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Creation 15(4):24–25, September 1993

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Shaking hands on a recent creation


Did you know that some chemical substances can come in both left- and right-handed forms? Please don’t switch off, this won’t be a highly technical discussion. All this means is that they are identical in shape, form and function, yet are mirror images of each other, in the same way as your left and right hands.

The top pair of mirror-image molecules shown, like a pair of hands, appear the same. But no matter how each is rotated, it cannot be made to ‘merge’ exactly with its mirror-image counterpart. They are left and right-handed forms of the same substance. The two molecules below, by contrast, are also mirror images but can be overlapped—each is identical with the other and has no chemical ‘handedness’.

This is true for many of the amino acids, which are the class of chemical compounds that living things use as ‘building blocks’ to make the many different forms of protein upon which life depends.

However, in using these ‘building blocks’, living things manufacture and use only those which are specifically of the left-handed form. If a chemist makes a particular amino acid in the laboratory, it will be a 50:50 mixture of left and right-handed molecules of that type (because of the laws of chance).1

Now, these two forms can also change into one another with equal likelihood, so that even if someone began with a ‘pure’ collection of left-handed forms, in time it would become a 50:50 mix and stay that way indefinitely.

When a living thing dies, the amino acids it contains (all of the left-handed form) begin this process of heading towards a 50:50 mix of left-handed and right-handed forms. This immediately suggests the possibility of using the process as some sort of ‘clock’ to see how long it has been since a particular specimen died. There are problems in doing this exactly, because the process rate is affected by such things as temperature, for instance.

Dr Larry S. Helmick, Professor of Chemistry at Cedarville College in Ohio, calculates a reasonable and generous upper limit of some 20 million years.2 That is, after a maximum of 20 million years, any quantities of amino acid found would be a 50:50 mix of both forms, even if they were all the left-handed form to begin with. (Any amino acid formed by chemical means outside of a living thing would be a 50:50 mix to begin with, anyway.) This conclusion is supported by evolutionists as well.3

If the vast dates assigned to the various geological layers are correct, therefore, any amino acid samples found in rocks dated as older than 20 million years should all be perfectly ‘racemized’ (the technical term for having arrived at the 50:50 condition).

The obvious question is, do we find any amino acids in rock layers at all, given that many amino acids are themselves unstable and will deteriorate with time into simpler compounds? Yes, amino acids are found in rock layers of all ‘ages’. Surprisingly, for evolutionists, some of the geological layers dated as older than Pleistocene (supposedly two million years) contain unstable types of amino acids, which should have broken down long ago.

What about the stable types of amino acids found in sediments which evolutionists class as older than 20 million years? Have they already reached the 50:50 or ‘racemic’ state? (Remember that finding them in this state does not mean a layer is older than 20 million years, because 20 million years is an upper limit, and also because any amino acid formed by non-biological means would be racemic to begin with.)

The chert (chert is a siliceous rock of which flint is an example) layer known as Fig Tree Chert, South Africa, is estimated to be three billion years old, yet it contains only amino acids in the left-handed form. A similar result applies to several Precambrian and Miocene sediments (supposedly some 1,200 million and 30 million years old respectively).4

It is no surprise that the Green River (Wyoming, USA) oil shale, estimated to be 60 million years old by evolutionists, contains amino acids, since its oil originates from living materials. What is surprising is that they are not completely racemized yet.5 The evolutionist has no choice but to argue that somehow most of the geological layers have become contaminated with amino acids produced at a much more recent time. The racemization that has already occurred does not require large time periods either, because a short heating event may greatly increase the rate of racemization.

The creationist can simply accept the evidence at face value as consistent with belief in a recent creation. There has simply not been anywhere near the 20 million years required to completely ‘racemize’ the amino acids, let alone the alleged three billion year life-span of the Fig Tree Chert.


  1. By the same token, any evolutionary process, because it depends on chance, could only produce a 50:50 mixture, also. However, although this is a major barrier to chemical evolution, it is not the main point of this article. Return to text.
  2. Helmick, L., Origins and maintenance of optical activity, Creation Research Society Quarterly 12:156–164, December 1975. Return to text.
  3. Krenvolden, et al., Racemization of amino acids in sediments from Saanich Inlet, British Columbia, Science 169(3950):1079–1082, September 1970. Return to text.
  4. Helmick, L., Ref. 2. Return to text.
  5. Helmick, L., Ref. 2. Return to text.