During my time as an undergraduate geology student at Brigham Young University (B.S. 1984), the “days of Peleg” (Gen. 10:25) came up more than once. I fondly recall Professors Morris Peterson, Ken Hamblin, Lehi Hintze and others chatting with us students around campfires during geology field trips. I recall them making the point that there were better interpretations than the highly creative interpretation that it was the continents which were divided during the days of Peleg. These professors were the ones that first introduced me to the plainer understanding that “divided” was more likely intended to communicate a political reality that has continued uninterrupted to this day — that boundary lines or borders between tribes were established. They reinforced the fact that there is little biblical and no physical evidence to go out on a geological limb to claim that Gen. 10:25 refers to a catastrophic episode of continental drift.
There are those in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have a worldview akin to the Evangelical fundamentalist worldview which limits evidence of truth to a universally inerrant Bible. The reality however is that creation itself is a God given evidence of creation, every bit as authoritative as the Bible (or the opinions of general authorities). And so when we study geology for instance, we can obtain legitimate evidence from God about creation. I’m convinced that when we study geology, we obtain glimpses of the handiwork of God — we learn a little bit about God’s methods. Like when we study the Bible to learn about God’s ways, I think He considers our efforts to learn of His ways through other legitimate means to be worshipful acts.
Concerning Peleg, when we study geology, we see things like stratigraphic, fossil, and even glacial links spanning across continents that are no longer connected. And we also see how the magnetic orientation of the basalts on either side of mid-oceanic ridges is parallel, illustrating a constant, uniform spread of the seafloor rather than catastrophic one. Since the present is the key to the past (i.e., present processes can be used to model past processes, especially where there is the continuity of an ongoing process), the duration of seafloor spreading between continents can be established: the mid-Atlantic rift opened up approximately 20 million years ago and has been spreading at about 5 centimeters per year. This is of course too long to have happened during the lifespan of Peleg.
The entire point to the background I have presented is not to invite discussion of the specific details of the fossil, stratigraphic, glacial, or magnetic record, but to clearly establish that God used “PROCESS” in creation. And this evidence of God’s process is not limited to geology. The evidence for process in creation is clear in every science; biology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, etc. As a scientist and engineer (M.S., 1987), it pleases me to be able to understand that God, existing within time and space, uses process. Those who preach that God breathed (or spoke or waved His hand) the Earth into existence around 4,000 BC or 4 million or 400 million years ago need to explain why process is so apparent in a spontaneous creation. Whatever date spontaneous creationists choose for creation, it’s always mid-process. And that communicates to me that they believe God is trying to trick us, feigning process where none existed. Anyway, I like the restored gospel for that reason (among others) – it allows for the process that is evident. Those Latter-day Saints that deny it are a paradox to me.
I’m also convinced that just because we can discern process in God’s creation, that does not mean that His works are not miracles. For instance, rain is no less of a miracle just because we understand the water cycle. Now I do not doubt that God can “muscle” some wonderful things outside of conventional “process”. Perhaps some of Moses’ or Jesus’ miracles happened this way? I think some people like these kinds of miracles better. I tend to recognize all God’s miracles, whether we are oblivious to God’s process or are to some extent familiar with God’s process. But I do recognize an important distinction.
Whenever we go to the well of the mystery for an explanation of a miracle, we use a “chip”. And there is a direct relationship between number of chips used and the credibility of religion. Call it the “skepticism factor” if you like. Certainly, every religion uses chips. If we didn’t, I suppose our religion would be just another science. I for one don’t worship science. But when we use too many chips, especially in cases where there is no need to, we strain credibility and the skepticism factor goes way up.
The days of Peleg is one of those instances where there is no need to play one of our precious chips. No theological truth hangs on the balance. Sure God could have muscled the continents apart in some way foreign to our observations and understanding of process. But by playing that chip we actually undermine all those really important chips that we need in order for our religion to taste good, most importantly the mysteries of the resurrection and the events surrounding the restoration.
Bottom line, I have the flexibility to align my beliefs with the biblical interpretations of one or two apostles who opined that the continents were divided in the days of Peleg. Or I can place significant weight in God’s other witness to creation, i.e., creation itself, and believe the splitting of the continents occurred over millions of years. I have chosen the later because of the additional, supporting data points. Lest anyone worry for me, the First Presidency warned on May 4, 2007, that “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.”
Others can reconcile the evidence differently than I do if they feel the trade-off (i.e., higher skepticism factor) is worth it. I certainly won’t preclude the possibility that God has really big muscles. I just don’t think He needs them here.