Glenn Morton: Why I Left Young-Earth Creationism

August 5th, 2020, the geophysicist known for Morton’s Demon, Glenn R. Morton, passed away. Just a week before he died, Glenn appeared on the Peaceful Science forum, sketching out the ideas behind his posthumously published Eden Was Here. Panda’s Thumb noted his passing with a biography worth reading. To commemorate his passing at Peaceful Science, we are publishing one of his articles. In this article, one of many, Glenn explains how his experience in petroleum geology caused him to leave young earth creationism to become an old earth creationist.

For years I struggled to understand how the geological data I worked with everyday could fit into a Biblical perspective. Being a physics major in college I had no geology courses. Thus, as a young Christian, when I was presented with the view that Christians must believe in a young-earth and global flood, I went along willingly. I knew there were problems, but thought I would solve them.

When I graduated from college with a physics degree, physicists were unemployable since NASA had just laid a bunch of them off. I did graduate work in philosophy and then decided to leave school to support my growing family. Even after a year, physicists were still unemployable. After six months of looking, I finally found work as a geophysicist working for a seismic company. Within a year, I was processing seismic data for Atlantic Richfield.

This was where I first became exposed to the problems geology presented to the idea of a global flood. I would see extremely thick (30,000 feet) sedimentary layers. One could follow these beds from the surface down to those depths where they were covered by vast thicknesses of sediment. I would see buried mountains that had experienced thousands of feet of erosion, which required time. Yet the sediments in those mountains had to have been deposited by the flood, if it was true. I would see faults that were active early but not late and faults that were active late but not early. I would see karsts and sinkholes (limestone erosion) which occurred during the middle of the sedimentary column (supposedly during the middle of the flood), yet the flood waters would have been saturated in limestone and incapable of dissolving lime. It became clear that more time was needed than the global flood would allow. 1

One also finds erosional canyons buried in the earth. These canyons would require time to excavate, just like the time it takes to erode the Grand Canyon. This picture was downloaded from a site which is now gone from the web. 2

I worked hard over the next few years to solve these problems. I published 20+ items in the Creation Research Society Quarterly. I would listen to ICR, have discussions with people like Slusher, Gish, Austin, Barnes and also discuss things with some of their graduates that I had hired.

In order to get closer to the data and know it better, with the hope of finding a solution, I changed subdivisions of my work in 1980. I left seismic processing and went into seismic interpretation where I would have to deal with more geologic data. My horror at what I was seeing only increased. There was a major problem; the data I was seeing at work, was not agreeing with what I had been taught as a Christian. Doubts about what I was writing and teaching began to grow. Unfortunately, my fellow young earth creationists were not willing to listen to the problems. No one could give me a model which allowed me to unite into one cloth what I believed on Sunday and what I was forced to believe by the data Monday through Friday. I was living the life of a double-minded man–believing two things.

Growing Doubts

By 1986, the growing doubts about the ability of the widely accepted creationist viewpoints to explain the geologic data led to a nearly 10 year withdrawal from publication. My last young-earth paper was entitled Geologic Challenges to a Young-earth, which I presented as the first paper in the First International Conference on Creationism. It was not well received. Young-earth creationists don’t like being told they are wrong. The reaction to the pictures, seismic data, the logic disgusted me. They were more interested in what I sounded like than in the data!

John Morris came to the stage to challenge me. He claimed to have been in the oil industry. I asked him what oil company he had worked for. I am going to share an account of this published in the Skeptical Inquirer in late 86 or early 87. It was written by Robert Schadewald. He writes,

“John Morris went to the microphone and identified himself as a petroleum geologist. He questioned Morton’s claim that pollen grains are found in salt formations, and accused Morton of sounding like an anticreationist, raising more problems than his critics could respond to in the time available. Morris said that the ICR staff is working on these problems all the time. He told Morton to quit raising problems and start solving them. “Morton chopped him off at the ankles. Two questions, said Morton: ‘What oil company did you work for?’ Well, uh, actually Morris never worked for an oil company, but he once taught petroleum engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Second, How old is the Earth?’ ‘If the earth is more than 10,000 years old then Scripture has no meaning.’ Morton then said that he had hired several graduates of Christian Heritage College, and that all of them suffered severe crises of faith. They were utterly unprepared to face the geologic facts every petroleum geologist deals with on a daily basis. Morton neglected to add that ICR is much better known for ignoring or denying problems than dealing with them.”

It appeared that the more I questions I raised, the more they questioned my theological purity. When telling one friend of my difficulties with young-earth creationism and geology, he told me that I had obviously been brain-washed by my geology professors. When I told him that I had never taken a geology course, he then said I must be saying this in order to hold my job. Never would he consider that I might really believe the data. Since then, this type of treatment has become expected from young-earthers.

I have been called nearly everything under the sun, but they don’t deal with the data I present to them. Here is a list of what young-earthers have called me in response to my data: ‘an apostate,’ (Humphreys) ‘a heretic’ (Jim Bell although he later apologised like the gentleman he is) ‘a compromiser’ (Henry Morris) “absurd”, “naive”, “compromising”, “abysmally ignorant”, “sloppy”, “reckless disregard”, “extremely inaccurate”, “misleading”, “tomfoolery” and “intentionally deceitful” (John Woodmorappe) ‘like your father, Satan’ (Carl R. Froede–I am proud to have this one because Jesus was once said to have been of satan also.) ‘your loyality and commitment to Jesus Christ is shaky or just not truly genuine’ (John Baumgardner 12-24-99 [Merry Christmas]) “[I] have secretly entertained suspicions of a Trojan horse roaming behind the lines…” Royal Truman 12-28-99

Above I say that I withdrew from publishing for 10 years. I need to make one item clear. It is true that I published a couple of items in the late 80s. The truth is that these were an edited letter exchange I had with George Howe. When George approached me about the Mountain Building symposium, I told him I didn’t want to write it. He said that was ok he would write it, give it to me and then publish it. Since it was merely splicing a bunch of letters together, it was my words, but George’s editorship that made that article. To all intents and purposes I was through with young-earth creationist (not ism yet) because I knew that they didn’t care about the data.

Giving up on Young-Earth Creationism and almost Christianity

But eventually, by 1994 I was through with young-earth creationISM. Nothing that young-earth creationists had taught me about geology turned out to be true. I took a poll of my ICR graduate friends who have worked in the oil industry. I asked them one question.

“From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?”

That is a very simple question. One man, Steve Robertson, who worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said ‘No!’ A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing the question, exclaimed, “Wait a minute. There has to be one!” But he could not name one. I can not name one. No one else could either. One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry. I do not know what his spiritual state is now, but he was in bad shape the last time I talked to him.

And being through with creationism, I very nearly became through with Christianity. I was on the very verge of becoming an atheist. During that time, I re-read a book I had reviewed prior to its publication. It was Alan Hayward’s “Creation and Evolution.” Even though I had reviewed it in 1984 prior to its publication in 1985, I hadn’t been ready for the views he expressed. He presented a wonderful Days of Proclamation view which pulled me back from the edge of atheism. Although I believe Alan applied it to the earth in an unworkable fashion, his view had the power to unite the data with the Scripture, if it was applied differently. That is what I have done with my views. Without that, I would now be an atheist. There is much in Alan’s book I agree with and much I disagree with, but his book was very important to keeping me in the faith. While his book may not have changed the debate totally yet, it did change my life.

Copyright 2000 by Glenn R. Morton. This may be freely distributed so long as no changes are made to the text and no charges are made to the reader.

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Notable Replies

  1. Probably catastrophic plate tectonics. It was proposed in 94’ I believe.

  2. I can think of other possible answers. Try replacing “the Bible” with “YEC creationism”.

  3. The only thing I could think of was “charge-parity-time” and I was completely baffled.

  4. I’m not a Young Earth Creationist, but a thought occurred to me as I was reading this. Could a global flood have taken place without doing all those things YECers claim it did? Seems most critics point out the impossibility of a global flood being responsible for what YECers claim it was. Perhaps the 30,000 feet of sediments were not deposited by a global flood? Would this rise up to the level of “proof” that a global flood did not happen? I have read several works about a global flood. I cannot recall if any of them discussed what exactly would a global flood like that described in the Bible look like? Just a thought. I am probably missing something but what do you all think?

  5. Sadly, most Christians equate God’s word with YEC. I did. Notice its the “ONLY ONE possible answer.” I don’t say this to pick on Ben. I say this as someone who used to think this way. I’d like to help Christians like Ben to be at least a little bit more openminded. I know it’s a process and can take several years, as it did I. I grew tired of all the books and ministries claiming their particular reading (I say “reading” because many people think you don’t need to interpret Scripture) is THE ONLY ONE APPROVED BY GOD because IT ALONE IS THE ONLY BIBLICAL VIEW.

    The view represented by Ben is part of a whole package. The package needs to be defended because the person has invested his life and salvation on it. It then becomes more of a psychological issue. Please don’t be offended when I say this, but this particular package is a naïve view. You may be basing your Christian life on this false idea that the Bible simply needs to be read to be understood. Or because the Church or ministry you may have become a Christian through preached and taught that their package is THE Biblical one. Being a member of Peaceful Science is a huge step in the right direction. I say that not simply because I think Josh has a corner on the truth, rather because P.S. promotes healthy dialog. Sorry I tend to go on rants! Blessings!

  6. Dr. Francis Collins had this to say:

  7. That’s correct, but why would that matter?

    I see it as written. He was not originally able to live forever, and would have to eat from the tree of life in order to do so, so he had to be prevented from eating. You may say that there’s a non-literal meaning, but you can’t use the text itself as support for that meaning, because it’s pretty clear as written.

  8. The traditional argument of such people is that (1) evolution requires “millions of years of dead things”, but (2) “There was no death before the Fall. Therefore, the Theory of Evolution can’t be true.” Simple as that. I hear this reasoning often from YEC friends and associates. (Not all of them, certainly. But many.)

  9. It would be more brotherly if you can avoid psychiatric analysis of people (especially considering the fact that you are talking to someone on the internet and you are not qualified to make a judgement on this anyway!).

    The gift of prophecy in the church is understood differently by different churches and individuals. I think yourself and @Mark10.45 are probably working with different definitions and systematic theologies in mind. This would be especially true if you are a cessationist and @Mark10.45 is a continuationist.
    Peace.

  10. My brothers and I are all amused.

    Dad was so good at making people debate, people are still doing it after he passed.

    He’d be proud :slight_smile:

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