial road
Like distant breadth to Taurus with the seven
Atlantick Sisters, and the Spartan Twins,
Up to the Tropick Crab: thence down amain
By Leo, and the Virgin, and the Scales,
As deep as Capricorn; to bring in change
Of seasons to each clime; else had the spring
Perpetual smiled on earth with vernant flowers,
Equal in days and nights, except to those
Beyond the polar circles; to them day
Had unbenighted shone, while the low sun,
To recompense his distance, in their sight
Had rounded still the horizon, and not known
Or east or west; which had forbid the snow
From cold Estotiland, and south as far
Beneath Magellan.  At that tasted fruit
The sun, as from Thyestean banquet, turned
His course intended; else, how had the world
Inhabited, though sinless, more than now,
Avoided pinching cold and scorching heat?
These changes in the Heavens, though slow, produced
Like change on sea and land; sideral blast,
Vapour, and mist, and exhalation hot,
Corrupt and pestilent:  Now from the north
Of Norumbega, and the Samoed shore,
Bursting their brazen dungeon, armed with ice,
And snow, and hail, and stormy gust and flaw,
Boreas, and Caecias, and Argestes loud,
And Thrascias, rend the woods, and seas upturn;
With adverse blast upturns them from the south
Notus, and Afer black with thunderous clouds
From Serraliona; thwart of these, as fierce,
Forth rush the Levant and the Ponent winds,
Eurus and Zephyr, with their lateral noise,
Sirocco and Libecchio.  Thus began
Outrage from lifeless things; but Discord first,
Daughter of Sin, among the irrational
Death introduced, through fierce antipathy:
Beast now with beast ‘gan war, and fowl with fowl,
And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,
Devoured each other; nor stood much in awe
Of Man, but fled him; or, with countenance grim,
Glared on him passing.  These were from without
The growing miseries, which Adam saw
Already in part, though hid in gloomiest shade,
To sorrow abandoned, but worse felt within;
And, in a troubled sea of passion tost,
Thus to disburden sought with sad complaint.

So we have the 20 degree tilt on the axis Thus causing seasons hence futility and then predation began “Beast now with beast ‘gan war, and fowl with fowl,”

Now one would expect Answers in Genesis and other Young Earthers to follow Milton, but these comments from a leading theologian are not from that stable. They are not from John Piper or Albert Mohler or those of a similar ilk.

While I leave you to guess his identity I will give another quote

The height of satan’s aim , in other words, is death; the death of humans and the death of creation itself

And I suppose the seasons reflect just that.

Lastly, another quote which gives some interesting insights into induced earthquakes, but leaves me somewhat overwhelmed by a theological tsunami

What then about the tsunami? There is of course no straightforward answer. But there are small clues.

We are not to suppose that the world as it currently is, is the way God intends it to be at the last. Some serious thinkers, including some contemporary physicists, would actually link the convulsions which still happen in the world to evil perpetrated by humans; and it is indeed fair enough to probe for deeper connections than modernist science has imagined between human behavior and the total environment of our world, including tectonic plates. But I find it somewhat easier to suppose that the project of creation, the good world which God made at the beginning, was supposed to go forward under the wise stewardship of the human race, God’s vice-gerents, God’s image-bearers; and that, when the human race turned to worship creation instead of God, the project could not proceed in the intended manner, but instead bore thorns and thistles, volcanoes and tsunamis, the terrifying wrath of the creation which we humans had treated as if it were divine.

Mis-reading Romans Chapter 8

Does Romans support the idea of a fallen or wounded creation? Most translations, commentaries and theologians seem to say yes (even if they say no).



William Buckland in 1841 dressed for fieldwork in geology

Here is a quote from an article on CS Lewis and suffering by Bethany Sollerender on the Biologos site

In Romans 8:19-22, arguably the strongest case to be made for a fallen cosmos, it is God who subjects the creation to frustration, not Satan. In a minority reading of this passage some commentators interpret “the one who subjected it” as Adam, but no one suggests Satan (since Satan would not subject it “in hope”). – See more at:


The eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans is probably the high point of all his epistles, beginning with the fact that “there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus” and concluding with the ecstatic claim that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a long sustained argument for the truth of the Christian Faith. All agree that the argument continues to at least the end of Chapter 8, and scholars differ whether it continues to chapters 9 to 11. I shall not consider that and my only interest is whether the Greek word ktisis in Romans 8 should be translated “creation” or “humanity”. Most commentators today state, with no or little argument, that ktisis is “creation”, but older commentators are divided. Related to that are the meanings of “futility” mataiotes and “decay” phthora.

The issue may seem to be trivial but the section Romans 8 vs 18-24 is commonly used to give the final biblical warrant for two rather diametrically opposed opinions within the churches today. First, Young Earth Creationists use the idea of the “creation” suffering and groaning (vs 22) as confirmation of the Adamic Curse of Genesis 3, which brought disease, suffering and death into the world. (This is also present among other Christians, and creeps into writings of those who are anything but Creationists.) Secondly, many Green Christians use these verses as a reason why Christians must heal a “wounded planet” i.e. Creation. Both have some justification if ktisis means creation, but if ktisis means humanity the use of this passage for either of these two purposes is invalid.

As almost all Christians only read the New Testament in translation, the alternative translations of the word are overlooked. Few commentators discuss the alternatives at any length, and often simply make an affirmation that ktisis includes the whole inorganic and organic creation rather than a justification for that translation.

Romans 8 is about the work of the Holy Spirit in empowering a believer. The section relevant to this discussion is Romans 8 vs 18 – 25, with the over-riding theme of hope and endurance in suffering. Here is the NRSV translation


18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know


This is the NRSV version and others do not differ materially. The three words under scrutiny here are creation, futility and decay. From Arndt and Gingrich the words have a variety of meanings. Ktisis can mean creation, that which is created i.e creature, humanity and civil authorities.[1] Phthora can mean either decay or depravity or immorality i.e sin. Mataiotes means futility and is used in the Septuagint of Ecclesiastes. Now here is the same passage of Romans using the alternative translations;

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For humanity waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for humanity was subjected to moral futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that humanity itself will be set free from its bondage to immorality (moral decay?) and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole of humanity has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only humanity, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know.

This leads on to several questions;

  • Does reading ktisis as humankind make better sense of Paul’s argument and does it give it a better sense of flow?
  • How many meanings does ktisis have? Which fits in best into both the immediate and wider context of Romans?
  • Are there any historical reasons why humankind has been the favoured rendering of ktisis?
  • What is the meaning of “futility” mataiotes and “decay” phthora?

[1] A and g 456-7

Having checked out all the occurrences of ktisis, matiotes, phthora  in both the New Testament and the Apostolic fathers, it is impossible to force one meaning of these three words on to the various texts studied. Frequently the context makes it clear but others are ambiguous. Words are often used to mean different things in different contexts.

The context in Romans.

So far, I avoided the wider context beyond Romans 8. Apart from references in Romans 1 and Romans 8.19-22, Paul does not deal with creation/cosmos in his letter except in passing. The substance is the salvation from sin – of humanity, Jews and Gentiles; Rom 1 vs 16. The first eleven chapters explore this, considering humanity’s relationship to God both in sin or through redemption, and noting the difference with Jew and Gentile. The whole letter is people and salvation orientated, with hardly a nod to creation. That is not a criticism as Paul was writing for a particular purpose. If Rom 8.19-23 is about creation/cosmos then these few verses are like an erratic block which has no relation to what is discussed before or after, and seems to have been transported from elsewhere. If so, Paul goes off at a tangent and then returns to his main them in vs 24

If ktisis is humanity, then there is a seamless argument going back before Romans7, considering the power of sin in chapter 7 before moving to life in the spirit in chapter 8 which deals with how redeemed creation overcomes mataiotes vanity to avoid moral decay phthorai and pasa he ktisis “waits with eager long for the revealing of the children of god.”

This is the argument briefly, and I rest my case.



Two applications of Romans 8 19-24

Frequently Roman 8.19ff is use to buttress to rather different arguments. The first is for Creationism, positing that Rom 8 supports a Fall which resulted in a Curse on all life. The second is to see our planet as a wounded planet and thus to give a particular exegetical support for certain environmental arguments. Both take ktisis to be cosmos and the other words to tally with physical decay etc.

Creationists and the Curse

Many Creationists emphasise that death, even for animals, only came in at the Fall of Adam and after that God cursed all life with death and suffering. Many, like Ken Ham support this from Romans 8, which they read through the spectacles of the Curse. The idea of no death before the Fall is the lynchpin of much creationism today  and biblically is based on a particular reading of Genesis 3 and of Romans 8, as in .

Adam’s sin ushered death, sickness and sorrow into the once-perfect creation (Romans 5:12). God also pronounced a curse on the world, changing it completely (Genesis 3, Romans 8:20–22). As a result, the world that we now live in is merely a decaying remnant—a corruption—of the beautiful, righteous world that Adam and Eve originally called home. The good news is that, rather than leave His precious handiwork without hope, God graciously promised to one day send a Redeemer who would buy back His people from the curse of sin (Genesis 3:15).

This argument was used by opponents of geology in the early 19th Century and to counter this the geologist, Rev William Buckland gave a sermon in 1838 in the Cathedral at Christchurch would reach many, and particularly those considered as opinion formers at Oxford. Buckland later became Dean of Westminster. It was my reading of Buckland that led to this study.

His sermon An inquiry whether the sentence of death pronounced at the fall of man included the whole animal creation or was restricted to the human race given in Oxford in 1839 is in part a response to the noisy minority of nay-sayers of anti-geologists, who included Frank Nolan, the Bampton Lecturer of 1833. Here we do not see Buckland the geologist wielding his geological hammer or tracing out routes of former glaciers, but being a theologian and carefully studying biblical texts.

He took as his text Romans 5.12; “As by one man sin came into the world, and death by sin”[30], which he discussed briefly along with 1 Cor 15 vs21. The heart of his sermon is an interpretation of Romans 8 vs 19-23, followed by a comment on Paradise Lost. In both the Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15 passages Buckland stresses that no mention is made of any “other part of creation” and that “death is mentioned only in immediate apposition to, and connexion with the remedy provided for it by the sacrifice of Christ”.

When Buckland came to Romans 8 vs 19ff, he emphasized that ktisis (creation) can mean both the “whole creation” or  the “whole human race”, and chose to cite Gill, an 18th century Baptist commentator of “ultra-conservative “ views that “’Tis best of all by the creature to understand the Gentile world” i.e. not creation as such. He then referred to Colossians 1 vs 23 and Mark 16 vs 15 where pase te ktisis (the whole creation) clearly means humanity. After all, apart from St Francis, few preach to animals!

Without going into detail, Buckland’s interpretation is the minority one today, but is not without support both now and in previous centuries.

Having raised questions about Romans 8, Buckland then pointed out that such “erroneous” ideas on physical and animal death are “so deeply imprinted on most men’s minds, that maturer judgment rarely stops to enquire precisely as to the source…”  He alluded to painters and poets, especially Milton, almost anticipating both Edward Hitchcock and Bishop Colenso. He took theological support from Shuttleworth and Bishop Bull to buttress his orthodoxy.

Buckland then went to argue that had not Adam fallen, humans would have been mortal but without the pain of death would have passed on to another existence. Here he drew on the Discourse on the State of Man before the Fall by Bishop George Bull 1634-1710, who was very much in the Anglican tradition of Richard Hooker. Buckland seems to have done this to show that Milton’s view was not universal and that he had not diverged from traditional understandings of Genesis 3.

To conclude, Buckland’s sermon has a dated feel about it as it predates both evolution and most critical biblical scholarship, but he does wrestle with the issues raised and takes on those who wish to claim there was a Curse which afflicted the planet and all life on it. By 1839 most educated Christians had accepted the vast age of the earth and, by implication, that the Curse had no real effect on the earth and life, but did not consider the full implications and so for well over a century such questions were either not considered or avoided.

Environmentalists and the Wounded Planet

In recent years some, or even many, Christian environmentalists have focussed on the standard reading of Romans 8 and stress how our “wounded planet” is “groaning”. If ktisis means humanity then the theological reasoning behind this is not valid. However this needs far more elucidation than this brief comment.

There are many examples of this and here are two important ones;

Douglas Moo deals with this in his long paper Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment  [ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006) 449-88]

He favours ktisis being cosmos but refers only to Augustine as a naysayer.

If the argument the ktisis means humanity then the use of this passage is invalid. However I would argue vehemently that a Christian is morally and theologically obliged to care for God’s creation.

Further to use this passage to claim that the creation is groaning is to implicitly accept that either the creation is not as God intended and was so from the beginning of time, or that creation underwent a radical change at the time of the Fall due to human sin. The second necessitates a young earth and a literal fall, as there could be no suffering prior to that.  The first means that creation is neither good nor very good.


Word study in Greek of ktisis, matiotes and phthora. For this I used the Arndt/gingrich Lexicon and the Greek texts of the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers

The meanings of ktisis

Concerning the meaning of ktisis the Arndt and Gingrich lexicon devotes a column to the various alternatives and how they are used in the Old Testament, New Testament, Apocrypha, Apostolic Fathers and other writings. Arndt and Gingrich state the main meaning ktisis is either Creation (the sum of) or a creature i.e. a part of the total creation. AG cite references from both the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, and both sets of literature use ktisis several different ways, which often can be elucidated from the context. Thus, I Peter 2 vs 13 uses ktisis as civil authorities.


Ktisis in the New Testament

Ktisis as humanity is found in a few examples in the literature and A and G cite Mark 16 vs 15, Colossians 1 vs 23 and Shepherd of Hermas 37 vs 4, using the terms pasa(he) ktisis – all the creation, which in the context must mean humanity rather than the creation, animate and/or inanimate. Using the word rather differently in 2Cor 5 vs17 and Gal 6 vs 15 the Christian is described as kaine ktisis. This could be termed as a new human. Hebrews 4 vs13 uses ktisis for humans. The use in Heb 9 vs11 is more ambiguous, but makes better sense if Ktisis is Creation rather than humanity and thus “not made with hands, that is not [made] by any human” makes less sense. Col 1 v15 speaks of the firstborn of all ktitis. Does this mean the firstborn of all humanity, or the firstborn of all life, thus of creation, i.e. a possibly unicellular organism some 4 billion years ago, or even the firstborn of the total creation, or to put in popular terminology – the firstborn of the Big Bang. Some might even say that Jesus was the firstborn of all evolution! Col 1 vs 23 speaks of the gospel “which has been proclaimed to every creature (ktisis)”.That makes better sense is ktisis  is restricted to humans,

The statement of Jesus that “marriage is from beginning of creation ktisis” Mark 10 vs6 /Matt 19 vs4 contains ambiguity and makes equal sense either way, whether as the beginning of creation or the beginning of humanity. From the context and the first century understanding of time, they are probably seen as synonymous. Mark 13 vs 19 is far more ambuiguous and illustrates a non-specific use of the word. The use in II Pet 3 vs4 is similar, whereas I Pet 2 vs 13 uses ktisis for human authorities, yet no translation indicates the use.


Ktisis in the Apostolic fathers

The Apostolic fathers use ktisis in varying ways. The occurrences of ktisis are listed in A & G. In many cases ktisis means the whole Creation e.g I Clement 34 vs 6, which quotes Isaiah 6 thus meaning the cosmos. A little later in 1 Clem 59 vs3 has “which is the primal source of all creation”, which can be either cosmos or humanity in the context. It is the same for I Clem 19 vs 3.

The Shepherd of Hermas uses ktisis both as humanity or creation.

Hermas 1 vs 3 “and glorifying the creation of God” can mean either the cosmos, God’s creatures (Holmes) or even humanity. I would favour either the first two.

Hermas 12 v1 is also ambiguous, but Hermas 37 vs 5 (Hm 7.5 in AG) clearly refers to humanity; “every creature [humanity] fears the Lord and keeps his commandments” . This is neither cosmos nor the animal kingdom due to the reference of the commandments.

Moving on from Hermas 59 vs3 which already has been mentioned 59 v5 is ambiguous “The pre-existent Holy Spirit, which created the whole creation”, but 91v5 almost contrasts kosmos and pasa he ktisis. 100v4 is again ambiguous. But coming to Hermas 102vs1 “all the lord’s creation (ktisis) drank from the springs, are believers such as these: apostles …” Here ktisis most clearly means humanity.

78v8 uses ktisis differently   “pan gevos tes ktisis” (all species of creation).

Hermas 89 vs2 is intriguing “the Son of God is older than all his creation” Here one could suggest that Arius would say pasa he ktisis means humanity!! However it seems to mean kosmos.

These examples from the Apostolic Fathers show that ktisis can be used to mean either “creation” or “humanity”. Often, but not always this can be worked out from the context.

These examples from both the New Testament and the Apostolic fathers indicate a varied usage of ktisis. At times it clearly means either cosmos or humanity but many are ambiguous.

Arndt and Gingrich in their Greek-English Lexicon seem to avoid the issue on ktisis and state;

The mng of kt is in dispute in Ro8: 19-22, though the pass. Is usu. taken to mean the waiting of the whole creation below the human level…[1]

However they do not substantiate this point. Yet few follow up Arndt and Gingrich, though the interpretation has great implications both on theodicy and environmental responsibility.

Phthoras (vs21)  and mataiotes (vs20).

Both of these words have multiple meanings and are used in the NRSV to support the idea that ktisis is cosmos.

Rom 8 vs 20 reads “the creation was subjected to futility” or untranslated “te gar mataiotes he ktisis upetage

Elsewhere in the New Testament; Eph 4v17, 2 Pet 2 v18 and in the Apostolic Fathers; I Trallians 8 v2, Barnabas 4 vs 10 and Polycarp, Phillipians 7 v2 it is used to mean human folly, echoing the refrain of Ecclesiastes “vanity of vanities” “mataiotes mataioteton” Eccles 1 vs2 (LXX) etc. mataiotes  is used 40 times in Ecclesiates. mataiotes and cognates are widely used for human folly. Sanday and Headlam weakly argue for ktisis to be cosmos but that means taking a different meaning for mataiotes in this verse.

At the beginning of his argument Rom 1 vs21 Paul referred to those who “became futile (ematsiothesan) in their thinking”.

Turning to phthoras in the NRSV Rom 8 vs 21 reads “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay (phthoras) and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Decay is the primary meaning but it includes religious and moral depravity (AG) . I suggest moral depravity makes better sense in Rom 8 vs21. There is also the question how rocks, minerals and insects “will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Col 2 vs 22 uses the word to mean “physically perishing” as the “regulations” of vs 20 and 22 are human and finite. Likewise in Paul’s discussion of seeds in I Cor 15 vs 42 and 50. In Gal 6 vs8 Paul uses phthora  in contrast to eternal life, as the ultimate moral and spiritual decay.

In contrast the usage in 2 Peter 1 vs4 “… you may escape from the corruption that is in the world” is clearly moral corruption and likewise in 2 Peter 2 vs 19 are slaves of corruption” I.e. MORAL corruption. However the usage in 2 vs 2b is ambiguous

Moving on to the Apostolic Fathers, in 2 Clem 6 vs 4 which speaks of “adultery and corruption (phthora) and greed and deceit” phthora is only too clearly moral corruption

Ignatius in Romans 7 vs3 wrote “I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of life….”  AG takes the “corruptible/perishable food “ of TRom 7 vs 3 “literally”, but Ttrallians 6 vs 1 writes of “Christiani trophe” i.e. a “spiritual food”. I suggest AG is wrong over TRom 7 vs 3.

For the moral sense Barnabas 19 vs5 and Didache 2 vs 2 use  teknon en phthora  to mean abortion. In Did 2 vs 2 paidophthora means corrupting children or as in AG sodomy of children. Barnabas 10vs 6 uses paidophthora with a (strange) typological interpretation of Mosaic food laws

The word phthora  in both the NT and AF is sufficiently fluid and can mean either moral or physical decay.

In Romans 8 it is possible to argue for either, but moral decay makes better sense.


Conclusion on word meanings.

From a consideration of the usage of ktisis, mataiotes and phthora in the NT and Apostolic Fathers, it is not possible to come down firmly on the “standard” translation of the three words. At the weakest, the usage must be seen as ambiguous, but a consideration of the whole argument of Romans favours humanity, human futility/folly and moral corruption.

Sanday and Headlam on Romans 8 state without much ado that  “The two verses [22 &23] must be kept apart.” They must if ktisis means cosmos as verse 23 means Christians and thus the two verses have little relation to each other. However if ktisis means (unredeemed) humanity then the two verses are linked by contrasting the situation of the old and new humanity/ktisis, i.e. before and after regeneration. There is no break indicated by punctuation in the Greek text, which suggests the two verses must not be kept apart and thus give a contrast of the immorality of the old creation/humanity and those who have the first portion of the spirit, to wit – redemption.

[1] Arndt, W.F. & Gingrich, F.W. , A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1957 p457.

A geologist looks at Creationism


Many things don’t change much. Creationism changes a few details but is still the same old twaddle from years ago. So though is dates back to 2002 most is still valid

Answers magazine, Oct-Dec 2014 issue

Monkey Business at A State School


Early in March 2002 the story broke that Emmanuel College, a state–funded Christian City Technical College in Gateshead, Newcastle on Tyne was teaching secondary school children that the earth is only 10,000 years old.  Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones, were quick to condemn the school and some in the Church of England have joined in. This controversy was triggered off by the visit of the creationist Ken Ham to a conference held by the college. Ignoring the details and the rights and wrongs of the teaching of some creationism in state schools, this incident emphasised that Creationism is a live force in Britain today.

In the last four decades Creationism has caused controversy in American churches, schools and colleges and has hit the headlines when education boards question the teaching of evolution as happened in Ohio in 2002 (website; Ohio citizens for science), and in the last three decades in almost every state in the Union.  When I taught geology at Wheaton College in America last summer half of my ten geology students were sure the earth was created in 6 days – at least at the beginning of the course.  Finding dinosaur bones disturbed the faith of at least one student.  Creationism has grown slowly in Britain.  Recent surveys show that it is held by 10% of the Church of England clergy, whereas in the 70s there were only a handful.  (When I started training for the Anglican ministry in the 1970s I knew of no clergy who were creationist.)  However to criticise Creationism effectively one must understand it and its extraordinary appeal.  Aggressive condemnation, especially when coupled with atheism, will not get rid of it. It will make it thrive. Dawkins may actually encourage Christians to become Creationists!

Many have correctly identified this with Creationism which began in the USA, but are wrong to think this is a reversion to pre–Darwinian days.  Creationism came to the fore after the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961, which has roots in Seventh Day Adventism and not the Scriptural Geologists nor opponents of evolution in the 19th Century as Ron Numbers made so clear in The Creationists (Numbers, 1991)


What is Creationism?

The word itself is most unhelpful, as a believer in God must by definition believe in creation and thus be a creationist. However since the advent of biblical literalism impinging on science in the last few decades Creationism has acquired a far narrower meaning.  This popular meaning is a belief that Genesis must be interpreted literally and that creation took place in six 24–hour days some six to ten thousand years ago, there was no death or suffering before the Fall of Adam (Genesis 3) and that most strata were deposited in the year of Noah’s Flood.  Added to that is the insistence that ‘true’ science supports both the young age of the earth and ‘flood geology’ and as a corollary all ‘orthodox’ science is wrong when it talks about great age and evolution.  Emanating from the USA this is often known as Young Earth Creationism or YEC for short.

Before 1961 most evangelicals/fundamentalists in the USA and some in the UK accepted geology but rejected evolution.  Though many evangelicals still hold such a position today, they are regarded as apostate by hard line YECs such as Ken Ham or Henry Morris, and doctrinally wobbly by many evangelicals.  These are often known as Old Earth Creationists (OEC) to contrast them to both YEC and ‘theistic evolutionists’.  Until about 1980 most British evangelicals accepted some kind of evolution, but that is changing.

To go back to the 19th Century most before 1859 adopted some kind of OEC position, e.g. Sumner, Newman, Adam Sedgwick, William Buckland etc, and those who took a YEC position were very much in the minority (Roberts, 1998). However even before 1850 as Mortenson agrees most educated Christians were non–literalists and that included the majority of Evangelicals.  The latter assertion often comes as a surprise both to scientists and theologians who assume without any historical evidence that before Darwin all Christians were literalists. It must always be remembered that it was the evangelicals Thomas Chalmers and John Bird Sumner who in about 1810 popularised the Gap Theory – an almost literalist interpretation of Genesis One which allowed for vast geological ages. This Gap Theory was the dominant view of evangelicals on Genesis and geology until about 1980.  Today a far higher proportion of evangelicals are concerned about the influence of geology and the vast age of the earth than in the early 19th century.

Within the churches most non–evangelicals and Roman Catholics regard the question of evolution as a non-issue and are bemused by it.  It is only an important issue among evangelicals, who form a good quarter of the mainstream denominations (Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian) and, obviously, all the Independent Evangelical Churches.  Attitudes to Creationism vary.  Most independent evangelicals are very sympathetic to YEC, as are about 10% of Anglican clergy rising to 25% among Anglican evangelicals.  In the USA, where churchgoing is about 50%, evangelicals number about half the churchgoing population, Creationists are well–funded and at times have considerable political clout with the replacement of the Religious Right.  An increasing number of evangelical churches and groups on both sides of the Atlantic are insisting on YEC as a basis of faith.  The diversity among American Evangelicals is great but it seems that YEC is calling the shots, causing much concern among moderate evangelicals. The same is happening in Britain


Creationist Literature.

To get a taster of Creationist writing go into any local evangelical bookstore and in the section on science most books will be Creationist.  There are simply an immense number of creationist books, which sell well.  Until five years ago or so most were American imports, but now many are homegrown.  The books are usually well–written and produced.  A cursory look will show that the arguments are appealing to a Christian who has little scientific knowledge, or one whose science is limited to physics and chemistry.  Essentially they are based on two arguments; first a “proper evangelical” view of scripture will result in taking Genesis literally (overlooking the fact that most Evangelicals both past and present did not do so) and secondly much of geological and evolutionary science is fatally flawed.  Most books are variations on the same theme and the same arguments crop up each time.  There are many well-produced children’s books and short tracts of varying quality.  The most popular is Big Daddy, which has had an immense distribution and influence ( look for bigdaddy).


The Historical Roots of Creationism

Popular secular, and even religious,  writers often portray Creationism as a throw–back to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Archbishop Ussher, when it is alleged that all Christians were literalists and opposed every scientific step taken.  This misunderstands the historical situation and stems from the Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion so inaccurately set forth by Andrew Dickson White in The Warfare of Science with Theology in 1896, and perpetuated today by both atheistic naturalists and creationists. The Conflict Thesis has been shown to be false by historians of science, but it retains its vitality.

Present day creationism began in earnest with the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961.  It was written by an Old Testament scholar J.C.Whitcomb and a hydraulic engineer, Henry Morris.  Morris must be considered the father of Creationism who later went on to found the Institute of Creation Research.  All present–day Creationism goes back to that one book and its ideas are generally accepted today.  Morris developed the ideas of George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist and ‘self–taught’ scientist, who wrote prolifically in the first half of last century arguing that most strata were laid down in the Flood.  These ideas, in turn, stemmed form the writings of Mary Ellen White, the prophetess of the Seventh Day Adventists, who insisted on a literal Genesis in the late 19th Century.


Creationism DOES NOT have significant historical roots in the 19th century church, as the vast majority of educated Christians did not insist on a literal Genesis. (see Roberts 1998)  Up to mid–century a small minority were literalists and gave Christian geologists like Sedgwick and Buckland a hard time, but after mid–century there were only a handful of literalists.  It is not possible to trace any kind of “intellectual descent” from these literalists to the Creationists of today. Partly because of the success of the conflict thesis of science and religion, which is part of our scientific and religious psyche, most assume that Victorian Christians were dominantly literalist. You will find that it most pop science writings and many works of history including Schama. That is simply not the case, despite the dominance of evangelicalism in the 19th century.


Creationism in Britain.

We may date the rise of Creationism in Britain with the publication of The Genesis Flood here in 1968.  Before that very, very few evangelicals were Young Earthers.  I simply cannot name one.  Many adopted the Gap Theory of Thomas Chalmers on Genesis and allowed for geology but were ambivalent about evolution.  Anglican Evangelicals tended to accept evolution.  TGF changed all that.  YEC was soon adopted by independent Evangelicals (those who had opted out of mainstream denominations).  University Christian Unions became very sympathetic to Creationism after the 70s.  In the 70s very few Anglicans had become YEC, but there has been a steady growth since, with YEC theology lecturers at several Anglican theological colleges.  A survey of Anglican vicars in January 2002 indicated that 10% were YEC and about 23% rejected evolution. To demonstrate the change over recent years, in the course of my historical research I pay particular attention what Anglican and other clergy wrote about science from 1500 to the present day.  I have looked at some 150 clergy from 1800 to 1855 and about 15% were literalists.  Part of this was based on a detailed survey of the Christian Observer, the Anglican evangelical magazine, most of whose contributors and editor were consistently pro–geology. The successors of that journal are Anvil and The Churchman, with the latter owned by the Church Society. An indication of the change may be seen in the fact that the Church Society sponsored a fringe meeting at General Synod in June 2002 with Edgar Andrews, a Creationist, as a guest speaker. I must have considered hundreds of clergy from 1855 to 1970 and not one was a literalist, though some were pretty close.  This is most dramatic when we compare 1859 with 2002 – 10% literalists today and none yet identified in 1859,except for Gosse and B.W.Newton.  In fact from all denominations on both sides of the Atlantic I can name less than 10 literalists in the 1860s – and that was with help from an American scholar.


Who’s who and What’s What in Creationism?

The two main Creationist organisations in the USA are the Institute of Creation Research founded by Henry Morris and based in San Diego and Answers in Genesis led by Ken Ham, an Australian.  It is a total misconception to think that YEC is a phenomenon of the Southern States as it is widespread throughout the country.  Answers in Genesis has a British base and A.J.  Monty White is their chief publicist.  Monty White has a Ph.D. in chemistry and claims to have studied geology up to pass degree level.  Also in Britain are the Creation Science Movement and the Biblical Creation Movement.  The membership lists of both of these groups boasts many scientists, some with Ph.D.s and some in University teaching.  To my knowledge no British creationist can be considered a practising geologist, though many dabble in it.  A few Americans have Ph.D.s in geology, including Kurt Wise, a former research student of Stephen Gould, and Steve Austin a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University, and teach in Creationist/Fundamentalist colleges.  They often specialise on Creationist interpretations on Mt St Helens and the Grand Canyon.


Geology teaching in the USA

In 2001 I taught basic geology for non–scientists for Wheaton College, a leading evangelical liberal arts college in the USA, at their science station in the Black Hills.  The college has a very high academic standard with a very competent science staff.  I was given a class of ten students for a four week (every day, five days a week) geology course.  They were sharp students but half were YEC.  They were mostly the products of home–schooling and creationist preaching in their churches.  This made life interesting! On two occasions I spoke to all students on site – about 70 – on the relationship of science and Christianity.  Because of their upbringing this was causing problems for many of them and I got a variety of responses.  Some students actually complained of being brain–washed by their ministers, others took me to task in a most friendly manner and the next day were enjoying a massive thunderstorm with me in the Badlands, when our tent was blown down.  I have to admit that I did not convince all my students on the age of the earth but they produced good work.  It was odd, to say the least, reading essays on the geological history of the Black Hills referring to geological ages and radiometric age–dating by students convinced that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

The science staff from both colleges, which used this science station, voiced their worries to me.  Part was distinctly American in that the colleges drew their students from the evangelical community, so that almost every student was an evangelical.  That means that if the college were perceived to be “liberal” by the evangelical community, parents would send the offspring elsewhere to a college like Bob Jones University, which is proud to teach Creation Science.  A common complaint from faculty from another evangelical university was that staff in other faculties were often strongly YEC and made life difficult.  At times parents of prospective students would grill science faculty demanding whether or not they taught “Creation”.  I know of several science faculties in other colleges, which have gone through hell because of Creationist attacks.  Creationist students often challenge Science staff in secular universities.  In a State University in one state parents of prospective electrical engineering students make sure that their offspring will study no biology! (I could provide names and colleges, but prefer not to divulge private conversations.) When one multiplies this for all America there is a large problem, whether in high school, college or State University. On the other side in the USA, there is considerable antagonism shown to Christians by atheistic scientists, much is vitriolic and mis–informed.


Monkey Laws.

During the last twenty years Creationist lobbies have put forward anti–evolution bills in state after state.  Two of the most famous are Arkansas in 1981 (when a liberal Governor called Clinton had been temporarily ousted by a fundamentalist) and Kansas in 1999 along with Ohio in 2002 and Oklahoma in 2003.  Those who put forward such bills are not hill–billies who practise the old time religion as portrayed in the woefully inaccurate film Inherit the Wind.  They are very astute, and have immense funds behind them, as well as persistence.  (It is reckoned that the Institute of Creation Research and Answers in Genesis each have war–chests of $5 million or more – and very influential backers.) They are also excellent politicians and know how to drum up support.

Popular journalism, whether in dailies or in science magazines, does not help as frequently the only thing reported is that a state is trying to ban evolution in schools.  That has never happened.  At Arkansas they were trying to obtain equal time for “evolution” and “creation” – a Two Model approach.  At Kansas the age of the earth and cosmology were simply excluded from the syllabus and now in Ohio they were trying to get Intelligent Design taught alongside “evolution”.  A complication at Ohio was that any kind of historical science was being presented as less scientific and more subjective than empirical science.  By doing this creationists can claim that ‘Evolution’ and ‘Creation’ are equally valid faith positions – a view echoed by the former Bishop of Durham on the situation in Gateshead. For myself, my belief in creation ex nihilo is a faith position, but all my views on geology and evolution are potentially falsifiable if contrary evidence came along. Now, if you can find a primate fossil in the Cambrian………


Principles of Geology

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After 30 years of studying Creationism (my interest in the history of geology resulted from a fracas with Creationists in 1971) I know there is no quick put–down as Creationist arguments are presented with considerable skill and rhetoric.  A particular ploy is to challenge the possibility of doing historical science like geology claiming that interpretations whether young or old earth are a matter of faith.  Consider this submission to the Ohio Board of Education in 2002 from Science Excellence for All Ohioans (SEAO), the group trying to introduce Intelligent Design into school science in that state;

‘Most sciences, including chemistry and physics, are empirical (or experimental) in nature; theories can be tested by experiments in the laboratory and/or by observations of the world.  Some disciplines, like origins science, are historical in nature; that is, they attempt to explain events and processes that have already taken place in the distant past.  Theories in historical sciences cannot be verified experimentally, so the explanations are always tentative.  Biological evolution (like creation and design) cannot be proven to be either true or false.’

This is a wonderful mixture of truth and error.  What it does do is to unsettle Joe Public and make him think that all geology is uncertain and based on tentative arguments.  In fact, theories in geology can be tested and disproved, though not normally by experiment. Most serious is that a new unaccepted concept of origins science is slipped inThis is a term, originated up by creationists in the USA to isolate historical science from empirical science.  It is based on the presumption that empirical science is somehow ‘true’ science as it relies on experiment and direct observation whereas ‘origins science’, that is what would normally be called geology, palaeontology and cosmology, deals with past events.  These are not open to experiment or observation and therefore cannot be truly science in their method of definition.  This is a clever but flawed rhetorical ploy to cast doubt on universally accepted conclusions of all scientists working in these fields.  I can hear most geologists screaming as they read this, but this argument is seen as the ultimate put–down on all historical sciences.

This is a new form of an old Creationist position, which regards experimental science as proper science and historical sciences like geology as far more subjective and unreliable.  Further they often argue that conclusions from “origins science” are more a matter of faith than science.


Details of Geology


With a few exceptions Creationists make a wholesale attack on all of what they call “evolutionary science”, which includes geology, the evolutionary interpretation of biology, cosmology, palaeoanthropology.  If they are right, it is almost incredible that scientists, including such 19th century bible–believing evangelicals such as Adam Sedgwick, Hugh Miller, and J. W. Dawson to name three, could have got it so wrong for the last few hundred years!  The temptation is simply to laugh it off and meet creationists with scorn and ridicule. To do that is to underestimate the political and religious force of Creationism and its appeal to the considerable number of Evangelicals in Britain, as well as the USA.  This understandable reaction is actually doomed to failure.

A flippant send-up of creationist geology

Consequentially it is essential to have a broad grasp of their arguments and critiques of them. I deal with a few and further details can be found on the Talk Origins website or books by Van Till and others.  The Creationist attack on geology is both on general principles and on detail.  I have simply ignored other sciences for reasons of space and also that I am a geologist.

  • Geology is considered to be based on the unfounded assumption of Uniformitarianism, but what is presented is a crude and exaggerated form of what Hutton and Lyell (often spelt Lyle!) put forward from 1790 to 1840.  Uniformitarianism is seen to be part and parcel of Evolution, despite the fact that Lyell opposed evolution until 1864.  Often it is argued that geologists insist on a very slow and steady rate of deposition and do not allow for the slightest bit of “catastrophic” deposition.  It is often reckoned that the views of Ager or Gould, which allow a minimal catastrophism, totally undermine classic geology.  Not many realise how even Lyell allowed catastrophic events, which he discusses in his Principles of Geology (1830–6). Lyell and Gould are not so different on Uniformitarianism. Further it is impossible to work out any geological events in the past without postulating some similarity of geological processes from the past and the present. Many of the early geologists, including those who set up the geological Column, were catastrophists. Among these were Sedgwick (an evangelical), Conybeare, Murchison, both Phillips and de la Beche. If anything it would be truer to speak of the Catastrophic Anti–evolutionary Geological Column.
  • Circular Argument. In TGF Morris claims that the Geological Column is based on a circular argument from evolution citing R.H.Rastall’s statement in the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Thus Creationists often refer to the Uniformitarian Evolutionary Geological Column. The Geological Column is the sequence of strata; Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Tertiary and Quaternary. Geologists worked this out from about 1810 to 1850, when all geologists were anti–evolutionary and even anti–uniformitarian. Many geologists fall for this one because today they take for granted the use of fossils in stratigraphy and overlook the fact that geological columns are constructed for the Precambrian and also newer strata without fossils largely on the principle of superposition. In the 1830s Adam Sedgwick (an evangelical Anglican cleric) worked out the order of what is now the Cambrian and much of the Ordovician by superposition as there were very few fossils. His conclusions then still stand the test of time.  Over the past few years I have visited many of the places he went to in North Wales and compared the geology with his geological notes. He scarcely ever recorded a fossil and when he did they were no use for dating. I walked many of his routes over the mountains. My longest walk was when I retraced his route over the Carneddau of 26 August 1831, when I covered 18 miles and climbed 6,500ft. I took over 10 hours without stopping to geologise.  I do think many geologists have not fully considered the philosophy and methodology of stratigraphy and do not see that the use of fossils to give relative dates is derivative from the Principle of Superposition, which in turn is derivative from gravity.  There is both a spatial element and a time element involved.  (I am very glad to have worked in Precambrian sediments in South Africa where I had to produce my own Precambrian column as I was only the third geologist to work in that area.) Creationists can cite the loose and sloppy statements of geologists to substantiate their charge of a circular argument, but it does not take into account how geologists actually worked out the Column.  (see Dott and Rudwick. The latter on the problems of the Devonian is excellent on dealing with fossil, time and space in relation to stratigraphy. It also shows that geological methods are complex and not amenable to simplistic critiques by armchair experts.)
  • Radiometric Age–Dating. If Creationists are to be believed radiometric age dating is shot through with error and false assumptions, and thus must be rejected out of hand.  It is claimed that many radiometric dates are inaccurate and in 1978 Woodmarappe (a pseudonym) gave a list of about 700 such faulty dates.  To satisfy myself I checked about 100.  Without exception every one of these were misunderstandings of the original writer.  Elsewhere Brent Dalrymple, the leading American geochronologist, has pointed out the same thing.  The discussion with Woodmarappe on Talk Origins is an eye–opener.  One example which is quoted frequently both in books and tracts are determinations on lava from an eruption in 1802 on Hualalai in Hawaii which gave ages from 160 my to 3 by.  They overlook that these were on ultra–mafic inclusions in the lava, i.e. mantle rock, so of course do not give the date of eruption.  Creationists also cite high ages (hundreds of millions) of recent lavas from all over the world. They have either lifted these from geological articles or sent samples of to labs to have the K/Ar ratios determined and then work out the “age”. These are then published as evidence that radiometric age dating does not work. But it is an emotive argument and catches out most non–geologists, especially if they do not follow up the references. What creationists do not say is that this has been known since the 60s and that the problem is excess Argon in the outer crust of lavas.
  • Polystrate Fossils. This is the term coined by Creationists to describe fossils like trees, which cut through several feet of strata as are found in the Coal Measures, and in Yellowstone National Park.  As “Uniformitarian Geologists” argue for a very slow deposition they must have remained in place for millions of years while sediments were deposited around them.  Obviously the tree would have rotted away. Few geologists will buy the argument, but it is plausible to those who are assured that geologists insist on a slow uniform rate of deposition.  These “polystrate” fossils are only found in certain sandstones, which are often deposited very quickly. An American creationist, Paul Ackerman (Ackerman, 1986, 85) includes a diagram of a tree–trunk passing through a hundred million years of strata from the Cretaceous through the Tertiary and Quaternary to today. I find this diagram very disturbing as it gives a totally false impression of what “polystrate” fossils are. I do hope Ackermann removes this misleading diagram in future editions.
  • Polystrate tree fossil. Note the base of the stump is rooted in a more organic-rich deposit, while the top of the tree is truncated sharply. Photo from Wikipedia commons.poly
  • Grand Canyon. Now the Grand Canyon is a post–Flood feature (that means that the strata were deposited during the year of Noah’s Flood at a rate of about one foot per hour) and took about a century to be gouged out! Also near the bottom it is sometimes alleged that there are fossil conifer forests in either the Cambrian or below.  This is based on Clifford Burdick’s claims to find pollen of recent conifers in the Precambrian.  By 1972 the Creationist geologist Art Chadwick showed that this was due to the contamination of Burdick’s samples by recent pollen.  However thirty years on it is still being cited but now the pollen has grown into fossil conifer forests according to some Creationists (K. Logan, Responding to the Challenge of Evolution, Kingsway, 2002). When I went down the Grand Canyon in 2001 I did not see any fossil forests, though I was looking hard at the geology! Much is also made of the “missing strata” as for example the Ordovician and Silurian are almost totally absent (as they are in much of the Western U.S.A., including the Black Hills.)  Wherever you read this, much of the Geological Column below you will be missing, as either it was never deposited or else it has been eroded away. Below where I sit there is a hundred feet or so of Quaternary glacial till and below that Triassic Red Sandstone, indicating a good 200 million years of missing rock. If you go to a place like Scourie in N.W. Scotland, 2.5 b.y. Lewisian Gneiss is exposed meaning that 2.5 b.y. of strata are missing! Where is it? Davis Young, a geologist and historian of geology and son of the Old Testament scholar E.J.Young, has written a superb exposé of creationist muddle on the Grand Canyon (Van Till et al, 1988, p93–124).
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  • Guadeloupe Man. In about 1810 a skeleton was found in limestone at Guadeloupe in what was later to be considered Miocene.  Soon after writers in The Evangelical Magazine of 1816 argued that this showed that the geologists were wrong on the age and the argument has been recently resurrected by Creationists.  This skeleton is in secondary recent limestone rather than Miocene.
  • Mt St Helens. The eruption of Mt St.Helens was a godsend to creationists as it demonstrates catastrophe with a vengeance.  It shows catastrophic erosion as a gorge 140 feet deep was carved out by a mudflow – in unconsolidated sediments. (To consider the difference between consolidated and unconsolidated sediments go into your garden and aim your hose at some bare soil. It will erode. Then aim it at the walls and, unless there is something wrong with the brickwork, it will not erode.) I had half a pint of water availabe and spray it on the sediments, they eroded rapidly !!!! This shows, by arguing in a “uniformitarian” manner that the Grand Canyon could have been carved out in a century.  There is also catastrophic deposition after the eruption as well.  Steve Austin has published extensively on this and uses his results to argue for catastrophic deposition of most strata in a similarly short time.


  • The list goes on, consult for more creationist geology and its flaws. This site is good and many of the contributions are by Christians. One could also consult the website of the Association of Christian Geologists, which is largely made up of Evangelicals.


Intelligent Design

Since 1990 several conservative Christians have argued for Intelligent Design.  The main proponents have been Philip Johnson, Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) and Bill Dembski.  Their thesis is that the natural world shows evidence of design and thus of an Intelligent Designer behind it, whom they refrain from calling God.  Gone are the continual references to Genesis and dinosaurs in the ark.  Several of their chief thinkers sport two Ph. Ds and hold down respectable academic positions.  Their argument is that many natural systems exhibit irreducible complexity, which cannot be explained naturalistically and thus must be the result of Design.  It is difficult not to see this as a God–of–the–gaps argument.  Even so, a good number see ID as a refreshing alternative to “evolution” and Creationism.  Behe in fact accepts common descent and Dembski the geological timescale.  However, most concerning to a geologist is the near absence of reference to geological time in studies on Intelligent Design.  It is as if the origin of species, whether by direct intervention or by evolution, can be discussed without reference to Deep Time, or to the succession of life.  As Nancy Pearcey wrote, ‘For too long, opponents of naturalistic evolution have let themselves be divided and conquered over subsidiary issues like the age of the earth’ (Pearcey, 1999, p26). This hides a serious problem as Pearcey, along with others like Paul Nelson is YEC.  ID is a “big tent” and includes anti–evolutionists of all shades from YEC to virtual evolutionist.  They have a peculiar symbiotic relationship with Creationists alternately distancing themselves and diving into bed with them!  However Intelligent Designers have worked in harmony with Creationists in the preparation of alternative science policies in Kansas and Ohio.  I tend to see Intelligent Design as a Trojan Horse for YEC, and despite their claims they have produced nothing worthwhile in scientific fields.  This is a careful statement as I have looked very carefully at their arguments and know and like several of the main players.



There is no simple answer on how to deal with Creationism.  Frequently it has been ignored and ridiculed yet it keeps on growing and multiplying.  Refutation at the intellectual level is fairly straightforward, but often Creationist views are tenaciously held for faith reasons.  Thus Creationists need to be dealt with showing considerable empathy seeking to understand why they hold such views.  Think of me teaching geology to bright young creationists in the Black Hills!

It is extremely easy to get bogged down in details e.g. whether or not Archaeopteryx has clear dinosaur ancestors or the validity of aspects of Radiometric Age–dating.  Those types of discussions go on and on, though at times they give opportunity for debate and refutation.  However as soon as you have sorted out one red herring, another is produced citing references you have never heard of.

A major problem is that the term “Evolution” is used so loosely, so loosely that even the anti–evolutionist Adam Sedgwick, who opposed Darwin in 1860, would be regarded as evolutionary.  Further by focusing on “evolution” Creationists are being allowed to set the agenda, as they are adept at focussing on minor aspects.  I am convinced that the main approach should be on the age of the earth (and the universe), especially as neither of these have anything to do with evolution. Yes, I know it is often claimed that geology is dependent on evolution but it is not. Creationist arguments on the age of the earth are dependent on a misunderstanding of the principles of geology, particularly how the age of the earth and geology developed in the past.  Frequently they talk of the “evolutionary” or “uniformitarian” Geological Column, thus indicating that they do not understand how the Geological Column was worked out.  All the arguments for a young earth are worth considering, as they all contain serious faults, though they may require a little homework.

My primary aim is to demonstrate the age of the earth, or rather the vast age of rocks.  This is very much a personal view and not all will agree with me.  For example Dr Eugenie Scott of the National Council for Science Education in San Diego strongly disagrees me when I told her that the primary aim must be to convince people of the age of the earth and then let evolution sort itself out.  Eugenie reckons I undersell evolution, which is a major scientific concept and needs to be taught.  In a sense I totally agree, but I am thinking strategically rather than scientifically.  Once someone has accepted a vast age of the earth they have moved from Ussher to William Smith(who produced the first geological map in 1815), for the simple reason that if the earth is more than 50,000 years old Biblical literalism is untenable.  Further many of the Creationists I have dealt with are not dogmatic Creationists but have adopted Creationism because that fits into their evangelical perspective and have yet to hear contrary arguments. Further the atheistic arguments of Dawkins and others, and the concessions made to science by more liberal Christians (who often deny any possibility of miracles and reject Biblical authority) make Creationism seem an attractive proposition. I totally understand why.

It is far too much to expect someone to jump from Ussher to Darwin in one go.  If I can persuade someone that the earth is at least a million years old I consider the war to be won.  The rest is mopping up!  To give an example, I have a tract entitled Dinosaurs and the Bible, which is rightly appreciative and complimentary of the geology teaching of Wheaton College and is emphatic that the earth is billions of years old.  However some of the science and theology is a bit wayward!  The author is a radio–preacher and graduate of Bob Jones University – a bastion of Creation Science, so his views are heard by millions.  I happily gave it to my Creationist students, and the author later made me a beautiful wooden walking stick, which I took onto the plane as hand luggage in July 2001!

One strategy designed to fail is to tell the creationist that Genesis is a myth written in Babylon in the 6th century.  (This is not the place to discuss Genesis, but I am not happy with considering the Bible as myth.) If one does so then all evangelical hackles will rise and the argument will be lost.  Far better is to remain with conservative views of the Bible, which reject myth and reckon Genesis was either written by Moses or by an editor in about 1000 BC (my view).  This was held in the 19th century by such Christian geologists as Sedgwick, Conybeare, Miller and Dawson.  Recent examples of conservative theologians on Genesis are G Wenham, E Lucas and Blocher.  Lucas is the most useful as he is a highly respected evangelical theologian with a research background in chemistry and a good grasp of geology and evolution.  He is no Creationist and empathetically understands the Creationist position.

From this we see that there is a double problem in Creationism, part theological and part scientific.  For myself I have two axes to grind! From the US experience it will not quickly go away but will rumble on for several decades.  Many Creationists are slick operators and know how to catch out even the most competent.  The next time I meet a Creationist he will probably mention an argument I have never heard of. However within 24 hours I will find out why it is wrong, either by consulting the Talkorigins websites, or asking a member of the Association of Christian Geologists. A good number of evangelical Christians hold toCreationism because it is preached from the pulpit and it fits into their evangelical worldview.  At times they believe it because that is what they have heard, rather than through burning conviction. Thus an attack on creationism will be perceived as an attack on the Christian Faith.  Finally Creationism has a very strong religious appeal in that it repudiates reductionism, upholds biblical truth and the message of the Christian Faith.  Any argument, which can be perceived as being anti–religious, is doomed to fail with the majority of Creationists.

Even so, Creationists are quick to accuse such as myself as being apostate and in the US have forced lecturers out of colleges and pastors out of churches. Consider this statement by Mortenson, ‘Even Davis Young, the professing evangelical old-Earth geologist at Calvin College who has influenced so many other evangelical scholars in the last few decades, has misled his readers on this subject.’ That statement is offensive and unworthy of Christ.

However, one of the most important questions to ask is whether or not any position of the age of the earth or evolution is true. I accept the vast age of the earth not because it is convenient but because I see it to be true. I cannot say the same for Creationist arguments. It is a matter of truth.



If anyone had said in the Swinging Sixties that there would be serious attempts to introduce teaching biblical literalism as science in the 21st century, the response would have been mirth and incredulity.  I simply collapsed laughing when I read about TGF in 1969. When I read it two years later at L’Abri it took me two days to identify the flaws in its argument. But Creationism is here to stay.  Despite the fact that the whole population daily depends on the work of geologists for petroleum and other minerals they use up so avidly, a significant minority claim that the whole of geological science is fundamentally false and are persuading others.  The substance of Creationist claims are plain wrong, but neither the scientific nor ecclesiastical establishments have any means of dealing with it.  Or, at least, they don’t seem to.

If the American and Australian experience is anything to go by then the problem will get worse.  There is no panacea but the starting point has to be both a clear understanding of the tenets of Creationism, scientific and religious, and why they are so tenaciously held.


Acknowledgements.  It is impossible to acknowledge those who have helped me in the last thirty years.  I have had help from both sides of the pond, including from Creationists.


Essential reading; Ken Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, Harper/Collins £8, pbk




ACKERMAN, P. D. 1986. It’s a Young World after all. Baker, Michigan.

DOTT , R. H. 1981. Journal of SedimentaryPetrology. 51, 701-704 OR 1982, Journal of Paleontology. 56,(no.1) p.?

LUCAS, E.  2001 Can we believe Genesis today? Intervarsity Press Leicester.

NUMBERS, R. L. 1992 The Creationists. A. A. Knopf, New York

PEARCY, N. 1999.  Design and the Discriminating Public, Touchstone, July/Aug 1999.

PENNOCK, R. T. 1999. The Tower of Babel. MITPress, Mass. (Pennock discusses Creationists with the delicacy of a brain surgeon using a hatchet)

ROBERTS, M. B. 1998. Geology and Genesis Unearthed. The Churchman 112, 225–55. also on

ROBERTS, 2002, Critique of Mortenson’s paper given to the evangelical Theoloigical Society in Autumn 2001, (

RUDWICK, M. J. S. 1985. The Great Devonian Controversy. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

WHITCOMB, J.C.  & MORRIS, H.  M.  1961, The Genesis Flood. Presbyterian and Reformed, New Jersey.

VAN TILL, YOUNG, D, & MENNINGA, 1988. Science held hostage. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

VAN TILL, SNOW, R., STEK, J., YOUNG, D. 1990. Portraits of Creation. Eerdmans, Michigan.

YOUNG, D. 1995. The Biblical Flood. Eerdmans, Michigan.



Websites; Christians in Science A useful technical anti–creationist site.  Comprehensive. Site of an American evangelical science and religion site, varying in perspective from evolutionary to creationist.  Very useful, much good stuff, some dross.  Some good links. Website of Dr Keith Miller of Kansas, geology prof and opponent of 1999 Kansas proposals.  Some good links both on geology and creationism. National Council for Science Education, San Diego. Very useful. This site is by Glenn Morton, a Texan geophysicist, who was an active Creationist until the mid–80s when wormholes in the Carboniferous converted him. He was Josh MacDowell’s “scientific” adviser and is often cruelly accused of being an apostate. Interesting and disturbing.
www.reason–science–and– is excellent on history etc


Creationist Websites Answers in Genesis – sometimes critical of an Anglican vicar.  You can even send a Creationist greetings card to a friend! Institute of Creationist Research Biblical Creation society (UK)


Michael Roberts


Darwin’s 208th Birthday – and God

Darwin Day 12th February 2017

This year Darwin’s birthday fell on a sunday and thus as it was a family service I preached a Darwin-lite sermon. One thought it a bit controversial


As I preach on creation today I have someone to help me

[most were slow in recognising him, but got it finally]

It is very apt as it is 208th birthday [the organist struck up Happy Birthday] Now Darwin was the greatest British scientist and did so much to help our understanding of creation and its development over the last few billion years and brought out the inter-relatedness of all life through his Theory of Evolution.

We don’t think enough about Creation and whether, in fact, God actually created everything,

how we should aprreciate creation i.e the natural world, and

how we should care for creation.

To consider creation I shall play on three letters


to be arranged as




The first is;


We ask, “Who made Creation?”. The answer is God

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  (Gen 1 vs1)

It comes out in many parts of the bible and in the Nicene Creed.

Too often God is pushed to one side and some Christians almost deny God as creator to avoid “conflict with scientists.”

There are some atheistic scientists who argue that science elimates God. In Britain the most well-known is Richard Dawkins, but in America  P.Z. Myers and Jerry Coyne are more strident. All are good scientists. However, some put up a strawman that Christians must believe in a 6000 year old earth.As the universe is 13 billion years old and the earth is four and half billion this makes it difficult for some Christians and implies you cannot be a Christian and accept science.

Creation does not tell us about that but tells us the WHO – God. We need to keep that foremost and see that God created everything. We need to go further and ask “HOW?”


HOW did creation come about?

HOW does it work?

HOW has it changed over time?

The Bible does not answer any of those questions. That should be obvious as Genesis was written in about 1000BC and thus the writers had no knowledge of science. The New Testament writers also knew very little science  – and there was little to know. The purpose of the Bible is tell us the WHO not the HOW. For the HOW we need to go to science as that looks at creation with the question how. In fact, science hardly goes back to Biblical times and has only taken off in the last 500 years. All the different sciences tell us something about the HOW.

One of the greatest scientists and one of my favourites is Charles Darwin  – 208 years old today. In the 1830s he spent 5 years travelling around the world on the Beagle studying the geology , botany and zoology of wherever he went. From this and what he learnt from others he pulled all the sciences of biology and geology together and produced his theory of evolution. This he published in The Origin of Species  in 1859 and in The Descent of Man of 1871 where he showed how we are evolved from other animals. Darwin did not see this as conflicted with the Christian faith and nor should we.



To put it simply Genesis tells us the WHO of Creation and Darwin the HOW.


We need more than that, we need to know HOW to enjoy and appreciate Creation. Genesis says “God saw that it was good” and so should we!

We must have an appreciation and wonder of Creation, but too often we can suffer from a Creation/Nature Deficit Syndrome, as Richard Louv called it, when people live lives almost cut off from the natural world. An example is when some people from Preston go to Beacon Fell and are scared by the wildness and remoteness. [Beacon Fell is a wooded hill of 850 ft above Preston, where there is a Country Park. It is very much nature tamed but very pleasant. Louv argues that many under 50 suffer from NDS.]


So what do we appreciate? Nature large and small. All creatures great and small. We can see the wonder and beauty  and dramatic scenery like mountains but also flatlands.The same with a Golden Eagle or lovely little black and red Burnet moth. The awe and wonder came out when taking an American biologist friend around the Lake District. We had driven up the awesome and rugged Wrynose Pass and were descending to the east.


(sorry this is Tryfan in Snowdonia!!)

Suddenly he shouted “stop”. He had spotted some sundew by the side of the road.


On Friday I went up the Dales mountain Ingleborough which was dramatic under snow and ice. On the small scale ice had formed on the rocks showing the direction of the wind.


This is something we can do each day, whether in our garden or wherever we go. There is always something to see, whether the first crocus, unusual clouds or a new moon. We need to look at the big things and the little things and remember that “God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.” (Gen 1 vs 31)



How many, not only children, kill any creepy crawlies whether in house or garden? And so wasps, millipedes, spiders  and lots of other creatures are sent to oblivion.

How many, not only children, leave the tap full on while brushing their teeth? That probably wastes 2 gallons of water and is nearly a 10% increase on our daily home usage of water.

These are just two common thoughtless little actions which are damaging to creation. There are thousands of others as well as more corporate large ones, which are too numerous to list.

A trivial action indicates what we should be like. In 1828 Darwin and a friend were walking across the Britannia bridge to Anglesey when he found a lonely toad in danger of being squashed by a cart. Darwin picked it up, took it to the end and let it go.

In this Darwin gives an example to follow as we look for the thousand little things we CAN do to encourage wildlife (plant flowers and shrubs to encourage insects), limit use of materials (use a bike more, use less water etc) and avoid pollution.

As well as these little things there are larger matters which are beyond the individual; major clean-up of rivers, peat restoration on moorlands as well as national policy.


(this shows degradation of our peat moors. 10 ft of peat have been lost in 100 years )

Above all Caring for Creation is both by the individual and more corporately with either groups or the government. All this fulfils Gen 1 vs 26 where have “dominion” over the earth means to care for it and not to wreck it for selfish gain.

On Darwin’s birthday we have considered  the WHO of creation, that God is creator but for the HOW we need science in all its forms.

We also considered HOW we should enjoy creation in all its aspects and HOW to care for it.

Too often as Christians we have ignored Creation  both in our beliefs and our practice. As the focus of the church in the weeks before lent is on creation, then it is a good time to consider how our belief in Creation works out in our daily lives.


As I typed this up from my sermon notes I felt it was too brief and rather superficial. I was tempted to put many additional comments in and develop almost every point I made.

There were many children present so it had to be simple and thus it is only an incredibly brief summary.

I do know that some said it was helpful.

I aimed to give basic principles and not go into depth on scientific issues as my simple affirmation of the correctness of evolution was sufficient here.Other blogs deal with that!

My aim was to prod people to enjoy creation if they don’t already  – and many have lost the joy of birdsong or a flower.

On care of Creation or environmental issues I had to be simplistic and didn’t mention the usual problems of climate change or fracking. Anyway those two subjects are not quite as simple as some Green christians think 😦 . I am aware some reckon I am beyond the pale on both!!

Two useful secular books are; The moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy, and The Nature Principle by Richard Louv.

There is an immense literature on Darwin and Christianity, both secular and Christian. The websites of Christians in Science and the Faraday Institute , Biologos or are good starting points





Why Postmodernism kills science and technology 

I have long felt that to follow Postmodernism you can say nothing definite about anything (but you can be definite about that) All have their own truth and this undermines understanding anything technical  (or historical) as creationism is as good as evolutionary science, you can reduce Green issues to feelings wrapped up in a little selective science and so on

Scientists Should Oppose the Drive of Postmodern Ideology


The National Academies of Sciences of the USA recently published a report entitled Gene Drive on the Horizon. This commentary discusses the ‘Aligning Research with Public Values’ aspects in this report, the topic of public engagement, and the worrying ideological shift towards postmodernism which aims to deconstruct Enlightenment values.

Source: Scientists Should Oppose the Drive of Postmodern Ideology

God’s role in creation-evolution: what is your position? – Ian Palmer – The Gray Nomad

A useful summary of alternatives on evolution for evangelicals by an evangelical oil geologist from New Mexico.

he does so without making much comment  or judging each position for their strength or flaws, So I will restrain myself



In the creation-evolution debate what is God’s role? Did God make the world fast as in creationism? Or gradual as in evolution? Just how long did it take?

Source: God’s role in creation-evolution: what is your position? – Ian Palmer – The Gray Nomad