Thousands ... not billions; The Question of Time.
In geology, the evolution/creation debate has centered largely around the rates of geologic processes and the accuracy of “dating” methods in determining the age of the earth. In reality, the “age” issue matters more to evolutionists than to creationists. If evolution really took place as usually taught, it must have required multiple billions of years. Though some evolutionists have postulated a form of evolution called “punctuated equilibrium” which speculates that evolution took place in relatively rapid “spurts, ” there is no evidence that it could (or did) take place rapidly. Thus, evolutionists “need” long ages to explain the origin of the vast diversity of life seen today.
Creationists, on the other hand, could theoretically accept either a young or old age for the earth. Thus, in some ways, they should theoretically be more able to be objective in evaluating the evidence. Among Christians, there are varying opinions on the age issue; some accept a very old age while others opt for a younger age.
There are a variety of ways to try to determine the age of the earth, but it is important to realize that all these methods rely on certain unprovable assumptions. The only way to really date something with complete assurance of accuracy, would be to have credible eye-witness reports throughout the entire time frame in question or to rely on the accurate historical documents dealing with the events in question. Since issues involving the age of the earth are outside the realm of human observation, this is impossible for human observers. Thus, scientists must realize they are using methods which involve a number of assumptions.
Suppose you want to “scientifically” determine the age of your grandmother since she will not tell anyone her age and has destroyed her birth certificate so that nosy people like you won’t find out. You can’t ask her parents or contemporaries since she has outlived them all. To determine her age, you might count the wrinkles, but that could be rather suspect since she always appeared too young to be a grandma. Perhaps you could sneak in the room while she is sleeping and measure the amount of wear on her teeth, but in order to use that information you would already have to know how teeth wear relates to age. Unfortunately, that is also based on eyewitness or historical record of people of known age. Besides that you might find “her” teeth are in a jar next to the bed! If you go on height, then you’re in big trouble since you might find out she is shrinking and scientifically determine she was 16 feet tall only 50 years ago. It is not recommended to cut her in half to count the growth rings! I guess you’re stuck. The only way to know her true age is through a reliable historical record (like an official birth certificate) or eyewitness reports. Scientists attempting to date the earth encounter similar problems. The only entirely accurate source of information on dating the earth would be revelation by the Creator Who was there from the beginning. It is our opinion that the Bible gives this revealed information and that true scientific research will agree.
To determine the reliability of any age-dating system, researchers should check the accuracy of the method on things of known age. They should also determine if the assumptions involved are reasonable. If either of these fails, that dating method should not be viewed as very reliable. Of course, the more data available from various methods converging upon similar dates, the more likely it would be that the dates are reliable, but even this needs to be carefully examined, as often various methods are “calibrated” by methods which themselves are suspect. With all this in mind, let’s examine a few of the more common evidences for old age, as well as some observations which might lead to a much younger interpretation.
The main methods used to arrive at very ancient ages for the earth rely on radiometric decay. The idea is that certain radioactive materials decay or change over time into other elements. These decay rates can be measured, and calculations made to determine the age of the substance in question. Two questions need to be asked: 1) How accurate are these methods? and 2) What are the assumptions involved?
The first major question regarding radiometric dating to consider is: How accurate are these methods on events of known age? Here the method seems to fail miserably. Recent lava flows in Hawaii have been dated at 3 million to 1 billion years old depending on where the sample was taken. Lava which formed in the crater of Mt. St. Helens since 1980 was dated as 340,000 to 2.8 million years old! A lava flow on top of Grand Canyon has been dated as old or older than the layers underneath the entire canyon. Some writers falsely claim these results are merely occasional “flukes” while the bulk of data consistently gives good dates. Other evolutionists have actually stated that these methods are not accurate on rocks of recent (known) age. That leads to the question: If they can’t be trusted to give accurate dates on events of known age, how can they be trusted to give accurate results on events of unknown age?
The three main assumptions involved in radiometric dating as well as in most age-dating methods are:
1) Initial starting conditions,
2) Constant or known rate of change, and
3) A closed system.
The first assumption demands that all of a certain kind of deterioration (“daughter”) product has been derived from the initial “parent” material and that none was present at the formation of the rock. The second assumption is that the rate of radioactive decay has been constant over the whole time period in question. Third, it is assumed that the rock in question is a “closed” system; in other words, nothing has entered or left the system over the entire time in question. If any of these assumptions fail, the calculations would be flawed.
None of these assumptions are very certain, and some aren’t even reasonable. Without being present at the formation of the rock, how could one know for certain that there was none of the supposed “daughter” element present in the beginning? It would seem the same source of radioactive elements could also provide a whole suite of minerals including supposed “daughter” products. Secondly, without watching the entire process, how could you be certain that the rate had never changed. In fact, there is now good evidence that radiometric decay rates can be affected in various ways and that they do change. Finally, how could you ever be certain of a closed system? Rocks are porous and substances can and do leach in and out of them over time. Thus, it seems none of these necessary assumptions can be held with any degree of confidence, which puts the whole method in question. (See Thousands, Not Billions by Dr. Don DeYoung, 2005, for a compilation of the conclusions of a recent 8 year in-depth study of radiometric dating. A DVD by the same title and a 2 volume technical version are also available.)
The other major “old age” dating methods have been based on assumptions about geologic processes. It has been supposed that geologic processes take a very LONG time (examples: cave formation, petrification, formation of rock layers, erosion of canyons). However, observable evidence is mounting that these processes can and often do take place very rapidly. This new evidence is putting the old age interpretations in serious doubt or at least showing that vast quantities of time are not necessary .
We are told it takes a hundred years to form one inch of stalactite material. However, an underground wing of the Milwaukee Public Museum had a problem with the roof leaking. They boarded it up. Ten years later, they found stalactites 6 feet long. Using the normally accepted accumulation rate, we can calculate that the underground wing must be 7200 years old, making the museum the oldest building in North America! In a new cave near Chihuahua, Mexico, crystals the size of telephone poles may have taken only 30-100 years to form – not millions (Smithsonian, April, 2002)! At Carlsbad Caverns, there is a fossilized bat preserved in a stalagmite. Was that a slow bat or what? Time is not the hero of the plot, but rather, the conditions! Stalactites can and do form rapidly!
When Mount St. Helens erupted, hundreds of feet of geologic formations formed quickly. Within days up to six hundred feet of new layers were deposited. Many of these layers were formed by catastrophic mud flows traveling at high velocity. Geologists were impressed with the fact that the layers were not jumbled masses of material, but were finely sorted. These fine layers were unexpectedly formed simultaneously as the result of flow patterns within the flow as parts of the mud slurry flowed more rapidly or slowly than adjacent parts. Could this process explain other geologic formations as well?
Challenging evolutionary time-scales, single fossils (termed polystrate fossils) completely cut through an entire sequence of rock layers. One such polystrate fossil is a fossil snail that was found on its edge cutting through what was considered 20 million years of layers. That was one tough snail to stand on its tail for that length of time. A petrified tree was found cutting through what was assumed to be 100 million years of layers. Did that tree live for 100 million years as the mud slowly piled up around it? This is not an isolated case. Polystrate fossils have been found in many places. These fossils were more likely buried very rapidly by a catastrophic event, such as the Flood described in the Bible.
How long does it take to petrify wood (i.e., turn it to stone)? Not long if conditions are right. Public service officials have reported instant petrified wood resulting from lightning strikes. It amazed the chain saw operators who tried to remove the stricken tree. According to Dr. Glenn McLean, loggers were responsible for other “instant” petrified wood. They accidentally felled a tree across a high voltage line. The power discharged into the ground producing intense heat, melting the ground. A near-by tree sucked the molten material into its roots, producing instant petrified wood. The University of Arizona has developed and patented a process to produce rapid petrification of wood. They are using the process to produce petrified fence posts. This is not a bad idea since these solid rock posts do not rot, and horses do not chew on them. It apparently takes a short enough time, that the process is commercially feasible. This certainly shows that if the conditions are just right, millions of years are not needed to turn wood into stone as we are usually taught.
We are taught it takes millions of years to erode canyons. However, in eastern Washington at the Channeled Scablands, an intertwined network of canyons covers an area of several thousand square miles. Some of the canyons are at least 20 miles long, 6 miles in width and 900 feet deep. The whole system appears to have been carved in as little as 24 to 48 hours as the result of the collapse of an ice dam on the ancient Lake Missoula in Montana, resulting in cataclysmic flooding downstream. (Some suggest there may have been twelve episodes of a similar event. Even if that was the case, that still shows that it doesn’t take very long to form big canyons!) Huge piles of monstrous boulders and gravel were left as debris. Many other such events also occurred eroding out major river valleys and canyons elsewhere in the world.
The fact that geologic formations can happen rapidly does not prove the earth is young. However, it shows that some processes which have been thought to take millions of years can and do happen very rapidly. In reality, like dating Grandma, the only way to know the true age of something is to have reliable historical documentation rather than assumptions. The Bible claims to be that reliable historical document. It seems to indicate the earth was created a relatively short time ago. We can accept or reject that historical record, but the thing to keep in mind is that if God is powerful enough to create the universe and the earth, then He is certainly powerful enough to get the job done rapidly without taking millions of years to do it!
By Dave Nutting
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