Listening To The Mountains

When you look at a beautiful picture of mountains such as the one that is on the cover of this issue of our journal, what kind of reaction do you have? I would suggest to you that a photographer, a hiker, a fisherman, and a dirt bike rider might all have very different reactions to such a sight. Those reactions would be based on personal experience and might be related to anticipated use.

An atheist or a believer in God also might have very different interests in a mountain. A believer might consider the mountain to be an evidence of God's handiwork. Many Christian hymns have verses that relate to mountains as an evidence of God's power and majesty. An atheist might view mountains as a visible rebuttal of creationism as mountains show a timelessness that violates the traditions of many religious people.

For many of us the mountains have mixed messages. When I took the picture on our cover I did so because of its beauty, but I Box A have also used the picture in my classroom to show students the peculiar form of diastrophism that shaped the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Those of us who believe that science and faith should be viewed as being friends of one another instead of enemies find mountains to be of special interest. As a geologist and as a student of the Bible, I find a great many misunderstandings exist on the part of believers in God and their opponents. What we would like to do in this discussion is to look at some of these misunderstandings and attempt to show why they should not be allowed to be irritants in the comparisons of science and faith.

Mountains are difficult to understand. Many people view mountains as being mysteries. This is natural because of their unique size. If you have driven across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and eastern Colorado, you have to be somewhat amazed at your first view of the Rockies. Ancient people looked with amazement at the huge volcanoes that they saw and even imagined gods to be in control of them.

The fact is that most mountains are easy to understand. Volcanoes have a peculiar shape (see Box A) which is easy to identify and understand. The rocks that make up a volcano are a special kind of rock called igneous rock which show the great temperatures the rock possessed when it came from the volcano. Some mountains are caused by erosion. In these mountains, rivers or glaciers have carved and eroded the land. Such mountains have their peaks at the same height (see Box B) and tell us about the eroding agent by the shape of the valleys between the peaks. (U- shaped for glaciers and V-shaped for streams). Folded mountains caused by compression have long parallel ridges, just like a

box b c and d

compressed piece of paper. Mountains caused by breaks in the crust of the earth have a peculiar shape depending upon whether the forces thrusted the land (see Box C) or pulled it apart (see Box D).

You do not have to have a degree in geology to understand these different kinds of mountains. Sometimes more that one method has been involved and that can make it more difficult to understand, but the fact remains that mountains are a part of the design of the earth. Believers and nonbelievers can both understand their production and realize they serve a vital function.

Mountains have no purpose. Many people do not understand how important mountains are. Volcanoes bring new supplies of minerals to the surface to enrich the land. All soil is produced by sediment eroded from high elevations. Without mountains being uplifted all land would eventually be worn away into the sea and there would be no dry ground on which we could live.

Mountains are a part of the design of the earth. They recycle earth materials, produce new land, provide barriers to air currents that bring us water, and provide minerals essential to our existence. From a believer's standpoint this is all a demonstration of God's planning and design. The atheist might prefer to see it as a natural consequence of the existence of a terrestrial planet. We may disagree on the cause, but the purpose is clear.

Mountains have mystic properties and religious significance. All religions have used mountains. Virtually all giant telescopes have been built on top of mountains. In the Bible there are numerous cases where things happened or were carried out on a mountain top. Moses went up on Sinai. Abraham and Isaac were on a mountain in Moriah. Noah landed on a mountain. Jesus did not give the Sermon of Matthew 5-7 on a mountain, but we have assumed that the hill he was on had some significance when it was most likely just an isolated place.

Eastern religions have tended to make mountains places of holiness. The Incas apparently sacrificed children on mountain tops. From Pele in the Hawaiian Islands to Mt. Fujiyama in Japan mountains have been places humans have established as having religious significance. This is understandable as mountains are places that are isolated and have unusual physical properties. The air is thinner with less oxygen on a mountain. Water boils at a lower temperature due to lower pressure. Lightning may strike a mountain repeatedly since it is the highest object around. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be terrifying to be on a mountain in an electrical storm. All of these things can inspire awe and/or fear in a person who does not understand them, and sometimes even in one who does.

There is no command in the Bible to view any physical place as sacred or special. Nothing happens on mountains that is not able to be understood. In ancient Israel the people were told by God not to make sacred high places and to avoid mysticism. (Numbers 22:41, Jeremiah 19:5, 32:35, Acts 15:20, Romans 2:22, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, John 4:19,20) The mountains are marvelous places to enjoy, to be inspired by, and to marvel at; but they are not idols to be worshipped.

Mountains are a testimony to a young or old earth. The mountains have many stories to tell. By learning about their makeup we can tell something of how they were formed. By studying their rocks we can get some idea of the past. The existence of fossils can tell us about life that lived that is radically different than the life we see today. The history of man is rarely seen in mountains because man does not live for the most part, where rocks are produced. No one lives in a volcano or in a place where glaciers or rivers are cutting deep into the ground.

If we try to date mountains, we are confronted with the necessity of making assumptions that make dating attempts suspect. All scientific dating methods operate on the assumption that the past can be understood by the present. Called uniformitarianism, this assumption simply states that the only processes that have influenced the earth in the past are those operational today. Volcanism, glaciation, erosion, landslides, and the like, are assumed to be the total cause of all we see. The fact is that there have been astronomical catastrophes that have undoubtedly affected the earth and may have altered things we assume to have been constant.

Creationists have also made assumptions to support their attempts to date mountains. These assumptions involve things like the assumption that: (1) there are no undated verses in the Bible. (2) Genealogies in the Bible are complete, (3) and in chronological order. (4) That no historical period is missing from the Bible and (5) that the purpose of the Bible is to give us chronology_these are all invalid assumptions.

When assumptions on both sides of a conflict are a source of contention, perhaps it is time to look carefully at why the assumptions are being made and research their reasonableness. Both creationists and skeptics of religion tend to overdo their own views about things. The Grand Canyon is a classic example of this. I have had atheistic writers say that the canyon is simply a superimposed stream (one that was flowing on the plateau before anything happened to it) cutting down over millions of years totally due to gravity. Those of us who travel the canyon frequently know that it is not that easy. The canyon is a giant monocline (fold) with hundreds of faults and a history of volcanism and damming_all of which have been functional through periods of huge water flowage. All of these things radically alter any attempt at time calculation.

Creationists, on the other hand, have tried to use the flood of Noah to explain the canyon ignoring the fact that flooding cannot produce the rock types, the fossil distribution, or the shape seen in the canyon.

It is this writer's conviction that extremists on both sides of the creation/evolution debate have polarized and prejudiced people with a debate that is fraught with error and vested interest. There are some things we may never know about mountains, but they do speak eloquently about the past and if we listen carefully perhaps we can reduce the conflict and come to understand one another better.

--John N. Clayton

Editor's Note: For a more detailed treatment of the time issue, we will send you our booklet God's Revelation in His Rocks and His Word by John N. Clayton. For the booklet please send $2.00 to purchase it at our cost (which will be refunded if you decide to return it). If you would like a catalog, please let us know and we will include one.

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