Recently, BioLogos published an infographic entitled “How do we Know the Earth is Old?” Many Christians have wondered what to make of this poster since BioLogos presents itself as an association of evangelical Christian academics committed to harmonizing science and conservative Christian faith. That sounds good, especially the word “conservative”, but their starting position is anything but orthodox. They promote evolution over millions of years, as taught by secular scientists, as truth, and that Christians must accept it. They do not concern themselves with how such acceptance undermines the authority and the message of Scripture itself.
Moses has a lot to say about the age of the earth, and ignoring this fact leads to heretical Christian teaching and very bad natural history.
To many the age of the earth may seem an innocuous topic but it has a massive impact on conservative Christian doctrine such as the integrity of the gospel. If the earth is billions of years old, as the BioLogos poster presents, then Jesus made mistakes in his teaching and the gospel is false. It is that simple, as we will see.
According to BioLogos, all we have to do is reinterpret Moses, Jesus, and Paul, and everything is harmonized. A historical Adam doesn’t matter, and Jesus’ Incarnation allows him to make errors concerning what the Father commanded him to say about the age of the world (Mark 10:6; Luke 11:50–51; cf. John 8:28). However, their ‘reinterpretations’ look nothing like what Moses, Jesus, and Paul actually said. Neither were such interpretations ever entertained in church history before the advent of long-age geology in the 18th century (on which see The Great Turning Point). The reasons are pretty obvious. If Jesus made mistakes, especially in his teaching ministry, then He is not perfectly trustworthy, as Christians have believed through the ages. If a historical Adam doesn’t matter, then the whole doctrine of salvation, as presented by the Apostle Paul, falls to pieces (see articles on Romans 5, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15). One could say that there never has been a time when Jesus’ words about Moses have been more important for us to hear than now: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46–47).
Because of this, we will analyse the claims of this poster point by point and and method-by-method. As we will see, it is BioLogos’ practical rejection of Jesus’ words that has them denying foundational Christian doctrines. Moses has a lot to say about the age of the earth, and ignoring this fact leads to heretical Christian teaching and very bad natural history. The text of the BioLogos poster will be reproduced in red and our response in black.
How do we know the earth is old?
There are several reliable ways to accurately estimate the age of materials on earth. Some methods measure radioactive atoms that decay at steady and predictable rates; others count layers that grow or are deposited in recognizable yearly patterns.
The first mistake is in the first sentence. There is only one way to reliably know the age of anything and that is by eyewitness testimony, on the basis of their written records. That is how we know that the Gettysburg Address was delivered on the afternoon of Thursday, 19 November 1863, and that the Battle of Hastings began at about 9am on 14 October 1066. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the truth of a matter is to be established on the basis of eyewitnesses (e.g. Deuteronomy 19:15, 2 Corinthians 13:1). BioLogos here claims that ages can be accurately estimated without eyewitnesses. So how are the ages established? They are assumed, as we will explain. That is what the poster does not say, that all such ages rely on unprovable assumptions about the past. The fact is that a person can obtain any age that they like depending on the assumptions that they make.
Not only did the ancient Israelites care about history—they cared about the historical reliability of their origins narrative too.
The methods described in this poster are what we could call the ‘observe and extrapolate’ methods of dating. These methods rely on three basic assumptions—(1) we can somehow know the initial conditions of the system from present observations, (2) the rate of change in the system currently observed is constant and measurable, and (3) the system is sufficiently resistant to interference that we are warranted in extrapolating the rate of change back thousands, millions, or even billions of years based on a few decades’ worth of data. As we shall see, all three assumptions are erroneous to various degrees in every method cited. Nevertheless, using this same approach to ‘dating’ as BioLogos accepts, a vast array of methods and indicators suggest a much younger age for the earth (see Age of the earth and ‘Young’ age of the Earth & Universe Q&A). This indicates that this question cannot be settled by doing science in the present, but by the historical method (see following).
What BioLogos doesn’t say in this poster is just as revealing as what they do. The Bible is not referenced once in this entire poster. Why? There is nothing in biblical chronology that supports an old earth. In order to accept the millions of years of secular evolution they must regard the Bible as irrelevant for chronology. The problem, of course, is that the Bible is full of chronological information, which is based on eyewitness testimony. Biblical chronology also provides a beginning for human history (Genesis 5:1–3) and an absolute beginning of time in Genesis 1:1 (cf. Exodus 20:8–11; Exodus 31:16–17)—both of which directly contradict old-age chronology. Humans, the earth, and the universe are all only thousands of years old, according to the Bible, not billions. This is precisely why this issue is so contentious.
This reveals perhaps the most fundamental assumption of all—that forensic science is always able to give us the right answer about what happened (when properly done and when conditions are conducive to such methods, e.g. long-agers acknowledge that certain rocks are useless for dating, usually because of open-system effects). In practice, this means that the claims people make based on forensic science are accepted above the plain teaching of Scripture. As such, BioLogos judges and interprets Scripture based on long-age chronology in practical violation of sola scriptura. If BioLogos did not believe these claims were reliable they would question on the long-age chronology. Shouldn’t God have the final say? And herein lies the problem.
BioLogos thinks that God has nothing to say about natural history, or that what He said was couched in ‘pre-scientific’ language that bears little relation to historical reality in anything other than a ‘once upon a time’ sort of way.1 God spoke in fables and parables, and never actually told a story true to historical reality when it came to origins. Apparently, the ancients thought that fables and parables were more ‘true’ than accounts of history—it’s only we ‘post-Enlightenment’ folk who are interested in ‘what really happened’.
The ancient Israelites were perhaps less concerned with precision than we typically are, and they often recounted history as much for the moral lessons as for what actually happened. But where would the moral implications be if the history wasn’t true; if it was just a fable or parable, or, worse still, mistakes or lies? The ninth commandment says: “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16). A witness tells what happened. Therefore, the ancient Israelites must have cared about history, after all—especially in legal contexts. And in this regard, it is significant that the 10 commandments are in fact a part of a legal covenant between Israel and God. Just a few verses before God’s command against false testimony, we have this:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8–11).
Here God gives a command about the Sabbath day, and a historical reason for the command. God would have been a false witness—a violation of his own commands—if what he said here about how he created the world wasn’t true. Not only did the ancient Israelites care about history—they cared about the historical reliability of their origins narrative too. There is absolutely no justification for BioLogos to ignore the Bible when it comes to knowing about the earth’s history.
Radioactive dating method
Radioactive dating is based on the measurement of unstable types of atoms (isotopes) that decay at a predictable rate. There are many different radioactive atoms, each with its own rate of decay. Old rocks require dating using isotopes that decay slowly, because faster decaying isotopes have already gone.
All three assumptions are unreliable, casting such doubt on radiometric dating that no geologist will accept a result without question.
As already stated, all ‘ages’ calculated from these dating methods are based on assumptions about the past. In the case of radiometric dating the assumptions are: (1) we know the rock’s initial conditions, (2) the rock has remained a closed system for millions/billions of years, and (3) the radioactive decay rate of the isotope in question has remained constant all that time. All three assumptions are known to be unreliable,2 casting such doubt on radiometric dating that geologists, whether evolutionist or creationist, rarely accept a result without question. Instead, part of the standard dating procedure is to check the calculated ‘age’ against what is expected, and to change the assumptions so the result makes sense. See Radioactive dating methods: Ways they make conflicting results tell the same story and The way it really is: little-known facts about radiometric dating for examples on how this works in practice.
The above claim, that “faster decaying isotopes have already gone” from older rocks, is not true. The short-lived isotope carbon-14 is consistently found in samples that are supposed to be hundreds of millions of years old, providing objective evidence against the eons of time. See for example Diamonds: a creationist’s best friend: Radiocarbon in diamonds: enemy of billions of years.
The biblical creationist literature that documents the problems with radiometric dating is voluminous (see e.g. Thousands … Not Billions, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, and Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (RATE) project). This literature provides state-of-the-art research into the factors that have affected the isotope abundances in the earth crust (and in meteorites), showing that the abundances are not due to the passage of billions of years of time. For more information, see our Radiometric Dating Q and A page. Two other helpful articles are:
- How accurate is Carbon-14 (and other radiometric) dating?
- A Christian response to radiometric dating
Experiments that collide atoms at high speed have allowed scientists to determine what isotopes would have been formed in stars and supernova events. Looking for these isotopes in nature, we find only the very long-lived varieties. The short lived isotopes are “missing” because the Earth is old enough for them to have decayed away. The longest-lived missing isotopes require at least 1 billion years to decay below detectable levels.
When we read claims like this we should always ask ourselves, “Where were these scientists standing when they observed this?” If they did not observe it we know they are telling a story. It is just their subjective opinion.
Note first that the claim here simply begs the question—it assumes an old-age chronology in order to prove an old-age chronology. Why should we accept that all the isotopes in the universe formed billions of years ago in supernova events? There is in fact a decided lack of supernova remnants that should exist if the universe were billions of years old.
If we accept that God created the earth in six days some 6,000 years ago as the Bible describes, why would God have created short-lived, highly radioactive, and harmful radionuclides? And even if he did create them, it’s likely that accelerated nuclear decay during Creation Week would have neutralized such radionuclides by the time He completed His “very good” creation. For more information, see:
- Problem of short-lived radionuclides: design perspective
- Accelerated nuclear decay extinguishes ‘extinct nuclides’ argument
- Is the absence of short-lived radionuclides a problem for the Biblical timescale?
Dating rocks and meteorites
The oldest rocks on earth come from the interior of continents, where erosion has exposed the deep crystalline basement rock. These rocks are over 3 billion years old, with the oldest being almost 4.5 billion. Multiple meteorites have also been dated, with the oldest consistently falling close to 4.5 billion years of age.
Consistently falling close to 4.5 billion years (Ga) of age? No. There are many examples for most of the radiometric methods where dates in both terrestrial rocks and meteorites are significantly older than 4.5 Ga, even though they appear to be verified by the numerous ‘reliability criteria’ that geochronologists employ.3 As with all dating results, these dates are interpreted in such a way as to conform to the accepted secular history of the earth. One typical rationalization is to invoke open-system behaviour in the rocks. Such anomalies are never considered a problem but presumed to explain more about the history of the rock, all of which is speculation and none of which has been observed! (Note for interest that the erosion of the interior of the continents was caused by the receding waters of Noah’s Flood.) See:
- Radiometric dating and the age of the Earth
- “God Science” and the Age of the Earth
- Western culture and the age of the earth
- Radioactive dating method ‘under fire’
Counting methods are based on observation of natural processes that produce a distinct layer with the passing of each year. For many tree species, slow growth in winter and rapid growth in summer produce a distinct annual tree ring. Some lakes produce annual sediment deposits called varves. Glaciers also preserve a record of annual sediment depositions between winter and summer.
All these techniques suffer from the same problem in that they ignore the effects of Noah’s Flood.
Note what is being counted—sediment layers, tree rings, and cores—not years. Before anyone can transform the number of rings and layers into years they have to make assumptions about how and when they formed. We can’t go back in time to observe. It is now clear that multiple rings and layers are regularly produced in a single year, depending on such factors as climate and hydraulic conditions.
Moreover, some of these methods are calibrated against radiometric dating methods, which is tacit admission that the methods are not reliable. And further, the calibrations introduce a calibration bias that stretches the timescale to fit the long age paradigm. All these techniques suffer from the same problem in that they ignore the effects of Noah’s Flood. That global event invalidates the assumption of one layer in one year, and affects all the methods in the same direction. As we shall see, this annuls the assumptions behind these methods and is a factor that the long-agers are not even prepared to consider.
As with radiometric methods, the creationist literature exploring the problems with these ‘dating methods’ is vast. See especially Rock Solid Answers and Earth’s Catastrophic Past, but for those with a more in-depth interest in specific topics, see Ice Cores and the Age of Earth, The Missoula Flood Controversy, Ancient Ice Ages or Gigantic Submarine Landslides?, Climates Before & After the Genesis Flood, Sea-Floor Sediment and the Age of the Earth.
The oldest living trees have more than 4,000 rings. Because annual growth varies with yearly climate differences, the ring pattern of a tree core of known age can be matched with a tree core of unknown age (perhaps taken from a beam in an ancient cliff dwelling) to extend the ring count back in time. This process, known as cross correlation, allows reliable counting back to about 12,000 rings.
There is widespread evidence that many trees, especially those with large numbers of rings, produce multiple growth rings per year depending on environmental conditions. The trees claimed to have more than 4,000 rings are bristlecone pine that grow at high elevation in dry, rocky soils in high winds, and it has been found the slow growth occurs in dry spells and rapid growth after a thunderstorm, invalidating the assumption of one pair of rings per year (see Evidence for multiple ring growth per year in Bristlecone Pines).
Further, the past climate patterns after the Flood were significantly different from what we have today, causing major uncertainty in tree ring dating. This is precisely what is inferred for the biblical Ice Age. Early in the Ice Age, the extremes between different seasons were muted and the environment was in general much wetter, which would have produced faster growth rates. Therefore, growth rings would not have been correlated with seasonal extremes, but more likely with individual storm surges.
Moreover, researchers construct long ‘chronologies’ from separate wood samples found as fallen logs on the ground. Before they can match these separate tree cores they need to know their age, and this is usually constrained by carbon dating the tree cores. This is simply a process of circular reasoning. Further, matching the tree ring pattern between separate samples is a highly subjective and flexible process. Without independent confirmation of the dates (which is best done by eyewitness testimony), this method is nothing but circular reasoning. For more information, see:
- Tree ring dating (dendrochronology)
- Patriarchs of the forest
- Evidence for multiple ring growth per year in Bristlecone Pines
- Field studies in the ancient bristlecone pine forest
Layers with actively forming varves can be found with 100,000 or more layers. Each lake sits on complex rock layers that have their own history. Based on these modern lakes, the age of the Earth must be older than 100,000 years. In ancient lake deposits now turned to rock (such as the well-known Green River Formation), millions of layers are preserved, suggesting the Earth’s age exceeds several million years.
Varves are a favourite of long-agers, and have been since they were selectively defined as annual layers, this is merely another case of question-begging in favour of millions of years. First, there is experimental and observational evidence that demonstrates that layers form automatically when sediment composed of different sized particles is deposited from moving water. Moreover, multiple layers are deposited at the same time and they give the appearance of varves but are not annual layers. Second, for these varves to produce the sort of ‘clock’ that is here supposed we have to assume that the environmental conditions remained stable enough to produce this pattern over 100,000 years in the case of modern lakes, and for millions of years in the case of the Green River Formation. The evidence from so-called varves is consistent with the biblical timescale of thousands of years. See also:
- Forum on the Green River Formation
- Experiments on lamination of sediments
- Sedimentation Experiments: Nature finally catches up!
- Mud experiments overturn long-held geological beliefs
Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica preserve the longest record of snow deposition. In Greenland, the annual layering can be visibly counted down to about 50,000 layers. In Antarctica, the annual snowfall is less than Greenland, causing less thinning of the layers due to compactions, resulting in more than 400,000 measured layers.
One problem is with the identification of the layers. Another is that multiple layers formed each year depending on environmental changes, especially in the earlier, deeper parts of the core. It’s the deeper parts of the core where the layers are increasingly difficult to identify, and this significantly affects the reliability of the ice core ‘data’. The interpretation of the cores, driven by the long-age philosophy, has many problems. They are better interpreted as forming after Noah’s Flood during the Ice Age and beyond. See:
- Ice cores vs the Flood
- Do Greenland ice cores show over one hundred thousand years of annual layers?
- Wild ice-core interpretations by uniformitarian scientists
- Rapid changes in oxygen isotope content of ice cores
Speleothems (cave formations)
Cave growths forming in regions where local climate varies seasonally between wet and dry or cold and warm will form an annual layer similar to tree rings. In some cases, cave formations preserve more than 200,000 annual laminations.
The description “annual” here is unobserved, subjective speculation. How could anyone alive today confirm that the layers were deposited annually for the last 200,000 years? Long-term climate changes affect the rates at which the speleothems form within caves, and the climate changed considerably after the Flood. In many places the climate was initially wetter which meant the cave decoration formed much quicker than what is observed today.
Moreover, the speleothems formed after the cave itself was carved and that involved a different process from what is observed today that is depositing the cave formations. The initial carving of the caves is explained by upwelling of hydrothermal solutions, which would have occurred during and after the Flood. These solutions would have excavated even large cave systems much more rapidly than typically assumed by long-agers. For more information see:
- Rapid stalactite growth in Siberia
- Rock layers and cave formations
- Caves for all seasons
- Paleokarst—a riddle inside confusion
- The riddle of paleokarst solved
Some types of corals produce annual growth layers as a result of different density and seasonal incorporation of organic material. The record is clear enough in well-preserved samples to count the number of days in a year. Ancient corals preserve a record of a greater number of days per year due to a gradual slowing of Earth’s rotation.
“Much is claimed about daily growth-lines produced in many corals as they grow, and used to infer estimates of exceedingly slow coral growth rates. These growth lines form seasonal patterns, but the counting of these growth-lines in corals is quite subjective, because they are often ill-defined. Some individuals will find twice as many as others on the same sample. Furthermore, environmental factors such as water depth affect the number of growth-lines formed.”6
[Ed. note (25 January 2014): Dr. Robert Carter, a coral reef ecologist, has written a detailed critique of this argument in the Journal of Creation: ‘Ancient’ coral growth layers.]
Other dating methods
Dr Tas Walker has dealt with these methods in Dating methods and A Christian response to radiometric dating. Here we reproduce his relevant comments, which demonstrate that these methods are no more reliable than any of the other methods above.
Thermoluminescence—A technique for estimating how much time has passed since a sample was last exposed to fire or intense heat.
“Unfortunately, there are many unknowns and many assumptions need to be made, including the amount of radiation ‘stored’ in the mineral at a certain time in the past, that the change in radiation has only been affected by the radiation in the environment, that the radiation in the environment has remained constant, and that the sensitivity of the crystal to radiation has not changed. All these factors can be affected by water, heat, sunlight, the accumulation or leaching of minerals in the environment, and many other causes.” [Dating methods]
Electron Spin Resonance—In materials such as teeth, ESR provides an estimate of the time since burial.
“The calculated date is based on the same assumptions, and affected by the same uncertainties, as for TL [thermoluminescence]”. [Dating methods]
Cosmic Ray Exposure—A method for estimating how long a rock surface has been exposed to sunlight and other cosmic rays.
“Not only does this method have the problem of knowing how much of each isotope was present in the meteorite originally, but it assumes that certain isotopes were produced by exposure to cosmic rays. No matter what combination of numbers is produced from the measurements, some unknown and unseen cause can always be invoked to explain them. Very likely cosmic-ray influxes to the earth’s surface were much higher during the Ice Age than they are today, because the earth’s magnetic shield was much more leaky.” [A Christian response to radiometric dating, p. 44]
Testing for reliability
Each dating method is based on a set of assumptions about nature, but we have ways of putting each assumption to the test to determine if the dating methods are reliable.
It would be helpful if BioLogos had actually spelled out some of the assumptions they make when trying to explain what happened in the past. For the sake of clarity, here are some of those assumptions about nature:7
- Methodological naturalism—natural cause and effect is all that matters for explaining natural history. God is not active in the picture in any sense distinguishable from natural cause and effect.
- Actualism—natural processes (and in some cases, their rates) have basically remained the same throughout natural history. As such, there was no global Flood.
- De facto positivism—forensic science alone is an inherently reliable witness about natural history.
These assumptions are practically indistinguishable from the assumptions secularists make for natural history—they have to be to use the same methods and get the same results. The big difference for BioLogos is that they then try to ‘attach’ secular natural history to the beginning of biblical history. However, there is no possible ‘attachment site’ for secular natural history to latch onto biblical history. Rather, there are genuine inconsistencies. For example, the biblical authors clearly interpreted Genesis 1–5 as detailing a specific historical couple—Adam and Eve—as the progenitors of all humans who had their beginning only 6,000 years ago (1 Chronicles 1:1, Mark 10:6, Luke 3:38, Acts 17:26, Romans 5:12–21, 1 Corinthians 15, Jude 14). However, there are anatomically modern human fossils that are ‘dated’ up to and beyond 100,000 years old. See Pre-Adamites, sin, death and the human fossils. To ‘harmonize’ this inconsistency we either have to dismiss the biblical account, or challenge the dates.
God’s testimony in the Bible about the past should serve as our foundation for natural history for one simple reason—He was there.
Neither is this incompatibility theologically trivial. The good news of Jesus dying for our sins and rising bodily for our justification (Romans 4:25) only makes sense in the light of a historical Adam sinning as our representative and so bringing physical and spiritual death on us all (Romans 5:12–21; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22). Of course, if Adam only came on the scene 6,000 years ago, then either those ‘pre-Adamite’ human fossils were subjected to a punishment they didn’t deserve, or sin and death did not originate with Adam. Either way, the Bible is demonstrably wrong about the reason for the gospel (for more details see our articles on Romans 5, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15). And if the earth is billions of years old and humans are only a few million years old at most, then Jesus was wrong about when humans came on the scene relative to creation as a whole (Mark 10:6) (see Jesus and the age of the earth). Appealing to Jesus’ limitations in the Incarnation is no answer because the Father, who never stopped exercising His omniscience, taught Jesus what to say—especially for Jesus’ teaching ministry (John 8:28). If the earth is old, Jesus is not trustworthy and there is no reason for the gospel.
God’s testimony in the Bible about the past should serve as our foundation for natural history for one simple reason—He was there. BioLogos has no excuse for ignoring this because they claim to “believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God.” If God gives historical testimony, then it follows logically from his impeccable and omniscient nature that his testimony is inherently trustworthy. The Bible is a self-attesting axiom; forensic science is not.
BioLogos says that each dating method is tested. This is true but it is not an independent, objective test. The way it is done is that the ‘ages’ calculated from each method must agree with the billion-year evolutionary framework. All ages, whether consistent or inconsistent, are reinterpreted so they agree with the timeframe of billions of years (see Radioactive dating methods: Ways they make conflicting results tell the same story).
Radioactive dating and ocean spreading
Satellites measuring distances between continents show that they’re moving. Africa is currently moving away from North America at a rate of about 1 inch per year. New Ocean floor is created at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as the continents move apart. This creates a testing opportunity for the reliability of radioactive dating. If the radioactive dating works reliably, the calculated rates using the radioactively determined ages should be approximately 1 inch per year—and they are!
This is an impressive claim but again we need to ask ourselves what has actually been observed. There is no reference to where this test has actually been reported in the literature, so it is an unsubstantiated assertion. For more information on the sorts of problems such claims encounter see Long-age geology or Genesis?8
This claim suggests that the rate of plate movement has remained constant for millions of years. However, the satellite data only goes back a few decades. Is it valid to extrapolate today’s rate over thousands of kilometres? This is an open question in the creationist literature (see Forum on Catastrophic Plate Tectonics). The Catastrophic Plate Tectonics model assumes the general pattern of relative age preserved in the radiometric signature of the ocean basins but shows how this can be interpreted within the biblical timeframe.
The Pacific has also experienced the same phenomenon, but with a line of islands over a tectonic hot spot that is currently building the big island of Hawaii. If created recently over a brief period, there should be little difference in the growth of coral reefs or island erosion between islands. If islands formed over millions of years, the oldest should be much more eroded and have much larger, thicker reefs—which is exactly what is observed.
The simple story of the Pacific plate passing over a hot spot has been seriously questioned by numerous secular geologists in the last 10 years (see The Hawaii Hotspot and the Bible).9,10 Second, the picture of coral reef building assumed in this story is largely out of date. It appears that rapid erosion (perhaps the result of Flood processes) created conditions for more mature reef structures in the post-Flood world. Ocean currents tend to push sediments uphill on the sides of seamounts. Moreover, any latent heat within the seamount (which was volcanically produced) would increase water cycling, and thus also nutrient cycling and reef growth along with it, because the reef structures are permeable.11 Nevertheless, the real limiting factor would be the amount of sediment available for reef building, and not so much the latent heat, because while increased latent heat may create increased reef building potential, the total of what could be done is still limited by the amount of raw building material available. Therefore, the more erosion material available, the bigger the reef structures will be compared to others over the same length of time (see Dr Robert Carter’s talk from the 2011 Creation Superconference Coral reefs and the Flood).
Combining tree rings, varves, and carbon-14
Counting tree rings and varves assumes that each layer represents 1 year. Radioactive dating assumes decay rates have been constant over time. We can put all these to the test at the same time by combining the data. When we compare the carbon-14 content of cross-correlated tree rings and varve samples from Lake Suigetsu in Japan, they confirm the validity of radioactive dating methods.
Actually the results from the different methods do not agree. The researchers produced a calibration curve for carbon-14 in order to adjust for the discrepancies between the methods. But what they are unable to correct for are factors that affect all methods, and there is one such factor which they have ignored—Noah’s Flood. This event upset the carbon balance on earth which means increasingly larger corrections are needed for carbon-14 results as we approach the date of the Flood. Laminations in lake sediments would also be affected by the Flood, with increasing numbers of laminations in the immediate post-Flood period. For more information see Long-age geology or Genesis?
Confirming radioactive dates with historic events
Radioactive dating methods applied to deposits of known age, such as ash from the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy, have yielded correct ages.
A test based on eyewitness reports is the only valid test for radiometric dating.
A test based on eyewitness reports is the only valid test for radiometric dating. It is exactly the sort of independent confirmation that radiometric dating needs. All the above ‘cross-checking’ methods compare methods that all use the same basic assumptions, so they are not independent tests of reliability. They could all be influenced by an unidentified factor, or cases of confirmation bias. Concerning this confirmation with Mount Vesuvius, Dr Tas Walker says:
“However, the article in question12 proves the opposite. The article proves the dating methods are not independent. In this case, they collected a sample of sanidine from pumice of known age based on historical eyewitness reports of the 24 August 79 AD eruption, the only way of knowing the true age of anything. Their total argon gas results gave an age of 3,300 years, which they knew was wrong because the correct answer was 1,918 years. So, using the known age they calculated the amount of ‘excess’ argon. The paper is a warning to researchers to watch out for excess argon.” [A Christian response to radiometric dating, p. 37]
Vesuvius is not the only eyewitness test that has identified excess argon as a problem. Samples from Mt St Helens in USA, Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand, Hawaii, and Tertiary basalt in Australia have all shown inflated ages indicating excess argon. The literature includes many examples that documented these problems.13–16 This raises the obvious question: why should we trust radiometric dates if they make such egregious errors on rocks that we know the date of? See:
- Radioactive ‘dating’ in conflict!
- Radioactive ‘dating’ failure
- Radio-dating in Rubble
- Excess argon within mineral concentrates from the new dacite lava dome at Mount St Helens volcano (Technical)
- Conflicting ‘ages’ of Tertiary basalt and contained fossilised wood, Crinum, Central Queensland, Australia (Technical)
Through various scientific methods, we can test, retest, and cross-examine to find the right answer.
And here is the fundamental assumption on display for how we can supposedly know that the earth is old—science will tell us the story. Science (properly done and checked, of course) always gives us a reliable answer. But does it? Consider Jesus’ miracle at Cana of turning water into wine. We could conduct chemical tests on the wine, and those tests might suggest that the wine came from grapes at a local vineyard. But because numerous people saw that the wine was water mere seconds before, any inference we make about a vineyard origin of the wine from the chemical analysis will be wrong. Therefore, we can’t always find the right answer in history through science.
The timeline in Genesis and events such as the Creation Week, the Fall, and Noah’s Flood contradict all the long-age assumptions about the past and how we can know it. This is why we need to begin with God’s eyewitness testimony when we investigate natural history—apart from what God has told us, we can’t know when He’s acted, and we won’t take that into account when we look at the forensic data. As such, we’ll be lead astray by whatever assumptions take hold of us.
And this is exactly what has happened in this poster. BioLogos has presented a very brief and misleading version of what actually goes on in these methods, presented the interpretations of these methods for chronology as ‘reliable evidence’, and proclaimed old-age chronology correct by fiat. Most of their ‘cross-checking’ methods beg the question in favour of long-age assumptions. The one independent test for long-age dating methods, historical witness, proves to be the one standard these methods fail against. Moreover, it is precisely this sort of evidence that biblical creationists invoke to invalidate long-age dating methods—the historical witness of Genesis 1–11.
God was there at the beginning and has told us about it in Genesis.
This is not to disparage the ingenious technology used to measure the isotopes and generate the raw data from which these dates are calculated. The problem is with the assumptions about what the past was like. Biblical creationists are not enemies of ‘science’. We accept the results of high-tech spectrometers. We use reports by long-agers on their field exploration. What we don’t accept are the assumptions long-agers make about the past. We don’t accept that prehistory is a given. We don’t accept that natural processes (and in some cases, their rates) have basically remained the same throughout history. We don’t accept that we can implicitly trust forensic science to ‘tell’ us about this prehistory. And we don’t believe that nature is all that matters for natural history.
Natural history is far more complex and catastrophic than long-agers grasp. They ignore the constraints that God’s eyewitness testimony places on how we should interpret the forensic data. God matters for history—both natural history and human history. God was there at the beginning and has told us about it in Genesis. God caused a global Flood, which was a one-off global watery cataclysm that has no analogue in today’s processes and rates. And forensic science must be understood in the framework that reliable testimony gives us—which has been provided in Genesis by, that’s right, God. That is how we know the age of the world, that God created in six days some 6,000 years ago.
- Godawa, B., Biblical creation and storytelling: cosmogony, combat and covenant, BioLogos, biologos.org/resources/essays, February 2010. Return to text.
- One particularly useful study biblical creationist study that spans the conventional geologic column timeframe is Snelling, A.A., Isochron discordances and the role of inheritance and mixing of radioisotopes in the mantle and crust; in: Vardiman, L., Snelling, A.A. and Chaffin, E. (Eds.), Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Volume II, ICR, El Cajon, CA, and CRS, Chino Valley, AZ, pp. pp. 393–524, 2005. Return to text.
- Woodmorappe, J., The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, ICR, El Cajon, CA, pp. 25–26, 1999. Return to text.
- Clausen, C.D., An evaluation of the use of growth lines in geochronology, geophysics, and paleoecology, Origins 1:58–66, 1974. Return to text.
- Crabtree, D.M.; Clausen, C.D.; and Roth, A.A., Consistency in growth line counts in bivalve specimens, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 29:323–340, 1979–1980. Return to text.
- Snelling, A.A., Earth’s Catastrophic Past, 2 vols., ICR, Dallas, TX, p. 932, 2009 Return to text.
- Reed, J.K., Strategic stratigraphy: reclaiming the rock record! Journal of Creation (TJ) 19(2):119–127, 2005. Return to text.
- See also John Reed’s accompanying technical article, A Response to the Old-Earth Advocacy of Campbell et al., PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth, 18 August 2010. Return to text.
- This debate is documented at www.mantleplumes.org, which has numerous articles from the technical literature defending and rebutting the mantle plume scenario. Return to text.
- Walker, T., The elusive Hawaiian hot spot spoils a nice geological story, 4 June 2011. Return to text.
- Whitmore, J., Modern and ancient reefs; in: Oard, M.J. and Reed., J.K. (Eds.), Rock Solid Answers, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, pp. 149–166, 2009. Return to text.
- Renne, P.R., Sharp, W.D., Deino, A.L., Orsi, G. and Civetta, L., 40Ar/39Ar dating into the historical realm: calibration against Pliny the Younger, Science 277:1279–1280, 1997. Return to text.
- Dalrymple, G.B.,40Ar/36Ar analyses of historic lava flows, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 6:47–55, 1969. Return to text.
- Esser, R.P., McIntosh, W.C., Heizler, M.T. l and Kyle, P.R., Excess argon in melt inclusions in zero-age anorthoclase feldspar from Mt. Erebus, Antarctica, as revealed by the 40Ar/39Ar method, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 61(18):3789–3801, 1997. Return to text.
- Austin, S.A., Excess argon within mineral concentrates from the new dacite lava dome at Mount St Helens volcano, Journal of Creation (CENTJ) 10(3):335–343, 1996 Return to text.
- Snelling, A.A., Conflicting ‘ages’ of Tertiary basalt and contained fossilised wood, Crinum, Central Queensland, Australia, Journal of Creation (CENTJ) 14(2):99–122, 2000. Return to text.