Why most scientists believe the world is old1
Beliefs foster further beliefs
There is a little-known irony in the controversy between creationists and evolutionists about the age of the world. The majority of scientists— the evolutionists—rely on a minority of the relevant data. Yet a minority of scientists—the creationists—use the majority of the relevant data.2 Adding to the irony is the public’s wrong impression that it is the other way around. Therefore, many ask: “If the evidence is so strongly for a young earth, why do most scientists believe otherwise?” The answer is simple: Most scientists believe the earth is old because they believe most other scientists believe the earth is old!
Going round in circles
They trust in what’s called ‘circular reasoning’, not data. I once encountered such a clear example of this misplaced trust, that I made detailed notes immediately. It happened when I spoke with a young (in his early thirties, career-ambitious, and upwardly mobile) geochemist at Sandia National Laboratories, where I then worked as a physicist. I presented him with one piece of evidence for a young world, the rapid accumulation of sodium in the ocean. It was ideal, since much of geochemistry deals with chemicals in the ocean.
I wanted to see how he explained possible ways for sodium to get out of the sea fast enough to balance the rapid input of sodium to the sea. Creationist geologist Steve Austin and I wanted the information in order to complete a scientific paper on the topic.3 We went around and around the issue for an hour, but he finally admitted he knew of no way to remove sodium from the sea fast enough. That would mean the sea could not be billions of years old. Realizing that, he said, “Since we know from other sciences that the ocean is billions of years old, such a removal process must exist.”
I questioned whether we ‘know’ that at all and started to mention some of the other evidence for a young world. He interrupted me, agreeing that he probably didn’t know even one percent of such data, since the science journals he depended on had not pointed it out as being important. But he did not want to examine the evidence for himself, because, he said, “People I trust don’t accept creation!”
Faith, not science
I asked him which people he was relying upon. His answer was, “I trust Steven Jay Gould!” (At that time Gould, a paleontologist, was still alive and considered the world’s most prominent evolutionist.) Thus the geochemist revealed his main reason for thinking the earth is old: “people I trust” i.e., scientific authorities, had declared it. I was surprised that he didn’t see the logical inconsistency of his own position. He trusted Gould and other authorities but ignored highly relevant data!
Perhaps the geochemist thought it so unlikely the earth is young that he wasn’t going to waste time investigating the possibility himself. But if that were the case, then it shows another way the old-world myth perpetuates itself—by intellectual inertia.
I remember having similar attitudes when I was a grad student in physics, while I was still an evolutionist. I was wondering about a seeming inconsistency in biological evolutionism. But, I told myself, surely the experts know the answer, and I’ve got my dissertation research to do. I had no idea that (a) the experts had no answer for it, and (b) the implications were extremely important, affecting my entire worldview.
Before I became a Christian, I resisted evidence for a recent creation because of its spiritual implications. The geochemist might also be resisting such implications, and was merely using scientific authority as a convenient excuse.
The bottom line
Many scientists are not the independent seekers of truth the public imagines, so the public should not trust them blindly. For a variety of reasons, scientists depend on other scientists to be correct, even when they themselves have some reason for doubt. Unfortunately, as most creationist scientists can tell you, the young geochemist’s reaction is not at all exceptional. Many scientists, without serious questioning, trust the opinions of their own ‘experts’. However, I’m happy to report that others, when presented with creationist data, have become very interested and have investigated it. Many have become creationists that way, as I did.
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- First appeared in a CMI newsletter, December 2008. Return to text.
- Humphreys, D. R. Evidence for a young world, ICR Impact No. 384, June 2005. Archived at icr.org/article/1842. Return to text.
- Austin, S. A. and D. R. Humphreys, The sea’s missing salt: a dilemma for evolutionists, Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, Vol. II, Creation Science Fellowship (1990), Pittsburgh, pp. 17–33, order from http://creationicc.org. Archived at <http://tccsa.tc/articles/ocean_sodium.html>. See also a simplified article on this research—Salty seas: Evidence for a young earth. Return to text.