Assumptions and the Age of the Earth
by Michael G. Houts, Ph.D.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written by A.P. staff scientist Dr. Houts who holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from MIT and serves as the Nuclear Research Manager for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.]
Scientific advances continue to confirm the Bible in all areas where science can be applied. Advances in life science have shown that even the simplest life is vastly more complicated than anything humans have ever made, and believing life could somehow “make itself” is more absurd than believing a space shuttle could do the same (Miller, 2013). Research related to the human genome has uncovered the incredible complexity of DNA, and the idea that random mutations followed by natural selection could somehow turn a single cell into all of the different forms of life we see around us is being further discredited each day (Sanford, 2008). In these areas (and others) it is obvious that true science is the Christian’s friend, and the enemy of religions that use evolution as their foundation.
Because true science continues to discredit the Theory of Evolution, atheists have been forced to focus discussion on topics where conclusions are drawn primarily based on the assumptions that are made, and not on actual science. If an unsuspecting individual can be convinced to accept atheistic assumptions, they can then often be convinced that atheism may be true or, at least, that portions of the Bible may be false.
One example is the subject of “age.” When one examines the subject, it becomes clear that all dating methods rely on assumptions that may or may not be correct. Because all dating methods ultimately rely on assumptions that cannot be empirically proven, the battle is no longer a scientific one (where the atheist or agnostic would lose), but a battle to convince individuals (and society) to accept atheistic assumptions without question. Within groups already dedicated to finding an atheistic explanation for the Universe and everything in it, the atheist has the upper hand.
ASSUMPTIONS RELATED TO CARBON DATING
An excellent example of the importance of assumptions is Carbon-14 dating. In a nutshell, if a person assumes the Bible is false, Carbon-14 dating can be used to “show” the Bible is false. If a person assumes the Bible is true, then Carbon-14 dating is shown to be consistent with the biblical account.
More specifically, an atheist will usually assume that the Earth is billions of years old, and that uniformitarianism has generally prevailed. Although minor adjustments are allowed, an atheist would also typically assume that there have been no large scale changes in the atmospheric ratio of Carbon-14 to carbon (14C/C; currently about one part per trillion) for at least the past several hundred thousand years.
From a Christian perspective, the Bible makes it clear that the Earth was created a few thousand years ago. In addition, a global flood occurred within the past 5,000 years. Uncertainties in the distribution and concentration of Carbon-14 at the end of Creation week, coupled with the potential for significant (two orders of magnitude) changes in Carbon-14 concentration caused by removal of carbon from the biosphere during the Flood, make it impossible to estimate Carbon-14 concentrations in the atmosphere much before a few centuries after the Flood. Additional uncertainties are added due to changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, the Sun’s magnetic field, the cosmic ray flux reaching the Earth’s atmosphere, and other factors which can dramatically affect Carbon-14 production rates.
To estimate the age of a carbon containing sample, the standard equation C = Co (e-λt) is used, where C is the currently measured Carbon-14 (14C) concentration; Co is the 14C concentration at the time of an organism’s death (assumed); e is the base of natural logarithms (2.71828); λ is 0.6931 divided by the half-life of 14C; and t is time. Solving the equation for time (given the current 14C half-life of 5,730 years), one obtains t = ln(C/Co)/-0.000121, where “t” is the time in years since the source of the carbon in the sample died.
The importance of the assumptions that are used to date a specimen can be demonstrated as follows. Suppose a carbon containing sample is found with a Carbon-14 concentration 2% that of today. Using the typical atheistic assumptions stated above, the age would be calculated as t = ln(0.02)/-.000121 = 32,330 years. However, if biblically consistent assumptions are made, a significantly different age would be estimated. For example, if a reasonable assumption was made concerning potential effects of the Flood (for instance, that near the time of the Flood Co was 1/30th that of today), then the same measured data would yield an age of t = ln(0.02/0.0333)/-.000121 = 4,210 years.
From the same measured 14C/C ratio, one could either make atheistic assumptions and obtain a biblically inconsistent date, or make biblically consistent assumptions and obtain a biblically consistent date. The same measured data yields a non-biblical date (32,330 years) if the Bible is presupposed to be wrong (i.e., no Flood and no recent Creation) and a biblically consistent date (4,210 years) if potential effects from even a single biblical event are taken into account.
In addition to the Flood, there are numerous other factors that could affect Co in artifacts created near the time of the Flood. For example, the total energy in the Earth’s magnetic field has been measured to be decreasing with time (Humphreys, 1984). The Earth’s magnetic field shields the Earth from cosmic rays that form Carbon-14 in the Earth’s atmosphere. The stronger the magnetic field, the fewer cosmic rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and the lower the amount of Carbon-14 produced. The stronger magnetic field of the past could thus cause carbon-dated objects (using atheistic assumptions) to have a calculated age older than reality. It is also impossible to determine how much (if any) Carbon-14 was present in the original Creation, and if Carbon-14 was present, how it was initially distributed.
From a biblical perspective, the Flood was the most recent physical event that would have had a significant effect on the ratio of 14C/C. Consequently, the effect of assumptions on samples created more than a few centuries after the Flood are greatly reduced. Once the 14C/C ratio had time to stabilize following the Flood, both biblical models and atheistic models would use the same assumption for the initial condition, i.e., that the 14C/C ratio was about the same when the sample was formed as it is today.
Biblical and secular written records generally agree, and when there are disagreements, an assumption is made as to which source to believe. For very old objects, some archeological dating methods (including pottery styles, burial layer, etc.) give biblically inconsistent dates. However, most of these methods are ultimately calibrated to Carbon-14 dating. If the Carbon-14 dates are wrong (due to incorrect assumptions applied to the initial 14C/C ratio), then the dating methods calibrated to those dates will also be wrong. Attempts have also been made to use tree ring patterns for calibration, but those are also influenced by assumptions, especially if the potential for sub-annual tree ring growth following the Flood is taken into account (Miller, 2014).
ASSUMPTIONS RELATED TO OTHER RADIOMETRIC DATING METHODS
Assumptions dominate other radiometric dating methods as well. For example, secular radiometric dating methods assume that radioactive decay rates have always been constant. In addition, assumptions are made about the initial concentration of all of the isotopes that are involved in the dating method, and assumptions are made about the addition or removal of isotopes throughout the life of the sample. If any of these assumptions is incorrect, significant errors can be introduced into the estimated age.
Major anomalies associated with radiometric dating methods can be resolved by biblically consistent models. For example, Carbon-14 is found in diamonds and coal purported to be hundreds of millions of years old. However, Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years, meaning ½ of the atoms decay (in this case beta-decay to Nitrogen-14) every 5,730 years. It was noted by the RATE group that the detectable presence of Carbon-14 in any sample indicates that its age is less (possibly much less) than approximately 100,000 years; otherwise, the Carbon-14 would have decayed below detectable levels (DeYoung, 2005, p. 175; NOTE: RATE [Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth] refers to an eight year research project conducted by the Institute for Creation Research). The presence of Carbon-14 in coal and diamonds strongly contradicts evolutionary theory, which claims that both coal and diamonds formed millions of years ago. The “problem” (from an evolutionist’s standpoint) of Carbon-14 in coal has also been reported by Lowe (1989, 31:117-120), Giem (2001, 51:6-30), and others. Additional information related to Carbon-14 dating and anomalies is given in Batten, 2002.
Attempts to resolve the contradiction between measured Carbon-14 concentration and assumed age include postulating potential contamination of samples, errors with the equipment used to detect Carbon-14, and in-situ production of Carbon-14 from the decay of uranium or thorium mixed with the sample. Contamination and equipment error have been ruled out, and current decay rates are orders of magnitude lower than those required to make in-situ production a viable explanation (Jull, 1985, 20:676). However, if radioactive decay rates were greatly accelerated (by a factor of a billion or more) during Creation week or the Flood, then additional investigation could be warranted to determine if in-situ production of Carbon-14 could be a potential explanation for at least some of the Carbon-14 in coal and diamonds.
Other observations made by the RATE group are also consistent with periods of greatly accelerated radioactive decay during Creation week or the Flood. One of the findings of the RATE group was excess helium retention in zircons. This finding indicates that based on measured helium diffusion rates, the observed radioactive decay in zircons must have occurred within the past several thousand years. If it had taken longer, the helium generated via alpha decay would have diffused out of the zircons. The group’s observation is that significant radioactive decay has occurred, and it has occurred recently (DeYoung, p. 176).
An additional finding of the RATE group is that ages estimated using parent isotopes that undergo beta decay tend to be significantly different (younger) than ages estimated using parent isotopes that undergo alpha decay. This could suggest that whatever mechanism God used to change decay rates during Creation week and around the time of the Flood had a different effect on alpha emitters than it did on beta emitters (DeYoung, p. 121). The RATE group has also performed research related to radiohalos, fission tracks in zircons, and potential mechanisms for alleviating issues (such as high heating rates) introduced by accelerated radioactive decay (pp. 174-183). Among other implications, the observations of the RATE group indicate that assumptions used in radiometric dating may be false, and that ages estimated through use of radiometric dating may be incorrect by several orders of magnitude.
In addition to recent research performed by both Christian and secular scientists alike, other lines of evidence have been known for years that are consistent with a relatively recent Creation (Humphreys, 2000). These include the rate at which galaxies “wind up” (too fast for long ages), the amount of mud on the seafloor (too little), the amount of sodium in the sea (too little), the rate at which the Earth’s magnetic field is decaying (too fast), the number of stone age skeletons (too few), the development of agriculture (too recent), and numerous others. Biblically based theories also exist for interpreting what we observe in the Universe, given a relatively recent Creation (e.g., Humphreys, 1994; Thompson, 2004; Faulkner, 2013). Other biblically consistent interpretations have also been proposed (Williams and Hartnett, 2005, p. 180).
ASSUMPTIONS RELATED TO THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE
Assumptions related to “age” are not limited to radiometric dating methods. Perhaps some of the most egregious assumptions are associated with the “Big Bang” theory, the current attempt to develop an atheistic explanation for the origin of the Universe.
Serious contradictions between the predictions of the Big Bang theory and actual astronomical observations have been known for decades. By the mid-1970s, the evidence against the theory had become so overwhelming that “explanations” were required. “Dark matter” and “dark energy” were contrived, and initially said to make up 50% of the Universe. That number has since grown and, at present, a total of 96% of the Universe needs to be made of dark matter and dark energy in order to preserve the Big Bang theory.
Christians and non-Christians alike readily acknowledge that dark matter and dark energy are merely hypothetical entities that, by definition, cannot be directly observed. For example, former NASA administrator Mike Griffin once asked the value of “discovering that literally 95% of the Universe consists of dark energy or dark matter, terms for things that we as yet know nothing about? But they make up 95% of our Universe” (Griffin, 2007). He went on to write that someday we may learn to harness these “new things.” When asked about dark energy, physicist Michael Turner of the University of Chicago quipped: “The only thing we know about dark energy is its name” (Griffin, 2007).
While dark matter and dark energy have been given specific properties, those properties were specifically chosen to help resolve serious problems with the Big Bang. Additionally, dark matter and dark energy can be distributed throughout the Universe in any fashion desired. When observations are still contradicted, concepts such as “dark flow” and “dark light” can be invoked. Other contradictions are resolved by concepts such as “inflation,” which in themselves are merely conjectures aimed at resolving other serious problems with the Big Bang.
With this approach, any set of data can be claimed to support any theory desired. All that is required is the judicious use of “fudge factors.” Consider this mathematical analogy: one could predecide that 100 must be the answer to the question, “what does X + Y equal?” Values for “X” could then be sought, and no matter what values for “X” were found, a value for “Y” could be chosen to obtain the desired answer. In the analogy, “X” is actual astronomical observations, “100” would be the desired answer (support for the Big Bang theory), and “Y” is the fudge factors (dark matter, dark energy, inflation, etc.) needed to make the equation true. The actual astronomical observations (“X”) become somewhat irrelevant, because no matter what data is taken, “Y” (the fudge factors) can be chosen to claim the observations support the Big Bang theory.
Circular reasoning is then invoked to pretend the approach is valid. For example, in the case of the Big Bang theory, maps showing the location of dark matter have been developed. In reality, all these maps show is the specific ways dark matter must be invoked to avoid contradictions between actual observations and the Big Bang theory.
Christians are not the only ones who have noticed the non-scientific nature of the Big Bang theory. For example, in the May 22, 2004 issue of New Scientist, an open letter to the scientific community appeared written primarily by secular scientists (cosmologystatement.org). The letter was subsequently signed by hundreds of other scientists and professors at various institutions. Two representative paragraphs from the letter are as follows.
The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed—inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples. Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory. In no other field of physics would this continual recourse to new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap between theory and observation. It would, at the least, raise serious questions about the validity of the underlying theory.
What is more, the big bang theory can boast of no quantitative predictions that have subsequently been validated by observation. The successes claimed by the theory’s supporters consist of its ability to retrospectively fit observations with a steadily increasing array of adjustable parameters, just as the old Earth-centered cosmology of Ptolemy needed layer upon layer of epicycles (Lisle, 2008, p. 103, emp. added).
Although the signers of the letter were not necessarily endorsing biblically based theories, unlike atheistic theories, biblically based theories are very consistent with astronomical observations (Faulkner, 2013; Humphreys, 1994).
ADHERENCE TO FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS HINDERS TRUE SCIENCE
Tremendous spiritual damage is done by the promotion of atheism through the pretense of atheistic theories being scientific. Ironically, though, the strict adherence to atheistic theories (regardless of countering evidence) also does tremendous damage to the advancement of science.
For example, for a secular theory of cosmology to be considered, it must adhere to atheistic (and non-scientific) tenets such as the “Copernican Principle,” which essentially states that Earth cannot be at a special location within the Universe. That principle drives not only fundamental assumptions behind the Big Bang theory, but the means by which alternative theories can be seriously pursued.
Consider the August 2009 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science and quoted in the popular press, including USA Today (Vergano, 2009):
Mathematicians have come up with an answer Monday for the mystery of “dark energy” tearing the universe apart at an accelerating rate. It ain’t there. Blake Temple and Joel Smoller suggest that “expanding waves” from the Big Bang “are propelling the trillions of galaxies filling the universe apart…. Dark energy is an illusion if their equations are right.” However, “the only problem is that for the equations to work, we must be ‘literally at the center of the universe’…” says physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University in Tempe. I think this is plausible mathematics, but it doesn’t seem physically relevant.
Science News publicized an analogous article from Physical Review Letters in 2008, stating:
If Earth and its environs are centered in a vast, billion-light-year-long bubble, relatively free of matter, in turn surrounded by a massive, dense shell of material, then gravity’s tug would cause galaxies inside the void to hurtle toward the spherical concentration of mass, say theorists Robert Caldwell of Dartmouth College and Albert Stebbins of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. That process would mimic the action of dark energy—a local observer would be tricked into thinking that the universe’s expansion is accelerating (Cowen, 2008).
The article further notes: “But that scenario violates the Copernican principle, a notion near and dear to the hearts of physicists and cosmologists, including Caldwell and Stebbins” (Cowen, 2008).
Both models eliminate the need for “Dark Energy,” the fudge factor that accounts for 73% of the Universe according to the traditional Big Bang theory. However, neither model has been seriously pursued because both violate the arbitrary assumption that the Earth cannot be in a special location (i.e., the “Copernican principle”). Many cosmologists feel a special location would imply the existence of God.
But what if the Earth is in a special location? The secular models described in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science and Physical Review Letters actually correspond quite well with the biblically consistent models proposed by Russ Humphreys and others, especially when the potential effects of gravitational time dilation are taken into account (Humphreys, 1994; Thompson, 2004). These models explain how stars that are billions of light years distant can be seen from an Earth that is less than 10,000 years old, all based on a straightforward reading of the Bible.
The assumption that radioactive decay rates have always been constant may also be hindering scientific progress. For example, scientists have discovered that changes in radioactive decay rates can be induced. The June 8, 2009 CERN Courier noted:
It is a common belief that radioactive decay rates are unchanged by external conditions, despite many examples of small shifts (particularly involving external pressure and K-capture decays) being well documented and understood. However, Fabio Cardone of the Institute per lo Studio dei Materiali Nanostrutturati in Rome and colleagues have shown a dramatic increase—by a factor of 10,000—in the decay rate of thorium-228 in water as a result of ultrasonic cavitation. Exactly what the physics is and whether or not this sort of effect can be scaled up into a technology for nuclear waste treatment remain open issues (Reucroft and Swain, 2009).
Recent observations also suggest that radioactive decay rates (typically assumed to be constant) can change due to causes that are not yet fully understood. For example, in August 2010, a team of scientists from Purdue and Stanford universities announced that the decay of radioactive isotopes fluctuates in sync with the rotation of the Sun’s core. The team has published a series of articles in Astroparticle Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, and Space Science Reviews. Although the measured change in decay rate is small (~0.1%), the fact that change occurs at all is extremely significant. Team member Jere Jenkins noted: “[W]hat we’re suggesting is that something that can’t interact with anything is changing something that can’t be changed” (Gardner, 2010).
When considering the effects of assumptions on the estimated age of the Earth and Universe, it can also be instructive to look at the effects of assumptions in other areas related to the debate between atheism and the Bible. For example, in 2009 Richard Dawkins wrote: “What pseudogenes are useful for is embarrassing creationists. It stretches even their creative ingenuity to make up a reason why an intelligent designer should have created a pseudogene…unless he was deliberately setting out to fool us” (Dawkins, 2009, p. 332). What if scientists had believed Dawkins, and had given up researching “pseudogenes” because those scientists decided to assume pseudogenes were simply useless evolutionary leftovers? Fortunately most scientists did not, and by 2012 extensive evidence had been uncovered that pseudogenes have functions related to encoding proteins and gene expression. There is also sequence conservation in pseudogenes. In 2012, the ongoing ENCODE project (which includes 32 laboratories from around the world) simultaneously published 30 scientific papers detailing new discoveries. Among their conclusions were that “vast parts of the human genome thought to be ‘junk DNA’ are really filled with millions of cellular ‘switches’ helping choreograph the roles genes play in human life and disease,” and that nearly all DNA “has some function in cellular creation and growth” (Roop, 2012). With advancements in true science, the evolutionist’s argument for assuming “junk DNA” is rapidly fading away, much as their assumption of “vestigial organs” did in the late 20th century.
Biblically consistent assumptions have been shown superior in other areas as well. Models based on those assumptions have successfully predicted the strength and behavior of planetary magnetic fields, where secular models have failed (Humphreys, 1984). Models that take into account effects from the global Flood are not only consistent with the geologic record, but do an excellent job predicting the observed extent and effects of the ice age including the ice sheets that remain today (Oard, 2005). The biblical claim that all humans are descendants of one man and one woman, and that “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26, NASB) is fully supported by modern genetics (Purdom, 2014). The argument that “science” somehow supports racism (directly or indirectly made by Darwin, Haeckl, Hitler, et al.) has been thoroughly rebuffed (Houts, 2007).
It is difficult to imagine how the Bible could make it any clearer that God created the Universe in six literal days a few thousand years ago. While apparently well meaning attempts have been made to devise compromise positions, the technical and theological problems with these attempts are well documented in the literature (e.g., Lyons, 2014; Thompson, 2000; Sarfati, 2004; Miller, 2012; Mortenson, 2005).
First Peter 3:14-15 states: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness andreverence” (NASB, emp. added). Christians must not allow themselves to be intimidated by contemporary human wisdom. While on the surface that “wisdom” can appear convincing, closer examination has always supported the Bible.
The Bible also warns us not to distort Scripture in order to accommodate contemporary human wisdom. Second Peter 3:16 states: “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (NASB).
For some it can be hard to understand how the Earth can be a few thousand years old when they have been told “science” says it is a few billion years old. Individuals in that situation must resist the temptation to distort Scripture in order to pretend the Bible is consistent with that prevailing worldview. Although the distortion may be done with the best of intentions, its end can be disastrous. Proverbs 14:12 tells us: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Throughout history, Christianity has been attacked in a variety of ways. While the attack based on “age” is currently en vogue, it is becoming easier to rebut given advances in true science. Romans 3:4 remains as true today as it was in the first century: “[L]et God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘that you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (NASB).
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