Have scientists proved that the earth is old?
Published: 9 November 2019 (GMT+10)
We sometimes still receive handwritten letters from inquires and critics. This means that the response must also be a paper letter. But sometimes they can also be instructive for our website.
I just read your article on the importance of the age of the earth. It seemed to me you are uniformed at the reasons (plural) that scientist (even those who are Christians) believe in an ancient earth. Either that or you are intentionally simplifying the issue.
An article I read by a Christian (who believed the Bible), said there are 28 different tests they can do to age something. While there is some error, which creationists emphasize, it is a known phenomenon and affects only 3% of the tests. The other 97% get more and more accurate with improved technology. Isotopes and half-lives. The author said there has never been any evidence that these are unknown variables. In fact an atomic clock, accurate to 1 second ever 2,000 years is built on the understanding of atomic degradation. Diamonds are always turning into graphite at the same rate.
I do not believe the scientific conclusion for the age of the Earth. If Earth were 4 billion years old and plants some 1 billion years old, weeds would have taken over everything by now. All we would have would be noxious ‘invasive species’. Nonetheless the young Earth creationists don’t have any method of measuring the half-life of isotopes that vies the answers they get from reading the Bible. Scientists have traced the tree rings back 15,000 years, I think it is. This fits neither theory.
At one time church officials said we had to believe the earth is flat to believe the Bible. After all, it speaks frequently of the 4 corners of the earth. We do not want to be like those theologians, hiding their heads in the sand, denying all scientific evidence to the contrary.
I don’t know how old the earth is, but I can’t help but notice that you did not address the real evidence for an old earth in your article.
Dear Mr G.
Thank you for writing to CMI.
Actually, I and many of my colleagues are Ph.D. scientists who don’t believe the earth is much older than 6,000 years. So arguments from authority such as “scientists believe in an ancient earth” just don’t work on us, and neither should they work on anyone else.
Without knowing what article you refer to, it’s hard to comment. But one of my colleagues, also a Ph.D. scientist, wrote 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe. This is very easy to find if you can get an internet connection, even at your local library, because its URL is creation.com/age.
Radiometric dating assumptions
I think you are referring to the known variations in radiometric decay. However, there is good evidence for an episode of accelerated decay. This is from evidence that much decay has happened in a sample, but there are clear constraints on the time frame over which this occurred. For example:
- Evidence of much decay of uranium-238 and its daughter elements to produce mature multi-ringed radiohalos in basement rocks. But they are absent in Phanerozoic1 rocks although uniformitarian ‘dating’ predicts that there should be plenty of time to form them. This is consistent with a rapid decay episode during Creation Week but no such great acceleration since then.
- The presence of helium atoms still within the rock where they were apparently formed by nuclear α-decay. The diffusion rate of helium through minerals would suggest that it would have escaped if the rocks were really billions of years old.
- High correlation of heat flow at the earth’s surface with concentration of radioactive isotopes. This is consistent with a pulse of accelerated decay during the Flood year to produce heat that hasn’t had time to dissipate. This explains a correlation that had been a mystery to geophysicists.2
- Different dating methods often give different ‘ages’. This can be explained if the accelerations were different for different isotopes. In particular, all the alpha-emitters (238U and 235U for the Pb isochron; and Sm) gave isochron ‘ages’ that were greater than those for the beta-emitters (Rb and K), meaning that alpha decay was accelerated more than beta decay. Also, within a single decay type, the longer lived the isotope, the greater the ‘age’, so the greater the acceleration.
And even if there is no conclusive mechanism yet known for accelerated decay, this doesn’t disprove the existence of the phenomenon that has been documented above. Many scientists have discovered the existence of a phenomenon long before anyone could explain how it occurred. But accelerated decay is not the only issue. Even if the rate was constant, there are other assumptions:
- We know the initial conditions
- The system has not been leached or contaminated with the chemicals that are measured.
A good example is 14C (radiocarbon). The best possible system that avoids contamination is diamond: an allotrope of carbon that’s the hardest substance on earth (apart from the human heart). And these are claimed to be over a billion years old. Yet 14C has a half-life of only 5,730 years. This means all should have decayed to below the detection limit if the diamonds were really as old as claimed. So this puts an upper limit to the age of the diamonds, and thus the rock they are in, to about 100,000 years. Note, upper limit, not age! This is an example of granting all the assumptions behind radiometric dating, and coming up with a ‘young’ earth. So, here are the alternatives, and you can pick only one:
- Radiometric dating is very reliable
- The diamonds are billions of years old.
Of course if you want to claim 2, then you can no longer use 1 an argument! There is much more in the enclosed article Diamonds: a creationist’s best friend: Radiocarbon in diamonds: enemy of billions of years (online at creation.com/diamonds). See also the enclosed article How dating methods work (not about how boys meet girls, but about the age of things and how we can tell), by yet another Ph.D. scientist, also online at creation.com/dating-flaws.
Atomic clocks and diamond formation
A couple of other things you claim are just plain wrong, sorry. Atomic clocks are NOT based on radioactive decay, which is a phenomenon involving nuclear energy levels, but on changes in electronic energy levels. Sure, in the hyperfine structure involved, the energies are affected by the magnetic field of the nucleus, but the nuclei are not decaying.
And diamonds are definitely NOT always turning into graphite at the same rate. The rate of conversion is strongly dependent on temperature and pressure. High temperatures exponentially speed up conversion rates. At room temperature and pressure, there is no measurable conversion at all, because the activation energy is so high. So any conversion requires high temperatures so the carbon atoms can overcome the energy barrier and rearrange. Also, the direction of conversion is strongly pressure dependent, because pressure favours the denser phase, which is diamond. I.e., at high pressure, graphite turns into diamond.
In fact, this phenomenon is another indicator of extremely rapid processes: diamonds must be produced at high temperatures and pressures 100–200 km inside the earth. But then they must transported supersonically the surface, in extremely violent eruptions through volcanic pipes. If they were transported slowly, the diamonds would anneal back to graphite. This means they must be quenched in their high-pressure phase.
Tree ring dating
A paper by three more Ph.D. scientists3 can be summarized as follows:
- The dating methods are not really independent of each other, and themselves rely on assumptions. Secular papers and popular articles claim that the Lake Suigetsu varves will help us calibrate 14C dates, so we can’t use such calibrated dates to prove the age of the varves!
- An old-earth critic ignores the RATE findings of 14C in material claimed to be millions or billions of years old.
- Varves have not been counted to 100k but rather estimated from thickness. The claimed count is more like 29k. A secular paper admitted, “Therefore the count must be complemented by varve interpolation.” Also, the start date is uncertain. In the paper cited by the old earthers, the age was rather estimated by assuming a constant sedimentation rate.
- Uniformitarians assume that varves are annual, but in reality, self-sorting can produce multiple laminations, as shown by Berthault long ago. At the end of the Ice Age, drying the land would produce a lot more dust, and increased volcanism would produce more ash. Both would also supply the silica for diatom blooms. Sometimes two correlated cores close to each other have a different number of varves, which wouldn’t be true if they were annual. (In Rock Solid Answers, a book we stock, Michael Oard explained this a year before the old-earth paper! “Do varves contradict biblical history?”)
- Tree growth rings are not necessarily annual. In dry climates, such as those in which bristlecones grow, each heavy rainfall can produce a new ring. Further, a secular paper notes: “cross-matching of trees is an inexact science as two trees growing right next to one another will often not exhibit the same tree-ring growth pattern.”
- ARJ paper: “So what is the bottom line? None of these dating methods are truly independent and thus objective. They are inter-calibrated and adjusted to agree because of the assumption they are supposed to agree, due to the assumed uniformity of geologic and physical processes that willfully ignores the evidence for the global Flood cataclysm and its aftermath [e.g. mass-formation of varves during the Ice Age]. The 50,000 annual varves were never visually counted and only represent 50,000 years because they were “dated” as such using crosscalibrated, adjusted-to-agree, dating methods based on assumptions built on the foundation of assumed deep time.”
You claim: “At one time church officials said we had to believe the earth is flat to believe the Bible.” You are simply mistaken here. The Church always taught a global earth. E.g. in the 13th century, the famous Thomas Aquinas was discussing how we prove things, and picked as his example something he thought was obvious and non-controversial: the global earth. No doubt you have been taught the lie that everyone laughed at Columbus because they thought he would sail off a flat earth, and Columbus proved a spherical earth. Nope, never happened, because there was nothing to prove. This is well known to real historians, even if the facts haven’t filtered into our government school system. So clearly these devout Christians never saw the Bible as teaching a flat earth. See also the enclosed paper, The flat earth myth (also online at creation.com/flat-earth-myth).
We also comprehensively refuted claims of flat earthers and proved a global earth in a paper which you can find by typing refuting flat earth into a search engine. This includes a big section Refuting “200+ flat earth Bible verses”.
Your last assertion is, “I can’t help but notice that you did not address the real evidence for an old earth in your article.” Maybe not (I can’t tell because I have no idea what article you mean), but we most certainly do in other articles. For example, Geology and the young earth: Answering those ‘Bible-believing’ bibliosceptics enclosed, online at creation.com/geol-ye. You can’t expect a single article to cover everything, but we have 13k articles on the site!
And we haven’t even touched on why the Bible can’t be logically mixed with billions of years. Plenty on creation.com about that too. [See Related articles and Further reading below.]
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
References and notes
- .The name Phanerozoic is derived from the Greek phaneros (φανερός) and zōē (ζωή), meaning ‘visible life’. In the uniformitarian geological time scale, this is the current eon, ‘dating’ from the time abundant animal life is alleged to have appeared. At the time the name was assigned, it was thought that this was the beginning of the Cambrian period, 542 Ma. Return to text.
- .Baumgardner, J., Distribution of radioactive isotopes in the earth, ch. 3, Vardiman, L., Snelling, A.A. and Chaffin, E.F., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth [RATE], 2000. Note that all four people in this note are Ph.D. scientists too! Return to text.
- .Hebert, J., Snelling, A.A., and Clarey, T.L., Do varves, tree-rings, and radiocarbon measurements prove an old earth? Refuting a popular argument by old-earth geologists Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, ARJ, 7 Dec 2016. Return to text.