Caving in to creation

Carl Wieland interviews Romanian geologist and world cave authority Dr Emil Silvestru

Emil in cave
Emil ascends in to a cave.

Transylvania—to Hollywood-soaked Western ears, the name of this Romanian province is likely to conjure up haunting images of swirling mists, vampire bats, and black-caped aristocrats with thick Bela Lugosi accents.

Actually, the Count Dracula of Bram Stoker's original novel probably derived from a real figure of Romanian history, the mid-fifteenth century Prince Vlad. His father was Vlad Dracul1, so he was named Vlad Draculea (son of Dracul). Vlad junior earned his nickname, "Vlad the Impaler", by his habit of thrusting people alive onto sharpened stakes.2

Sadly, Romania is still recovering from a more recent bout of despotic evil, perpetrated by the notorious communist dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu (1918–1989) prior to his overthrow in December 1989.

In a small Transylvanian town in 1954, Emil Silvestru was born into this shadowy post-war world of repression, fear and communist secret police. From the age of 12, he began to be fascinated by the numerous caves and other karst3 features in his region, which naturally led to the study of geology.

In 1979, after five years' study, he was awarded a Master's degree4 from the state university in Transylvania's capital, Cluj. During his student years, he had already begun to publish research papers on 'karstology'5, an interdisciplinary study of the limestone region and its features which had captured his youthful attention.

Following graduation, he spent the next seven years in geological exploration in northern Romania. He gained experience in the geology of certain types of ore bodies, and discovered several deposits amounting to about a million tonnes of lead/zinc ore.

In this time, he says, "I continued my speleological [cave] investigations, discovering karst processes during the pneumatolytic6 phase—a world first—and investigating many hydrothermal [hot water] caves as well."

In 1986, he began work at the Emil Racovitza Speleological Institute (the world's first, founded in 1920).

Crystals on stalagmites
Large crystals on the tip of one of the flooded stalagmites (known as ‘The Mace’).

His wife Flory was a Baptist believer for many years before he was. Emil says, "This brought nothing but problems from the communist regime. I had already begun to doubt the atheist dogma I had been taught. It was through my scientific work that I came to realise that the order, beauty, and sense of fine humour with which the world is built cannot possibly come from chaos and randomness—I was sure there was a Designer.

"And for a long time, that was enough for my inflated ego. I recall asking Flory, who was reading her Bible regularly, when she was going to finish 'that book'. I believe it was then that God began to work on me."

Secret meetings

Emil said that even though watching Christian videos was illegal, it was very popular in a country groaning under communist repression. When Zefirelli's film Jesus of Nazareth arrived in Romania on video, "secretly seeing it became a noble act of resistance to the regime".

"So I suddenly found myself going to remote places, sometimes isolated mountainous areas, often in poor peasants' homes, invited to help show the film. Sometimes, up to three films in one night - The Ten Commandments and Quo Vadis in addition. We had no dubbing facilities, so I had to do the translation live, 47 times in all. After a while I was very familiar with the visuals, and I preferred facing the audience while translating. I couldn't help but notice the profound impact all this was having on people."

With so many meetings, there was a high risk of being caught by the secret police. Just a month after Emil transferred to a new job, one such showing was raided, and the equipment he had used was confiscated.

Miraculous escapes

God's providential care was also evident in what Emil calls "several opportunities to leave this world". In one, he was climbing a rock wall and fell, seemingly to his death. Yet even after a freefall of 20 m, his fall was somehow stopped by his partner. In another, a huge rock falling 100 m was heading straight for him down a wall when it split into many pieces, none of which hit him or his colleagues.

Perhaps the most memorable was when Emil was wading through a narrow gorge. Massive boulders began falling from the top of the gorge, about 400_m directly above him. He says, "It is quite hypnotic to watch such an event from below. With the walls less than 4 m apart, and me waist deep in water, there was very little chance I would survive. Yet, it happened."

Emil says, "All this made me understand that it was unfair to attribute my survival to my good reflexes ... as a scientist I had to accept that 'somebody upstairs' loved me. I started attending my wife's church regularly, and on one apparently ordinary evening in church, I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. The truth is that the long years of my wife's silent prayers for me were answered. Without her, I would still be wandering around on quicksand."

Emil Silvestru
Emil Silvestru worked for CMI Canada for many years but suffered a stroke in 2012 from which he has not yet fully recovered.

Christianity and science

"Once I became a Christian," Emil says, "I knew I had to 'tune up' my scientific knowledge with the Scriptures." He briefly tried to maintain belief in an old earth via a 'gap' theory, but this was an unsatisfactory compromise for a thinker like himself. He says, "Although philosophically and ethically I accepted a literal Genesis from my conversion, at first I was unable to match it with my 'technical' side."

However, email discussions with qualified creationist geologists, creationist books, Creation magazine and especially the Journal of Creation helped him realise what he calls 'two essential things':

Given exceptional conditions (e.g. the Genesis Flood) geological processes that take an extremely long time today can be unimaginably accelerated.

The Genesis Flood was global, not regional.

He says, "I had heard this before, but was unable to fully grasp its significance at first. It involved an incredible 'brainquake' in changing my scientific paradigm.

"These factors were immensely important in my conversion and my Christian life. I am now convinced of six-day, literal, recent, Genesis creation. That doesn't mean that there are not still some unanswered problems, but researching such issues is what being a scientist is all about."

Along with a few academics and others, Emil was involved in the embryonic creationist movement in Romania, as well as in translating creation books.

In January 2002 he immigrated to Canada with his wife and two daughters to do research, lecturing and writing for CMI.

Sadly, in 2012 Emil suffered a stroke from which he has not yet fully recovered.

References and notes

  1. Because he was a knight of the order of the dragon (= draco in Latin, drac in ancient Romanian).
  2. Dr Silvestru told us that, "According to our history, he constantly impaled thieves and pick-pockets. Therefore, foreign visitors were amazed to find out that a purse full of gold left in the middle of the road would stay there for days, as nobody dared risk a 'high rise'."
  3. Karst is a term which initially referred to barren regions of mostly limestone and dolomite, noted for spectacular and distinctive landforms, and with substantial underground drainage features—caves, underground rivers, etc. It has come to refer more to the entire geosystem, above and below ground—see also note 5.
  4. This is the closest equivalent in western terms—it included a 60-page dissertation.
  5. This discipline approaches karst as a geosystem. Dr Silvestru says, "Karstology therefore deals with all features (above and below ground, physical and biological) related to limestones, including, for example, the sources of most of the rivers reaching the limestones."
  6. Pneumatolysis: the alteration of rock or crystallization of minerals by gaseous emanations from the late stages of a solidifying magma.
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