What Does the Bible Teach About Catastrophism?

Issues are frequently raised in print and in teaching which demonstrate a lack of understanding that many may have. Such is the case in the question of whether the Bible teaches catastrophism or uniformitarianism in the functioning of the earth. By way of review, may we point out that uniformitarianism is the assumption that the processes present today in shaping and influencing the earth are the only processes that have ever been present. Catastrophism states that there have been processes operative in the past that were radically different from those operative today. Events like a world-wide flood would be catastrophic. Such a process is not taking place today. Such an event would also be fatal to evolution because it would stop all living things from continuing to propagate except those spared by some device.

Creationists have long recognized that the above situation presents one of the best means of defeating evolution. If you could prove catastrophism scientifically, you could terminate all discussion of evolution as the base cause of life on earth. In their enthusiasm to exploit this weakness, many creationists have made enormous errorsÑsome of which have injured the Lord's cause. Let us examine what the Bible really teaches in this area.

Miracles. The Bible points out that, on rare occasions, God has functioned by miracles. The creation of "the heaven (cosmos) and the earth," the Israelites crossing the Jordan River, the plagues in Egypt, and much of the work of Jesus Christ are examples of God's intervention in His creation. These events are catastrophic. They are not taking place today and they have no scientific explanation. Neither should any attempt be made to explain them. Many can be verified by archaeology and history, but no scientific explanation of methodology should be attempted because of the nature of the event.

God's Uniformitarianism. When one excludes the miraculous special events we have discussed, what does the Bible teach about the processes operational on the earth? Consider these passages which indicate God's constancy, and show He is not a vacillating God, but functions basically by order and constancy:

Numbers 23:19-20--God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent; hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless; and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
Job 23:13--But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.
Psalm 33:11--The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Psalm 119:89-91--For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
Malachi 3:6--For I am the LORD, I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
James 1:17--Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Nehemiah 9:6--Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all things that are therein, the seas and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.
Genesis 49:26--The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his bretheren.
Deuteronomy 33:15--And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills,
Psalm 104:5--Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever.
Psalm 78:69--And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which He hath established for ever.

Obviously, the Word of God tells us that, excluding miracles, the Lord has set up the earth to function in a uniformitarian way. You do not have to worry about whether the sun will rise tomorrow, whether some strange new process will wipe out life on the earth, or whether some terrible apparition is going to destroy all of us. God has promised that the only catastrophic event left to occur of a miraculous nature is the Second Coming of Christ. That does not mean that no terrible events will occur. Volcanoes and wars will erupt, earthquakes and storms will take place, and even some events may occur that we have little knowledge of right now (such as a magnetic reversal). But the constancy of the earth and its processes being arranged so as to fulfill the needs of man is one of God's greatest blessings. If the earth were not functioning in a uniformitarian way, we could grow no crops, raise no meat, or meet any of the other needs we have as humans.

What we have here is a repeat of an old idea. When there is a disagreement, there are usually three positions: yours, mine, and the right one. It is not necessary to choose between uniformitarianism and catastrophism. The earth functions by uniformitarianism, and man survives because this is true. God has, on occasion, invoked miracles to accomplish His will. These events are catastrophic. As scientists study the earth, they see God's design, and the regularity of the system God built allows this to be possible.

The Does God Exist? program deals with people trained in the sciences. Much of our discussion is framed in uniformitarian arguments. To do anything else would not only fail to answer the skeptic in an intelligent way but would also fail to utilize one of God's wisest techniques in the design of His creation.

Any creationist who is going to attack evolution in a meaningful way is going to have to be cognizant of the fact that God uses both uniform and catastrophic processes. Sometimes it is difficult to tell by the wording of the Bible what has happened. Was the crossing of the Red Sea by Israel a miracle, or was there a natural event like tides or storms that God used? Was the flood miraculous in its cause or did God use natural events? Was the thing that swallowed Jonah something God miraculously prepared, or was it a form used for this purpose by God but not miraculously created exclusively for that purpose? How did "God prepare" it? Was the famine in Egypt around Joseph's time miraculous or an ordinary process?

God created everything, but God uses nature to accomplish His ends as Romans and other passages point out. Creationists must continue to study these issues biblically and scientifically. Many creationists fail to comprehend this concept. The formation of rocks by normal process is denied by these creationists, and a miraculous creation of these things is demanded by default. Limestones in the Grand Canyon, for example, could not have been caused by the flood unless it was created as a miracle by God. Floods cannot produce chemically-precipitated rocks like limestones. Floods only produce clastic deposits like mud.

Whether these creationists assume this position of miraculous formation deliberately or through ignorance is irrelevant to the discussion. Such a position can be taken and used to defend the tradition that the earth was created a short time ago. If one's theology depends upon a particular age one must assume the above. My understanding of the Bible and God places no restrictions upon God time-wise. For this reason, I can accept the scientific explanation of limestone. I cannot accept anything other than the miraculous creation of man for two reasons: First, it is stated in the Bible as a miracle. Second, there is no valid evidence for the evolution of man's spiritual nature, nor does the soul have a possible gradual development. Neither of these statements can be made about limestone.

I have picked a few simple examples to demonstrate a vital point. It all can be boiled down to one phrase: "Let us speak where the Bible speaks AND be silent where the Bible is silent."


Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Jan/Feb 97