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Is Secular Dating Really Totally Settled? Canyons

Grand Canyon under partly sunny skies

[Continued from Part 1 and originally published as Scientific Dating?]

Many people say it is ridiculous to believe that the Earth was created less than ten thousand years ago.  They often claim that many scientific dating methods show that things are millions of years old, and the Earth is billions of years old. Textbooks and popular media present  these methods as “absolute” and highly reliable. However, a close examination of the subject reveals there are good reason to distrust such claims.

Much older dates are still very different dates

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Of course, taking a different approach to dating can produce startling results in the other direction, too, which may be more to the liking of most geologists, but to me at least still calls into question any claim that we know how old “prehistoric” things are.

The Three Gorges of the Yangtze river had been thought to have formed in the last couple million years, but a study of microscopic features in rocks led researchers to conclude the river is “40 million years older”!(10)

American Southwest, Grand Canyon

The southwestern region of the United States has produced a couple notable cases of changes in dates. One of my favorites from decades ago was the tale told by cave specialist Jerry Trout, recorded in an Arizona Highways magazine article by Marilyn Taylor. He recounted how a sign at Carlsbad Caverns had once said the cave system “was at least 260 million years old” but later was changed to indicate they were as much as 10 million years old, and then changed again to say there were 2 million years old, and then the sign was removed!(11)

Grand Canyon: forming faster, more recently

The dating of Grand Canyon has also produced an interesting story. The September 30, 2000 issue of Science News had a picture of Grand Canyon on the cover with the words, “Erosion, Vast and Fast.” The featured article by Sid Perkins, “The Making of a Grand Canyon,” noted that “About 75 years ago, geologists proposed that the Grand Canyon could be as little as 40 million years old. Now, however, evidence is mounting that the canyon is much younger still” noting evidence that “suggests that substantial portions of the eastern Grand Canyon are geological youngsters, having been eroded only within the past million years.”(12)

A story carried by United Press International in 2002 discussed research suggesting that substantial parts of the canyon had been formed much more recently than a million years ago, and were cut out rapidly by catastrophic flooding. “The findings tend to support other new data indicating the canyon’s Inner Gorge may be no more than 700,000 years old…” and “The most recent basalt dam probably occurred between 100,000 and 120,000 years ago.” However, by this time old-Earth advocates were taking note of young-Earth creationist’s views, as the article took the trouble to clearly state, “One theory the catastrophic flood work does not support is the biblical flood story in Genesis.”(13)

Grand Canyon: Older origins

Naturally, later studies tended to produce much older results. An AP story in 2008 noted that “The Grand Canyon often is referred to as about 6 million years old — but its western half actually began to open at least 17 million years ago, a University of New Mexico team reports Friday in the journal Science.”(14)

An April 2008 Science Daily report eagerly described still-unpublished research pushing back aspects of the beginning of the canyon further still, “40-50 Million Years Older than Previously Thought.” However, the canyon posited to have existed 55 million years ago or more would have been in rocks on top of those now forming the rim of the canyon, and the river in it was said to have been flowing in the opposite direction to that taken by the present Colorado river!(15)

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Normally, such older dates would simply be accepted without comment, but by this time geologists had already gotten used to the evidence for more recent dating. Another Science Daily report that same year noted that “While a recent study in the journal Science suggested that the Grand Canyon was about 16 million to 17 million years old (much older than previously thought), a new study, detailed in the journal Geology, argues that geological evidence still supports the long-standing age of 6 million years.”(16)

Grand Canyon: Older and Younger

What’s the current thinking about the age of Grand Canyon? Well… “it’s complicated!” A Geology.com article notes both a theory that was new in 2011 dating the ancient river as much as 70 million years old, while the existing sediments indicate the canyon as it now exists are 6 million years old or less.(17) In other words, the canyon is both tens of millions of years old and less than 10 million years old, depending on what, where, and how you measure.(18)

Footnotes

(10) Durham University. “Yangtze River’s ancient origins revealed.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 June 2010. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603091831.htm

(11) Taylor, M. 1993. Descent. Arizona Highways 69(1):9 (This was cited in the panorama section of the Creation Research Society Quarterly [CRSQ], Vol. 31, p. 34)
Now available at http://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/digital/collection/aho/id/209/rec/1

(12) Perkins, Sid, “The Making of a Grand Canyon,” Science News, September 30, 2000.

(13) UPI STORY: “Catastrophic floods built Grand Canyon, research suggests” July 20, 2002

(14) “It took eons to make Grand Canyon grand,” By Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press Writer 2008-03-06. Apparently citing Science. 2008 Mar 7;319(5868):1377-80. doi: 10.1126/science.1151248. “Age and evolution of the Grand Canyon revealed by U-Pb dating of water table-type speleothems.” Polyak V1, Hill C, Asmerom Y.

(15) “Grand Canyon May Be As Old As Dinosaurs, 40-50 Million Years Older Than Previously Thought” ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2008) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080410140455.htm
A report on: “Unroofing, incision, and uplift history of the southwestern Colorado Plateau from apatite (U-Th)/He thermochronometry,” R.M. Flowers, B.P. Wernicke & K.A. Farley, GSA Bulletin; May/June 2008; v. 120; no. 5/6; p. 571–587; doi: 10.1130/B26231.1

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(16) “The Grand Canyon: How Old is It?” By Andrea Thompson, November 18, 2008, https://www.livescience.com/3089-grand-canyon.html

(17) “How Old Is the Grand Canyon?” by Wayne Ranney. https://geology.com/articles/age-of-the-grand-canyon.shtml

Written by David Bump

David Bump is a long time creation nerd and author. His interests range across the scientific disciplines and he is particularly skilled in exposing the underlying assumptions that go into evolutionary, anti-God thinking. You can find his book on Amazon and his articles on The Creation Club.

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