A Profile of apologist Kevin Birdwell written by Susan Hanks Mowen
By day, climatologist Kevin Birdwell seeks answers to mysteries of human history via climatological records. By night, he uses that research to enhance his teaching at a Christian college. Studying ancient weather at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee intrigues Birdwell “because it reveals so much about the intricacies of Earth’s ability to support life." And, the way these discoveries affirm the Christian faith stimulates his enthusiastic pursuit of more new evidence.
Paleoclimatology—the science dealing with the weather of past ages—often supports or sheds new light on biblical narrative. Birdwell says: “Analysis of pollen, ice cores, tree rings, coral bands, carbon-14, uranium series dating, and ocean sediment gives us a window to the past. Recent advances in tree ring studies, for example, allow a more precise calibration of carbon-14 records, thus fine tuning dates of some documented events.”
Connecting Climate and Scripture
According to Birdwell, paleoclimate information may help resolve the dating of Noah’s flood as well as clarify some of the obscure details of history between Noah and Abraham. Birdwell is currently investigating the possibility of a Beryllium-10 spike (an indicator of a cosmic event) in the Vostok Antarctic ice core. This could be a signal of the Vela supernova, probable contributor to the shortening of human life spans recorded in Genesis 6:3.
"Some people think climate change is a modern phenomenon, but it's not." Birdwell's passion and curiosity become contagious as he discusses one of the great mysteries of climatology. "Around 4,100 years ago a major discontinuity appeared when the entire tropical climate system around the world appears to have shut down. The land around the Mediterranean Sea used to have a lot of trees, but it became mostly rocky hills. Egyptians saw the Nile dry up and the Sahara grasslands where hippos once roamed turned into the Sahara Desert. The Old Testament mentions of major droughts such as the one of Joseph’s era (Gen. 41-47), among others, seem consistent with this paleoclimate evidence. Dramatic climate change provides a powerful time marker in Earth’s history."
Paleoclimatologists have yet to discover the cause of some ecological transformations. They do surmise, however, that some of these changes may help explain human migration. A drought may have coincided with the famine that compelled Abraham's move from Canaan to Egypt (Gen. 12:10).
Archaeology uncovers additional evidence for the Christian faith. “During the ice age, at least 11,000 years ago, sea levels were as much as 200 feet lower, which means a lot more land was exposed. Humans likely settled along those coasts, which are now under water." Exploration of such inaccessible areas is costly, but if it takes place, Birdwell believes scientists will gain some significant Bible-affirming data about human history.
"Such discoveries often validate the Bible’s statements. The more I get into the study of climate and its history, the more I find out about human history and how it fits into the biblical story."
Connecting the Facts
Solid understanding of the Bible helps Birdwell sort out the complexities of spiritual terrain. During his early college years he worked hard to resolve what appeared to be inconsistencies between the Bible and nature. He began to realize that interpretations could be confused with facts. Introduced to the claims of Christ as a preschooler, Birdwell credits good teaching for helping his faith make sense. “My family traveled a lot since my father worked for the government, but we were always in churches that took the Bible seriously. I am thankful for teaching that sustained my faith.
To help others discern the facts in which Christian faith is rooted, Birdwell has developed two apologetics classes for second and third year students at Covenant Life Christian College, an accredited college that attracts nontraditional students. “The first class focuses on Christian apologetics from a philosophical standpoint. It covers worldviews and responses to skeptical challenges such as the evil and suffering question and current issues in Christian ethics. The second class tackles science apologetics focusing on biblical creation passages, the design of creation, the evolutionary debate, and whether the Earth is young or old.” Birdwell has also taught a religion and cults series at the college helping students understand the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims—religious groups with significant following in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.
As a Christian apologist, Birdwell recognizes the value of understanding the sciences. The more he learns, the stronger his faith and passion to share it with others. His wife Marsha, a Christian educator agrees: “Although my background isn’t apologetics, I support Kevin’s ongoing efforts. I’m excited Kevin has found such a meaningful way to help others grow in their faith." And regardless of his busy schedule, Birdwell tries to make time for his two sons, Keith (6) and Kyle (3). He particularly likes to expose them to God’s creation. They often visit local attractions such as the Great Smoky Mountains and several area aquariums and zoos.
Connecting with the Future
To further enhance his knowledge and goals, Birdwell is currently working toward a University of Tennessee (UT) Ph.D. in geography with specialties in climatology, environmental geography, and air quality. “I have talked about divine design evidences with professors and fellow students. Although many of them are committed to a naturalistic viewpoint, several have been impressed with the data I present,” Birdwell said. “One of the most-encouraging comments I received came from an evolutionary biology major who said he would have to think about these matters. Given his depth and perspective, that meant a lot.”
Nudging people to consider different perspectives motivates Birdwell to think ahead. He’d like to invite Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Fazale Rana from Reasons To Believe to a special outreach on campus during UT’s annual celebration of “Darwin Day.” Birdwell also wants to “help the church culture understand the university culture so we can do a better job of discussing evolution, the sciences, and philosophy. And, I would like to help the university culture embrace the Bible as a viable and readable book,” he said. “I am especially dismayed when someone relates: ‘My son/daughter/brother/sister grew up in the church, went to college and then walked away from the faith.’ This tragedy doesn’t have to happen! What gives me joy is seeing people enter or re-enter Christian fellowship after being shown realistic answers to their questions and doubts."
Birdwell thrives on the tough questions college students eagerly ask at open forums. However, he is disappointed that “so few Christian groups on campus address such issues with a kind, respectful approach." Too often a combative or confrontational response leaves a void where students want answers.
In such cases, Proverbs 8:23-29 offers Birdwell the comforting reminder that creation itself continually declares the wisdom of God:
"I [wisdom] was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before He made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world. I was there when He set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when He established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when He gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth."
Climatology continues to provide evidence for God’s wisdom and power, increasing Birdwell’s appreciation for the creation and Creator. And, that appreciation keeps him busy sharing with others how science fits with Scripture.