Nuclear physicist embraces biblical creation
Jonathan Sarfati chats with Dr Jim Mason
Dr Jim Mason has a B.Sc. in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and a Ph.D. in Experimental Nuclear Physics from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He had a 37-year engineering and management career in defence electronics developing ASW (anti-submarine warfare) systems and land tactical C4 (computerized command, control, communications) systems. This included the positions of Vice President and Engineering and Chief Technology Officer for one of Canada’s leading defence electronics system integration companies and being a member of that company’s Executive Committee. Dr Mason’s hobbies include skiing (downhill and cross-country), gardening/landscaping, home renovating and spending time with his two grandchildren. He and his wife Rosemary have three children and reside just outside Lakefield, Ontario near their two granddaughters.
Biblical Christianity: the perfect logical system
Recently during a ministry tour of Canada, I had the pleasure of travelling with Dr Jim Mason, CMI-Canada’s newest speaker. I was interested to find out that he didn’t become a Christian till he was almost 40. So why would a logical scientist accept something that the world largely mocks?
“I have become increasingly amazed at how comprehensive and yet internally consistent the Bible and Christianity are. I spent most of my working career as a System Engineer developing complex and sophisticated defence electronic systems. Consequently, I have come to think of the Bible and Christianity as the perfect system.”
Dr Mason compares biblical Christianity with the Apollo system that sent men to the moon and returned them safely: this included everything that was required, and didn’t have anything unnecessary to its goal. The same is true of biblical Christianity. “However”, Jim says, “the Apollo system, being man-made, was not perfect as amply demonstrated by the near catastrophe of the Apollo 13 mission. Conversely, the Bible/Christianity is perfect, having been crafted by God.”
And as Dr Mason later realised, a vital foundation to this system is the first 11 chapters of Genesis:
“Without these chapters being taken as historical narrative and plainly understood as written, the rest of the Bible and, in particular, the New Testament message of salvation, does not compute. It’s like the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo system. Without it, achieving the mission is impossible. Thanks, in part, to the excellent material on the CMI website, I came to realize that such an interpretation is well-supported scientifically, including in my own area of nuclear physics.”
But if Genesis is foundational, then how can evolution and long ages be reconciled to the Bible? Jim realised that it couldn’t:
“It destroys the Gospel by destroying its foundation. Adam and Eve disappear, original sin disappears, death through sin disappears, the need for a Saviour disappears and indeed, in the end, salvation and eternal life disappear.”
Furthermore, “evolution is at odds with the Bible everywhere”:
“The Big Bang says nothing created everything, versus the Bible that teaches that everything was created by the Word of God; the earth, sun, moon and stars formed by gradual accretion over billions of years rather than in a few days by the Word of God; life occurring by accident rather than by holy fiat; humans evolving over millions of years from an ape-like ancestor rather than being created in the image of God in a single day; death being an essential part of the world from the start rather than being an unintended but necessary consequence of mankind’s original sin.”
Real science supports the Bible
So, what areas of Dr Mason’s own expertise support the biblical creation model and oppose the secular evolutionary one? Jim points to the building blocks of nature and their economy of design, something that impressed the great creationist founder of electromagnetism, James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), who wrote:
“No theory of evolution can be formed to account for the similarity of molecules, for evolution necessarily implies continuous change … . The exact equality of each molecule to all others of the same kind gives it … the essential character of a manufactured article, and precludes the idea of its being eternal and self-existent.”1
Modern science strengthens this argument, as Jim explains:
“Elementary particle physics tells us there are only 3 fundamental particles, each occurring in a few variants resulting in a total of only 24 elementary particles. Everything in the entire universe is made from and held together by these 24 particles.”
Yet from just these 24 basic building blocks, “There are 118 chemical elements which can be combined to create almost innumerable compounds like iron oxide, calcium carbonate and amino acids; and these can be combined to create almost innumerable substances like bubble gum, proteins and concrete; and these can be combined to create even grander structures like buildings and airplanes and computers and even the human body. That sure looks like design at its best.”
“Yet the evolutionists would have us believe that these 24 particles just happened by accident and then just happened to accidentally combine into particles that then just happened to combine into the elements, that then just happened to combine into a few compounds that then just happened to combine into a cell that then just happened to evolve into some humans and that only the airplanes, buildings and computers had to have a designer. Who are they kidding?”
Furthermore, he explains that only 12 of these particles provide 3 of the 4 forces that hold everything in the universe together, “design at its best”:
“These are the strong nuclear force that holds atomic nuclei together, the weak nuclear force that enables some types of radioactivity and the electromagnetic force which is responsible for just about every phenomenon we experience on a daily basis. The fourth, and weakest force, is gravity. These forces cover an incredible range of strengths and all behave differently: gravity only attracts; the electromagnetic force both attracts and repels; both act over infinitely long distances whereas the strong force only acts within the nucleus. Gravity, the weakest force, accounts for the motion of the stars and planets; the electromagnetic force accounts for light travelling from the stars to Earth. Finally, the strong force keeps all the nuclei in atoms from flying apart due to the electromagnetic repulsion between the protons.
“But that is not all. The relationship between these forces is so finely tuned that even a slight change in just one of these relationships would render the universe as we know it impossible. An accident? I don’t think so!”
Probably the strongest ‘evidence’ for the long ages required by evolution is right in Dr Mason’s field of expertise: radiometric dating. But he explained that it doesn’t actually measure age at all. Rather, it measures the ratio of the radioactive ‘parent’ element to the stable ‘daughter’ element in, say, a sample of rock today. And the age must be inferred by using these measurements in a calculation, and this relies on several unverifiable assumptions; e.g.:
“ … that there was no daughter element present when the rock was formed—i.e. the daughter element is entirely due to decay of the parent in the sample; that no amount of either parent or daughter has leached into or out of the rock since its formation; and that decay rate has not changed over time. If any of these assumptions are incorrect, it can dramatically change the calculation of the age. Since it is impossible to know for sure whether any of these have happened, it is not reasonable to trust the calculated age as accurate.”
Dr Mason points out:
“In cases where the actual age of the rock is known, radiometric dating techniques typically give wildly erroneous ages. For example, rock formed in a lava flow from Mt. St. Helens in 1986 was radiometrically dated as 2.6 million years old! If, every time you read a newspaper report concerning an incident about which you had first-hand knowledge, you found that the newspaper report was totally wrong, how many of these would you read before you began to suspect that all the reporting was wrong?”
Furthermore, he shows that the long-agers’ favourite dating method, carbon dating, supports a much younger age. That’s because radioactive carbon is so short-lived it should not be present in anything over 100,000 years old, yet it is found in coal and diamonds allegedly many millions of years old (see his explanation in the box below).
Further evidence for a young age from nuclear physics comes from large amounts of helium found in tiny zircon crystals extracted from rocks that are allegedly 1.5 billion years old. The amount of uranium and lead present in the crystals indicated that the helium was the result of radioactive decay of the uranium. However, in the supposed 1.5 billion years of the rock’s existence, essentially all the helium that would have been produced by this decay should have diffused out of the crystals. Using the amount of helium actually present in the crystals and the rate of diffusion of helium through these crystals as measured by an independent laboratory, the age of the crystals, and therefore the rock from which they came was only about 5,700±2,000 years! This implies that the decay rate was much faster in the past—undermining a key assumption of radiometric dating.2
It should be very encouraging for scientifically-minded young people in church homes to see that real scientists like Dr Mason can embrace biblical creation. So did he have any advice for students thinking of studying science?
“Go for it! Science—that is operational science, how the world works—is fascinating stuff—and it is operational science that has provided all the technological and medical advances that make our present age so wonderful. However, be careful not to confuse the facts of operational science with the musings of origins science—that is the materialistic speculations about how things came to be. Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Why do you say that?’ or ‘How do you know?’ about anything and everything. Truth will stand up to hard questions and deep digging!”
Carbon dating points to a young age
Radioactive 14C is continually being formed in the atmosphere, and makes up about a trillionth of all carbon atoms on Earth. Because it is biologically almost indistinguishable from non-radioactive carbon (12C), it is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis and then by animals eating the plants and other animals eating the animals that eat the plants and, of course, by humans when we eat our burgers and broccoli. When the plant or animal dies, it stops absorbing carbon and the 14C decays without being replaced, thus changing the ratio of 14C to 12C in the dead plant/animal over time. Using very sensitive instruments, the current ratio in a sample of the dead plant/animal can be measured and used (along with the known rate of decay of 14C and the assumption that the ratio of 14C to 12C in the atmosphere has always been the same as today) to calculate an age for the specimen. However, after about 90,000 years of decay, there is so little 14C left that even today’s very sensitive instruments cannot detect it.
Numerous samples of coal from different seams in different parts of the US have
been found to contain substantial amounts of 14C, even though, according
to the evolutionary time scale, the samples are allegedly between 37 million and
318 million years old. What’s more, the amount of 14C found is
of the order of 100 times the sensitivity of the instruments, so it is not simply
a minor measurement blip. Some people try to dismiss this as contamination of the
sample during processing, but the laboratories that do these measurements have developed
sophisticated procedures to make sure that this does not happen. Interestingly,
despite the supposed wide range in ages, the age calculated from the 14C
measurements for all the coal samples is very similar—about 50,000 years.
Carbon-14 in diamonds is another example of a young age measurement in substances that are ‘supposed to be’ very old. Diamond is the hardest substance on earth, because it’s an extremely rigidly-packed crystal of carbon. Therefore it’s impervious to the alleged possible contamination that has been used to try to dismiss the results for coal, although unreasonably. Yet 14C has been found in diamonds at essentially the same level as in the coal samples even though the diamonds are allegedly 1 to 3 billion years old.4
References and notes
- Maxwell, J.C., ‘Discourse on Molecules’, a paper presented to the British Association at Bradford in 1873, as cited in Lamont, A., James Clerk Maxwell, Creation 15(3):45–47, 1993; creation.com/maxwell. Return to text.
- Humphreys, R., Nuclear decay: evidence for a young world, Impact 352, October 2002; www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-352.htm. Return to text.
- Baumgardner, J., 14C evidence for a recent global flood and a young earth; in Vardiman, L., Snelling, A. and Chaffin, E., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Vol. II, ch. 8, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, 2005. Return to text.
- See also Sarfati, J., Diamonds: a creationist’s best friend, Creation 28(4):26–27, 2006; creation.com/diamonds. Return to text.
The arguments against dating in this article are incorrect unfortunately. For two Christian sites that correctly explain the science try [link deleted as per feedback rules—Ed.] and “Radiometric Dating A Christian Perspective” by Roger C. Wiens (who has a PhD specialising in dating methods). This last article gives a detailed explanation of how various dating methods work and explains the 20 most common mistaken claims made by young-earthers.
Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds: The arguments against unbelief in the biblical timescale by Wiens are incorrect unfortunately. They were thoroughly refuted by Dr Tas Walker who has great experience in dating methods, including so-called isochron plots from non-radioactive isotopes. A search for Wiens in our search button, as per our feedback rules, would have found the introductory article A Christian response to radiometric dating which links to the detailed response.
DM: For example, the Mount St. Helens sample was dated to 2.6 million years because the creationists involved used the potassium-argon method—which does not work unless a sample is at least 40,000 years old (as there has not been enough time for significant radioactive decay).
JS: Talking about begging the question (assuming what you need to prove)! The fact that there is 40Ar in the sample shows that other factors besides 40K over millions of years can produce it. For more, see Countering the critics: Radio-dating in Rubble
DM: A trace amount of C14 will suggest an apparent date of about 50,000 years in coal etc because that is the maximum age it can suggest due to the half-life curve—such trace amounts can be created by atmospheric contamination, sulphur bacteria, background radiation, groundwater and whewellite formation.
JS: Contamination was ruled out by δ13C tests, and can’t be invoked for radiocarbon in diamonds, the hardest substance on earth (apart from the human heart ;)).
Anyways, worth a read regardless of your viewpoint.
JS: We could say the same about our refutations.
I have one comment and one question:
The article made a slight mistake, there are only 4 particles required for 3/4 forces, the photon (electromagnetism), W & Z Boson (weak nuclear) and Gluon (strong nuclear), I believe the 12 particles referred to are the 12 particles of the standard model (the other 12 being the anti-particles).
The reference to C-14 levels in diamonds and coal is very interesting, is it possible that a high level of N-14 combined with the presence of fissile materials would act to top up, or even increase, the naturally occurring C-14 in these materials?
Since 12 particles are required for the standard model, then it’s not a mistake, surely. Dr Mason was clearly referring to the basic particles of matter that interact by the three forces, mediated by the four particles you mention:
First generation: up and down quarks, electron, electron neutrino.
Second generation: charm and strange quarks, muon, muon-neutrino.
Third generation: top and bottom quarks, tauon, tauon-neutrino.
About nitrogen explaining the C-14 dates, this is already answered in the article referred to, under objection 3. In sum, if this were a good explanation, then there should be a strong correlation between nitrogen content and young radiocarbon dates in general, but none has been shown.
Wow, amazing. I'm only 19 years and in my first year doing a B.Sc in physics and maths, and I love physics so much. Seeing your article gave me inspiration. Have to say that I'm glad I read it thank you. smily face
A really excellent and compelling article; and Dr. Mason’ bio is quite impressive too. I really appreciate the sense of integrity and graciousness that comes across in CMI postings. I’m an American who just finished a PhD in Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia, and saw Dr Sarfati when he spoke there recently. So, I’m impressed with both men—Drs Mason and Sarfati.
I forwarded this article to a friend who is a Christian but adamant that evolution is true … we’ve had some cordial discussions but his response to this article was very encouraging as he said:
Thank you, Mike. Everything related to theories and different viewpoints—even when they are clashing—is for me very interesting indeed and makes me think over and over again.
I believe some good seed was planted.
Thanks for the great article.
I shared this article with a friend and got this response which I thought could be read and responded to.
Dear Mr S.
Thank you for your comments. We don’t normally participate in internet debates, even by proxy, but I have written a few comments interspersed into your friend’s objections (see below).
Hope this helps
I find it a little bizarre that Dr Mason criticizes the big bang theory by stating that “the big bang says nothing created everything” when I’ve never heard a physicist claim that in my life.
It doesn’t logically follow from your never having heard something that no one has actually claimed this. April 2002 Discover magazine said (as we cited in The Universe is nothingness! The latest cosmological wild ‘guess’?!:
The universe burst into something from absolutely nothing—zero, nada. And as it got bigger, it became filled with even more stuff that came from absolutely nowhere. How is that possible? Ask Alan Guth. His theory of inflation helps explain everything.
I can only assume quantum mechanics and theoretical particle physics wasn’t his area of expertise but you’d think he’d be interested in the subject enough to not set up such obvious straw men.
These branches of physics go with the territory of nuclear physics. The interviewer is also familiar with these disciplines (QM is an important part of spectroscopy).
He’s also wrong on 14C firstly by claiming scientists make unknowable assumptions about 14C levels in the atmosphere in the past. Scientists know the levels of 14C in the past because they do experiements like pulling atmosphere samples out of pockets formed in crystals when rocks were formed and that atmosphere tells us plenty about what things were like in the past.
How is this possible? The crystal pockets won’t preserve the 14C from decaying into 14N.
Secondly he sites the elevated presence of 14C in coal as a knock on dating methods. Fortunately when scientists find 14C in coal instead of throwing their hands in the air and claiming “well this is a mystery so let’s deduce that an infinitely improbably reason is the cause.”
No, good scientists (like leading plate tectonics expert Dr John Baumgardner who performed this research) deduce a very logical reason: the samples have not existed long enough for the C14 to have decayed.
instead they just ask, why? And in doing so they find evidence that shows higher radio active isotopes in fossil fuels decay into 14C.
Nonsense. A refutation of this excuse that was garbled in the above claim is at Diamonds: a creationist’s best friend: Radiocarbon in diamonds: enemy of billions of years under Objection 2.
They also find evidence to suggest that deep earth bacteria feed off rocks like granite and produce 14C in the process.
14C can’t be produced this way; it requires nuclear processes not any chemical or biological ones (which involve only the outer electrons).
Travis S. responded:
Helps a ton, God bless!
Jesus superseded the laws of physics as we know them. He walked on water, multiplied elements found in fish and bread, new body parts for the diabled and most of all changed water into wine which demonstrated instant age of a material substance. Never the less an excellent article.
Dear Mr L.
Thank you for your kind words about the article. About miracles, it seems more accurate to say that they add to the laws of nature rather than supersede them. See my article Miracles and science for further explanation.
We seem to live in an age where science is the new state religion and the emperor and high priests have titles like Professor and Doctor. … I’m a scientist myself, and it seems some people will accept absolutely anything you say unquestioningly.
God used your ministry to convince me of the truth of Genesis 1–11. As a theistic evolutionist I never realised I held several bizarrely conflicting presuppositions but having experienced God’s transforming healing presence in my life, I could no longer ignore the facts when I realised, by studying your materials, that evolution and biblical salvation are utterly, utterly incompatible.
I now believe every Bible-believing scientist has the duty (and needs the know-how) to defend his or her faith, not just because God says so—1 Peter 3:15—but also because it is a way to spread the truth which sets people free and dispel conflicting presuppositions, which is equal to exposing the lies of the enemy.
Thank you for a wonderful article which sets an example, and please continue this good work.
Well done. Thank you for sticking to a faithful reading the Word. It’s sad that we spend more and more time refuting compromises by other Christians in addition to claims and deceptions of the atheists.
I’m ebullient to hear a scientist express his wonderful beliefs this way. I just got to the first or second paragraph and decided to respond. May he and his family be blessed forevermore, it is thrilling to see this transaction and further strengthen my faith.