Is Young-Earth Creationism a heresy?
Is the absence of short-lived radionuclides a problem for the Biblical timescale?
Published: 17 December 2001; reposted and updated 21 July 2007; last update 1 April 2021
From JM, Nashville, TN, USA. He comes across with the all-too-common ‘theowaffle’ against creationist theories, although we know he’s actually a vociferous antibiblicist. It might be surprising to some that someone with a known antipathy to the Bible would even bother to appeal to theology, but enemies of the Gospel have a long history of pious-sounding nonsense in an attempt to get compromising churchians to undermine their own book.
There are also two disconnected points: one is a problem in the distribution of radioisotopes. The second concerns old court cases well before CMI’s time and proposed definitions of the Creator.
His letter is posted indented below with point-by-point responses by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, interspersed as per normal email fashion. Ellipses (…) at the end of one of the paragraphs signal that a mid-sentence comment follows, not an omission.
As a first reaction, young-earth creationists will recoil at the suggestion that their tightly-held literal interpretation of the first book of Genesis is a heresy.We won’t recoil at all, but will be bemused that a known antibiblicist would profess to care. In any case, if anyone wants to dispute the accuracy of a literal, or rather plain, interpretation, then they need to produce grammatical reasons. See Q&A: Genesis.
After all, who more strongly supports the Bible and all that is therein?
No argument there!
But let us examine several lines of logic and see where they lead. First, we need to set a ground rule as to whether or not God is responsible for the earth as we know it. The question is, ‘Did God make this world or didn’t He?’ If He didn’t then He didn’t and there’s nothing to be done about it.
But since that statement is false, there’s even less to be done about it.
Christians will undoubtedly answer that, yes, God did create the world.
Well and good, but that leads us to a new understanding. As we learn more and more about the earth, are we not learning about how God created the earth?
Not that JM believes this, but it’s right to some extent. However, it’s deficient, because the data must always be interpreted.
The processes we find to have operated to cause the world around us are in actuality a reflection of God’s hand.
Yes, but the mistake of churchians who subscribe to methodological naturalism is assuming that God’s present sustaining processes are the same by which He created the world. But the laws that govern a computer’s operation did not form the computer in the first place. See Naturalism, Origin and Operation Science.
Young earth creationists believe that the earth is no more than about 10,000 years old. There is, however, a very valid reason for not believing that.
Actually, there is no excuse not to believe it, since that’s the testimony of the only eye-witness to its formation. A reliable eye-witness beats circumstantial evidence every time. See Jesus and the age of the world.
As we know, radioactive isotopes of elements decay at a constant rate.
We know no such thing. We’ve known about radioactivity for only about 100 years, so how can we be sure that the decay has been constant for the alleged billions of years? Even in the laboratory, beta decay rates have been speeded up by many orders of magnitude when atoms are stripped of electrons—see Billion-fold Acceleration of Radioactivity Demonstrated in Laboratory. Also, the Ph.D. physicists and geologists who contributed to the RATE book have adduced several lines of evidence that decay has been faster in the past. They propose a pulse of accelerated decay rate during Creation Week, and possibly a smaller pulse during the Flood year, and among the support is:
- The presence of the alpha particles still within zircons where they were apparently formed by nuclear decay. Alpha particles are helium nuclei, and they have attracted two electrons to form helium atoms. The diffusion rate of helium through minerals would suggest that it would have escaped if the rocks were really billions of years old. See Helium diffusion rates support accelerated nuclear decay.
- High correlation of heat flow at Earth’s surface with concentration of radioactive isotopes, consistent with a pulse of accelerated decay during the Flood year to produce heat that hasn’t had time to dissipate.
There are theoretical means of producing accelerated decay, e.g. a small change in fundamental constants or the shape of the nuclear potential well can have a large effect on the decay rate (but little effect on radiohalo diameter). This would be expected to affect slower decaying isotopes more than fast decayers, and alpha decay more than beta, and the evidence supports this.
So JM’s first premise is debatable, and this is enough to demonstrate the unsoundness of his argument.
Every time a half-life passes, one-half of it decays into a new isotope. After the passage of a certain number of half-lives, the isotope in question will have decayed to a point where it is no longer detectable. Let us set 20 half-lives as a limit beyond which the isotope in question is not detectable. The amount remaining then would be ½20 or 1 part in 1,048,576, or only 0.000095% of the original.
OK, then detectable 14C (half life = 5700 years) activity in the sample is irrefutable proof that the strata in which they are found can’t be millions of years old as claimed. Contamination was ruled out by the δ13CPDB results (see Could the radiocarbon be due to contamination?). No wonder that critics have been desperate enough to attack the messenger—see Dating Dilemma Deepens: Moore on ancient radiocarbon, referring to an earlier article but where the same comment applies.
More recent research has shown that coal samples ‘dated’ to millions of years old and even a diamond had radiocarbon levels well above the detector threshold. See Measurable 14C in fossilized organic materials: confirming the young earth creation-flood model and Diamonds, a creationists best friend.
This rate of decay may be very fast, as in the case of Magnesium 23. Half of it decays every 11.9 seconds, so in only 238 seconds or 3 minutes and 58 seconds, 20 half-lives have passed.
Let us examine Thorium 229, which has a half-life of 7,340 years. Creationists who believe that the earth was created just 10,000 years ago would expect that there would be plenty of Thorium 229 on earth since only a little over one half-life has passed.
Just a moment! This presupposes that God had created it in the first place! As shown below, there are good reasons for denying this. This should demonstrate the fallacy of arguing from silence, which is the whole basis of JM’s argument. Conversely, our argument was based on the presence of 14C, although if JM’s old-Earth dogma were right, it should be absent. But even if God did create 229Th, a creationist would expect it to have decayed completely if the decay rates had all been accelerated as the evidence shows.
However, upon checking what isotopes are naturally present on earth, we find Thorium 229 to be absent.
Examination of another isotope, Potassium 40, shows that it requires about 1.4 × 109 (One billion, 400 million) years for one-half of it to decay. If we again check to see what isotopes are naturally present on earth, we do find Potassium 40 present.
We can learn much by examining which isotopes are naturally occurring. Geochemistry, and common sense, tells us that the very short-lived isotopes will not be found on earth. There are very many isotopes, but most have half-lives on the order of seconds or minutes. Let us examine the isotopes with a half-life of one million years or longer and see where this leads us.
NUCLIDES PRESENT LISTED BY HALF-LIFE [from Dalrymple, G. B., (1991) The Age of the Earth (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 377. ]
Nuclide Half-Life (years) Found in Nature? Nuclide Half-Life (years) Found in Nature? 50V 6.0 × 1015 yes 244Pu 8.2 × 107 yes 144Nd 2.4 × 1015 yes 146Sm 7.0 × 107 no 174Hf 2.0 × 1015 yes 205Pb 3.0 × 107 no 192Pt ~1.0 × 1015 yes 236U 2.39 ×107 yes-P 115In 6.0 × 1014 yes 129I 1.7 × 107 yes-P 152Gd 1.1 × 1015 yes 247Cm 1.6 × 107 no 123Te 1.2 × 1013 yes 182Hf 9 × 106 no 190Pt 6.9 × 1011 yes 107Pt ~7 × 106 no 138La 1.12 × 1011 yes 53Mn 3.7 × 106 yes-P 147Sm 1.06 × 1011 yes 135Cs 3.0 × 106 no 87Rb 4.88 × 1011 yes 97Tc 2.6 × 106 no 187Re 4.3 × 1010 yes 237Np 2.14 × 106 yes-P 176Lu 3.5 × 1010 yes 150Gd 2.1 × 106 no 232Th 1.40 × 1011 yes 10Be 1.6 × 106 yes-P 238U 4.47 × 109 yes 93Zr 1.5 × 106 no 40K 1.25 × 109 yes 97Tc 1.5 × 106 no 235U 7.04 × 108 yes 153Dy ~1.0 × 106 no
‘Yes’ indicates that an isotope is found in some quantity in nature. ‘Yes-P’ indicates that the isotope is present, but it is produced by the decay of another, longer-lived isotope.
This is itself sometimes an assumption to preserve old-Earth dogma, e.g. in the Anarkardo basin formation, the presence of 129I (iodine-129, t½ = 15.7 million years) is assumed to be produced by fission because the rock is said to be over 300 million years old (‘Paleozoic age’—see The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, p. 26.
Ignoring the isotopes that are naturally produced, and examining those that are left, we find something interesting between Plutonium 244, with a half-life of 82 million years and Samarium 146, with a half-life of 70 million years. All the isotopes with a half-life as long or longer than Plutonium 244 are present and all those with a half-life shorter than that are absent—every one of them.
There is a very good reason for this and it is the same reason that we do not expect to find either Magnesium 23 or Thorium 229 on earth. A long enough period of time in the earth’s history has passed for them to have decayed away to nothing.
At this point, young-earth creationists will say ‘That’s just how God made it,’ …
There is another very good reason: short lived isotopes by definition emit radiation more often. Also, the shorter the half life, the higher the energy of decay in general, and definitely so with alpha decay. So would God create lots of isotopes with higher energy radiation and more of it, when this would be hazardous to life? This is an even greater problem when most of these isotopes form very soluble compounds, so they could be leached into dangerous hot spots.
… but therein lies a problem—a very big problem. If the earth was, indeed, made in a single, supernatural act 10,000 years ago, then God, for some reason, left behind these isotopic abundances as part of His record.
He didn’t leave any ‘abundance’, but a lack of something—that’s the whole fallacy!
Ask yourself, ‘Why would God leave evidence that speaks against the actual record?’
Rather, ask yourself, why would such an opponent of the Bible like JM ask such a leading question?
We may say that God can do things in anyway that He desires. The fact is that God is self-limited. He has limited Himself to do no wrong. We find this in Numbers 23:19 and Titus 1:2:
19: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
1: Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;
2: In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
The final determination that must be made is that the record of nature, being God’s record, is trustworthy as God has chosen not to lie to us. To say that He would lie, would impart a most profound deviousness to God, which would be the heresy referred to at the beginning.
All this is very true—that’s the whole point. God has told us that he created in six ordinary days about 6000 years ago, and he is incapable of lying. The record of nature is not propositional, and I’ve demonstrated how a different set of axioms can result in different propositions drawn from the same data. But God’s revelation in Scripture is propositional, we should interpret God’s actions in history in accordance with what He has revealed He has done.
Even readers not interested in the minutiae of radiometric dating can understand the errors of JM’s ways by studying the Parable of the Candle. Notice that Lucy refused even to consider a clear propositional note from Manuel about the time he left, and instead insisted on making dubious deductions from the rate that a candle melted. But like all dating methods, this requires assumptions about the past, and Lucy’s were false, and refuted when an eye witness demonstrated that the past was very different.
Therefore the only possible conclusion we can reach from this record written in isotopic abundances is that the earth is old—very old.
All the ‘appearance of age’ arguments made by creationists to try to explain away evidences of an old earth are likewise heretical. God did not put false clues under our feet to trick us. He put them there to show us his true creation and the way He did it. If God took 4.5 billion years to create the earth, then so be it. It is far more in line with a true theology to believe in a God-created old earth than to believe that a devious god is trying to trick us.
As shown, it would be more devious for God to have done as long agers and evolutionists claim, but to tell in plain Hebrew that he did something diametrically opposed—see Evolution vs the Bible. God, like Manuel in the Candle parable, is not at all guilty of deception, since He has explained exactly what He has done. Rather, JM and Lucy deceive themselves when they ignore the clear propositional revelation about the past.
Not only are those using the ‘appearance of age’ apologetic relying on the heretical, the creationists themselves, in a pre-trial deposition before the McLean vs Arkansas trial questioning the legality of Arkansas Act 590, exposed their own heretical views of the Creator with the following statement from pages 186–87 of the trial transcript:
It is wrong for JM to generalise about ‘creationists’ from a trial transcript 20 years ago. CMI is not a lobby group, and we oppose legislation for compulsion of creation teaching. For one thing, why would we want an atheist forced to teach creation and give a distorted view? But we would like legal protection for teachers who present scientific arguments against the sacred cow of evolution.
“As used in the context of creation-science as defined by Section 4 of Act 590, the terms or concepts of ‘creation’ and ‘creator’ are not inherently religious terms or concepts. In this sense, the term ‘creator’ means only some entity with power, intelligence and a sense of design.”
‘Creation science does not require a creator who has a personality, who has the attributes of love, compassion, justice and so on which are ordinarily attributed to a deity. Indeed, the creation-science model does not require that the creator still be in existence.”
One can scarcely imagine a more egregious statement by people who purportedly claim to be Christians. The creationists, by their own words, admit that their vision of the Creator is a capricious, disposable, uncaring, and unloving god.
Evidently JM needs remedial reading comprehension courses, since the above said nothing of the sort. It was pointing out that one can believe in a Designer without any religious connotations. The above statement is actually more in line with the Intelligent Design Movement than with CMI, since we make no apologies for our Biblical basis. We make it clear that design is not enough—see Q&A: Design.
It’s important to note that JM was involved with an email debate/discussion group where my colleague Dr Tas Walker participated for a little while. Dr Walker has always made it clear that his geological investigations are always within a framework that presupposes that the Bible is an accurate account of world history, which is a very fruitful procedure (see his Biblical Geology Page). But JM decreed that Tas wasn’t allowed to bring the Bible into it (in this he was much like Hutton, who also decreed before considering the evidence that only processes happening today were admissible as explanations —see quote). So it’s hypocritical of JM to chide those creationists above for doing just what he demanded of Dr Walker. There’s no pleasing some ‘bibliosceptics’!
It may be that this revealed heresy had some effect on those willing to testify for the creationist defendants in the McLean trial. Although Langdon Gilkey, a noted theologian, testified for the plaintiffs, not one degreed theologian was called to testify for the position of the creationists.
Gilkey is a well-known liberal (i.e. who doesn’t believe in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity). In any case, what JM says is ironic in view of the usual caricature that creation vs evolution is just religion vs science—as in Darwin’s day, many scientists defended creation and many churchians defended evolution (see Holy War? Who really opposed Darwin? Popular belief has it back to front).
But CMI points out that it’s really the interpretations of scientific data by the framework of one religion vs the interpretations of scientific data by the framework of another religion (secular humanism).
To conclude, we have examined the creationist views of ‘appearance of age’ and read their own view of the Creator. In both cases they have been found to be based on a most outrageous heretical theology which must be rejected.
To conclude, we have examined:
- JM’s double standards in appealing to a theology he despises and attacking some creationists for doing what he demands of others.
- JM’s logical fallacy—argument from silence—and pointed out alternative explanations including accelerated nuclear decay and analysing isotopic abundances in terms of a design feature—preventing excessive radiation.
- the role of eye-witness historical accounts, which must govern our interpretation of circumstantial evidence.
In all cases, JM’s views are based on a most outrageous lack of logic which must be rejected.
[Ed. note: in a subsequent email, JM responded, but we can’t print it directly because he made demands unacceptable to CMI as a condition for publication, and he violated some feedback rules. But here are the main points to note:
- It’s common for a critic to hurl the most egregious falsehoods and attacks on our integrity (e.g. calling us heretics—the title was JM’s), then after our firm rebuttal, complain about our alleged ‘harshness’ or ‘impoliteness’. The double standards of our critics are breathtaking (see One rule for evolutionists, and another for creationists!).
- JM claimed to be a Christian in the Methodist denomination, but he explicitly denied Biblical inerrancy. He complained about how judgmental we were—but of course he didn’t have any problems about calling us heretics. But since a Christian is a follower of Christ, we ask, ‘Which Christ?’, since the only sufficient record of Him is in the Bible, which also speaks of ‘false Christs’. The true Christ proclaimed, ‘Scripture cannot be broken’, and frequently appealed to Scripture as a final settlement of an argument (‘It is written …’—see The Authority of Scripture for more detail). Allying himself with known God-haters against Bible-believers is also hardly a good way for JM to convince Christians that he’s one of them. It’s especially hard to see how JM can object to my characterization of him as an ‘antibiblicist’ when he explicitly attacks the Bible.
- His alleged ‘proofs’ of errors in the Bible (meaning that he thinks Scripture can be broken) have been answered on our website (and by scholars long ago), so JM violated the feedback rule about checking this first. Often these alleged problems are solved by a minimal effort to study the original language. E.g.
- JM’s claim that the Bible is wrong to call the bat a ‘bird’ in Leviticus, when it’s a mammal—the original Hebrew contains no such error because the word translated ‘bird’ is oph, a generic term for a flying or winged creature. It’s merely chronological snobbery to claim that it’s wrong to classify animals in terms of locomotion (most practical for the Israelites for working out dietary restrictions) instead of by the presence or absence of mammary glands or feathers—see Does the Bible Wrongly Call the Bat a Bird?. Even modern ecologists classify water-dwelling life in a very similar way according to their mode of living: plankton (floaters/drifters), nekton (swimmers) and benthos (bottom-dwellers).
- The old canard about contradictory genealogies of Christ is also answered by consulting the original language and understanding the culture—Luke’s genealogy was Mary’s line but listed Joseph because of the Jewish rule that mothers were generally not mentioned, and the Greek has a definite article before every name except Joseph, showing that it was not meant to be Joseph’s line. See The Virginal Conception of Christ: Genealogies. Before critics claim the Bible has errors, they should check out Q&A: Countering the Critics: Bible ‘contradictions’ and ‘errors’ (I’ve now put answers to JM’s two alleged Biblical errors on this page (which were evidently the best he could come up with!) although they were already on our site).
Update:The argument can be turned around: there are short-lived radioisotopes that should have been extinct if the earth were as old as uniformitarians claim:
The existence of measurable amounts of 60Fe, 53Mn, 26Al, 36Cl, or 41Ca in Cambrian and Precambrian rock layers makes the argument of continuous production problematic for secular science and supports a recent creation by imposing an upper limit of ~1.5 × 107 years on the age of the earth.1