This article is from
Creation 14(3):43, June 1992

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DNA dating—positive evidence that the fossils are young


DNA, the complex molecule of heredity, can be observed in the laboratory to hydrolyse (break down) by itself. We have already commented in Creation magazine on the discovery of DNA in magnolia leaf fossils which are supposed to be around 20 million years old according to evolutionary assumptions, and suggested that this seemed rather unbelievable for a complicated molecule which progressively disintegrates all by itself (Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 22–23).

Now Brian Sykes in the prestigious journal Nature clearly states that the rate at which DNA breaks down in the laboratory is such that after 10,000 years no DNA should be left. Writing about the magnolia leaf fossils (and others in the same ‘ancient’ layer found to also have DNA, including oak, cypress and tulip tree fossils) he says:

Picture of a fossil magnolia leaf
Finding DNA in magnolia leaf fossils calls into question the long ages assigned to these fossils by evolutionists.
‘This means these compression fossils defy the prediction, from in vitro estimates of the rate of spontaneous hydrolysis, that no DNA would remain intact much beyond 10,000 years. What a good job not everybody knew that, grant reviewers included.’1

One can clearly see the following sequence of logic in evolutionary circles, which is important to keep in mind now that we are seeing more and more reports of ‘ancient’ DNA (and proteins).

  1. In the absence of the repair machinery of a living cell, DNA breaks down, by itself, at an observed, measurable rate which would mean that after 10,000 years there should be none left.
  2. Therefore, any specimen which has DNA still in it cannot be more than 10,000 years old.
  3. However:

  4. Intact DNA has been found in specimens which evolutionists ‘know’ to be millions of years old. (Because it is found in lavers which, according to the geological age-dating system, are assigned this age—17–20 million years in the case of the plant fossils mentioned here.)
  5. If this system of vast ages is not correct, the whole evolutionary scenario collapses.
  6. Therefore, the logical deduction in the first two points above (based on real science—that is, an observable process) must be flawed. There must be some special conditions which can somehow ‘hold up’ the breakdown of DNA quite dramatically.

Notice how point 3 brings in the assumption/belief that the vast evolutionary age assigned to these fossils is correct. That belief becomes the justification for discarding the prima facie implications of the laboratory data.

Creationists who maintain that none of the fossil-bearing layers are more than 10,000 years old can rightly view the finding of DNA in such layers as positive evidence for this assertion, until and unless there is some definite demonstration (apart from pre-existing belief in evolution’s long ages) of how any conceivable ‘special conditions’ can hold up the breakdown of this complicated, fragile chemical.


  1. Bryan Sykes, in Nature, Vol. 352, August 1, 1991, p. 381. In this context, his statement is sarcastic. Sykes is not denying that the fossils are multimillions of years old. He is saying that if the inferences from the laboratory data had been completely trusted, no one would have bothered to look for DNA in such old sediments. The fact that it exists is to him evidence that the inferences were wrong, not the age. Return to text.