Soil formation and the age of the earth
Published: 13 November 2010 (GMT+10)
Soil formation is often invoked as a death blow to the historical reliability of Genesis because some soils are presumed to take tens of thousands, or even several million, years to form. This week’s feedback features an email exchange between Robin B. of New Zealand and CMI’s Dr Tas Walker, where Dr Walker discusses how to look at the soils from a biblical perspective and why the ages attributed to their formation should not be accepted.
Robin B. writes:
I work in the field of soil science as an agronomist in the North Island of New Zealand, which has a lot of volcanic based soils such as the pumice based soils from the world’s biggest eruption in 2000 years which formed Lake Taupo around 130 AD, and formed a new layer of topsoil over many hundreds of square miles. If you believe the earth to be around 6,000 years old, I invite you to visit a road cutting on Ashpit Road on the shore of Lake Rerewhakaetu if you ever get to NZ, where you can see many layers of top soils and volcanic horizons that have formed over the last 25,000 years. Also some of the volcanic soils are highly weathered, compared to recent volcanic soils of the Taupo eruption. A belief in a young earth may be convenient to our faith, but in the field of science I work in, the evidence is lacking.
A hypothetical soil profileThe A horizon has mineral particles mixed with finely divided organic matter that produces a dark colour.
The B horizon is enriched in clay minerals, oxides and hydroxides removed from the overlying A horizon, and is lighter in colour. The solum or true soil is represented by the A and B horizons.
The C horizon is largely unaffected by the soil forming processes and may be produced by chemical weathering of the underlying bedrock, or deposited by water or ice or volcanic activity. Its colour may vary.
The R horizon is unweathered bedrock.
CMI’s Dr Tas Walker responds:
Thank you for your comment about soil science and the age of the earth.
The question is, “How are you going to interpret the geological evidence?” There are two main philosophical approaches to the data. This article deals with a few examples of paleosols exploring the different ways of looking at these (Paleosols: digging deeper buries challenge to Flood geology).
In your first example, the pumice-based soil that formed after the eruption that created Lake Taupo is simply an example of post-Flood soil formation. I can accept the date of 130 AD; there is no problem with that as far as biblical chronology is concerned. However, I would still be interested to explore how that date was actually determined.
In your second example you speak of “layers of top soils and volcanic horizons that have formed over the last 25,000 years. ” The problem here, of course, is that 25,000 years is far older than the biblical age of the earth of 6,000 years and the date of the Flood at 4,500 years ago approximately. I consider the biblical evidence far superior to any other sort of dating method because the biblical evidence is based on eyewitness records, and these are the only reliable way of determining the age of anything. Without an eyewitness account all dates that are calculated are simply speculation—you basically get the answer that you assume.
The big issue here is that the date of 25,000 years has been calculated after making a number of unprovable assumptions. So, I don’t accept that date because there is something wrong with the assumptions. The 25,000 years should be something less than 4,500 years (i.e. it is a post-Flood deposit); perhaps the real age is even less than 3,500 years. The first step would be to look at the papers that established that date because one can usually see the problems in the original paper. I would also want to look at the geological relationships for the deposit by consulting a geological map. I would expect that all these deposits to be post-Flood.
You may be interested in this paper about K-Ar dating of one of NZ’s volcanoes (Radioactive ‘dating’ failure).
As a soil scientist you too should look at the evidence through a different set of “glasses”. One famous geologist in the late 1800s advocated that geologists should always use multiple working hypotheses. Why don’t you look at the NZ geology from a biblical Flood perspective? I mean, that is what it means to be educated—you have the ability to see things from different angles. It can stop you going down the wrong track and will give you new insights into your research work. Why not give it a go? If you are interested I can point you to a few articles that show you how to go about it. I think you will be surprised.
If you are interested you can find a lot of useful articles here: Geology questions and answers
All the best,
Scientist, Editor, Speaker
Creation Ministries International (Australia)
Robin B. responded:
Thanks Tas for your response and the links you gave for articles on your Creation website.
As a soil scientist I now accept a much older Earth than your young Earth, which is an argument I also held in my early Christian years, but in the end I had to admit that holding such a position was dishonest to the science I was involved in.
You state the young Earth model is based in Biblical eyewitness testimony, and therefore view any ‘evidence’ through the Biblical paradigm which you place as of greater merit than any science based ‘evidence’. I don’t have an issue with this, so long as you are being both candid and honest. However the 6 day creation account of Genesis one is not an eyewitness account, neither is the whole of Genesis. It is in fact a historical review written by Moses or some other scribe. I am happy to accept Moses as the author, although most modern Biblical scholars think Genesis was written between 500-700 BC. If we accept a Moses or post-Moses authorship, then this account would most likely be sourced from oral tradition was passed down through generations before, and there are different stories. I am sure you would be aware of the change in name from the Elohim (God male-plural) of chapter 1 to Jehovah (God male singular) of chapter 2, which is a post Moses name for God. Jehovah also crops up elsewhere in Genesis as a reference to Almighty God, and sometimes God is referred as Elohim. This suggests an overlapping of oral traditions, or a rewording of oral traditions.
I must go as I have work to attend to, but will continue when I get home later today.
Dr Walker replies:
Thanks for your reply. You mention your “early Christian years ”. Are you still actively involved in a church? Which one is that?
You speak of “the science I was involved in ” and that is a good description of it. There are different ways of doing science. Like you, I have studied science in a full time capacity at university level now for at least 12 years and I understand that when the university does “historical” science they work from the position of philosophical naturalism. So by definition, God is excluded as the Creator and Sustainer of this world. By definition the accounts in the Bible are dismissed as irrelevant. The biblical record is not considered in any serious academic way in geology, geomorphology, soil science, astronomy, etc. It is ignored.
Your explanation for Genesis is simply a way of explaining the Bible from a naturalistic perspective. The way you describe Genesis as “an overlapping of oral traditions, or a rewording of oral traditions ” says in effect that Genesis is unreliable, non-factual, non-historical and can be dismissed. However, that was not the way the writers of the New Testament regarded Genesis. They treated it as real history and the events as real events, just as the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus were real events, which they personally witnessed.
You say, “As a soil scientist I now accept a much older Earth than your young Earth ”. However, it is not “my” young earth. Just read Luke 3 and you have the genealogies all the way back to the supernatural creation of the first man, Adam. The young earth is what the Bible presents to us. The choice we are faced with is: will I accept what the Bible says or will I ignore it?
Furthermore, there is nothing in soil science that demands that the earth is millions of years old. You mentioned below a soil that is 25,000 years old, but I explained why that date is just an invention.
The only reason that soil scientists and other scientists end up with the idea of millions of years is because they dismiss the biblical account of Noah’s Flood. For example, what sediments in New Zealand do you regard as Flood deposited sediments? What effect did the Flood have on the geology of New Zealand? Which horizons are post-Flood and which are Flood deposits? Unless you have considered these sorts of questions, then, as a soil scientist, you have not even begun to consider all the relevant parameters. And if you won’t consider these questions as one who was taught the Bible as a kid, who will?
In my experience, when most geologists are confronted with these sorts of questions about the reality of biblical history they just mock and move to silence discussion—which is not a very scientific approach. See for example some of the ways geologists have responded:
Feedback from Geological Society
The Geological Society of London uses bully tactics
The Geological Society of London again moves to silence debate on creation science
The Geological Society of Australia seeks to censor creation, intelligent design and Flood geology
When you see these sorts of responses from the geological community it makes you realise the immense peer pressure that people like yourself work under. Is it really surprising that you go along with the ages of millions of years? You would be a brave man to raise the issue of Noah’s Flood among your fellow workers—even as an option for explaining some of the “soil” horizons. You would risk ridicule in your workplace if you said you believe the earth was only 6,000 years old. It would impact on your career prospects, so I can understand the dilemma that you are in. But still, those are the sort of choices that followers of Christ have been called to make since the very beginning and it requires much wisdom.
Once again, thanks for writing. All the best. Have a good day. God bless.
Here are two articles about the JEDP theory:
Robin B. replied:
I do not hold the view that Noahs flood was a global phenomenon, and I see no evidence whatsoever of any such flood in NZ. There is evidence that the North Island has been under water a couple of times in eons gone by, whereas the South Island has not. If we take the road cutting on Ashpit Rd, Rerewhakaitu I mentioned and the 25,000 years of historical tephra layers and pyroclastic flows and the top soils which had built up in subsequent years, then another tephra fall layer and the topsoil layer, the most recent being the Taupo eruption. These volcanic layers of pumice are extremely infertile, as the pumice is essentially just silicon dioxide, and therefore from the raw Taupo Ash soil, it has taken 1900 years for about 2-3 inches of topsoil to form. On this road cutting we see a number of these topsoil layers further down the profile, each of which would have taken several thousand years to form from carbon accumulation as plants slowly rehabilitated these infertile soils, and humus built up over long periods of time. There is no evidence of Noahs flood here 4500 years ago in this cutting. Much older volcanic ash soils which make up some of the best pasture producing soils in the world also show no evidence of a flood. The Mairoa Ash soil came from Pirongia mountain which is about 25 km from where I live, and billowed out again many square miles of this ash fall meters deep, and yet the topsoil and carbon build up here indicates these are at least 20,000 years old. Again, no sign of dramatic flood, as the sedimentary soils is underneath the ash layers. If we consider much of the fauna of NZ, the flightless kiwi, weka, moa, kakapo; the non-migratory tuatara lizard and the slow moving and flightless giant weta; these would hardly be unique to NZ when we are surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean if a flood destroyed them 4500 years ago.
My take on Genesis is that it is an ancient creation story, passed down from oral tradition, and that the 6 day creation is allegorical. If Noahs flood did happen, it was a local flood, and God did not need to kill of all of the fauna in NZ, as humans hadn’t reached these shores then. I sit most comfortably in the Progressive creationist camp, but have no great issue with the Biologos ideas of Francis Collins and his associates. I am definitely a creationist, and have debated at large with non-Christian colleagues when I was involved in research 20 years ago, but now I am a self employed consultant, mainly providing independent soil fertility advice to farmers. YEC from my experience have a very narrow paradigm, and are largely inflexible and either become quite angry with me, or utterly ignore any evidence that does not fit within their paradigm when I expose flaws in their belief system. Yet I think some arguments YEC bring up such as the build up of sodium, do need to be honestly answered. I haven’t looked into this, but because NZ is surrounded by ocean, as an agronomist I do know we actually get around 50-60 kg/ha of Na/ha deposited annually in the rainfall, which I guess must somehow have been evaporated from the sea or picked up by winds. I don’t know if this has been factored into the sodium model. Obviously in inland Australia there is little rainfall to begin with, and the amount of sodium may be a lot less than what comes down on coastal areas.
In my formative years I was taught the Bible was the ‘infallible Word of God’, which I now see as idolatrous, as the Word of God is Jesus and I worship Him as such. He is alive and living, whereas the Bible is not ‘living and powerful’, but a collection of ancient Hebrew writings explaining the Jewish paradigm of their place on Earth and relationship with Jehovah. I accept that all of the books comprising The New Testament were written in the 1st Century, and the books which The Council of Nicea in 325 AD deemed worthy to be included in the Canon alongside those OT books Ptolemy II had Hebrew scholars around 250 BC translate into Greek make up this Book of Books.
Most Christian fundamentalists dismiss apocryphal writings such as the Wisdom of Solomon, Maccabees I & II, Judith, Tobit, the Books of Eden, and NT apocrypha such as the Epistle of Barnabus, Shepherd of Hermas, Gospel of Thomas as being the ‘Word of God’, yet fiercely defend every ‘jot and tittle’ found in the Bible. The problem is that there are a number of different Codexes, and which one is the right one? Was the humanist Erasmus who selected the tests which made up the King James right? If you believe so, then your faith will not allow you to accept other versions. Muslims believe the Koran is infallible, and when it contradicts with the Injil (Gospels) or Torah, then it is the Christians and Jews who have corrupted their writings. In the end you finish up with a whole lot of polemical arguments, whereas for me, God has brought me into relationship with Him which is spiritual, and not based on literary dogma. Having been bound up by legalistic fundamentalism, and Biblical idolatry, I now have the freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit speak to me through whatever channel He so chooses, which may include some article in a magazine, newspaper or television program.
I like the little allegory of a scientist being like a mouse that lives in a piano and can hear all this beautiful music around him, then one day discovers what is causing the music … .vibrating springs. The mouse studies harder and observes what is causing the strings to vibrate … .soft hammers that hit the strings. However because the mouse is in the piano it cannot see what is outside pressing the notes that makes the hammers hit the strings to make the music. This is how I see the world, the universe and science. Science can only explain so much, yet over the past 500 years, our knowledge and understanding has multiplied immensely.
I like the verse in Deut 29:29 ‘The secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed to us are ours and our children’s forever’. It keeps us humble.
Dr Walker responds:
A geologist friend of mine said the same thing, “I don’t see any evidence for the Flood in Australia”. Later on, he discovered what sort of evidence the Flood would leave. Now, he says that he sees the evidence everywhere. I conduct geological excursions and the consistent comment I get from people when I meet them years later is, “Since that excursion I have seen the world completely differently.” If you would like to find out what to look for just let me know.
You are right; the dates assigned to the geological layers are the reason that people do not “see” evidence for Noah’s Flood. I have no argument with what you can actually see in the road cuts with your eyes. I may want to debate with you some of your geological interpretations, but that is the way geologists work. But when it comes to the numbers that you quote such as 25,000 year for the dates I consider them to be a statement of personal belief, not objective science. The dating systems are set up such that you can obtain any number that you would like, that agrees with your personal beliefs. I am totally skeptical of those numbers, and so are all YECs. And so are all geologists who are worth their salt. The laboratory numbers have to be consistent with the external more-reliable evidence before we will accept them. Most lay-people are quite bluffed by the numbers that come out of radioactive dating because they don’t understand the speculations behind them and the way in which the researcher’s philosophy drives the results. But geologists aren’t. When you get to specifics, a number like 25,000 years is greatly inflated from what the real number should be. If you “translate” this to the real history of the earth the proper timing is well-and-truly post-Flood and the number should be more like 2,500 years to 3,500 years. This is a good research project for someone—have a look at the dating methods used in this case and see why they settled on 25,000 years. It is when you dig like this that you can see what data has been disregarded and why they have chosen the numbers that they have. Keep alert for the way the report will dismiss dating work done by earlier researchers.
You say, “as the Word of God is Jesus and I worship Him as such.” Tell me, where do you find out about Jesus? From the Koran? From Josephus? From Hillsong? According to the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible, he regarded the Scriptures as the Word of God and absolutely reliable, even to the tense of the verbs. He said “If they won’t believe Moses they won’t believe me.” That is the main reason why I accept Genesis as history—that is the way Jesus regarded Genesis. But when you start with Genesis history you find it fits with the evidence, so we have a reasonable faith, not a blind faith.
You said you definitely are a creationist and that you have debated creation in the past. So what evidence is there for creation? In a naturalistic universe what is there left for “God” to do? Julian Huxley said there is no need for God and no room either. So, how do your creationist ideas help you in your science work? Do you write about them in your papers and speak about them with your clients? Or is it just like a private thing, like our preference for music or ice-cream—makes us feel good but we can do without it if necessary?
You said you sit most comfortably with Progressive Creation and/or Biologos. You don’t sound very sure. These are two quite different approaches. How would you judge which one is correct? A bet each way?Or doesn’t it really matter? Have you read the book Refuting Compromise? It deals with all the many illogical problems with Progressive Creation. Progressive creation must be the most embarrassing philosophy to try to defend with your secular scientists. What is your experience when you discuss this with your science friends? What do they say when you say a supernatural “god” just zapped things into existence one after the other at random over billions of years. What was the pattern of zapping? Is it predictable? Do your science friends seem skeptical when you explain PC? Do they question whether that is serious science? Do they ask about the nature of a god that would use PC—like, how you can say such a god is good, or competent? I’m glad I’m not trying to defend that position. The only thing progressive about Progressive Creation is the name. It’s just a return to the old deistic philosophy of the late 1700s early 1800. Darwin was a deist in his early years. In the first edition of his book he needed a god to zap the first living cell. But later on he regretted putting that in and he eventually became a full-blown atheist.