Friday, November 7, 2008

Rocks, Paper, Scissors? The facts about the Geologic Ages of the Earth

How many of you recall the old game of Rocks, Paper, Scissors? The first time I witnessed this was in a Sunday School Assembly when I was around nine years old. Two of the older guys were banging their knees three times and then laughing hysterically as the winner hit the loser quite fiercely on the wrist. My curiosity aroused, I wanted to learn how to play the game. Like most, I assumed that nothing could champion rock. Rock seemed powerful and solid, and I was disappointed to find that mere paper could trump it. I quickly realized that if paper could wrap rocks, scissors cut paper, and rocks smash scissors, the whole game went in a circle of futility.

There is another game in which many people assume that rocks are supreme. They are considered primary indices in the current idea that our Earth is billions of years old. Geologists and geochemists repeatedly point to rocks as indicators in a 175 year old guessing game called How old is Planet Earth?

To be sure, the two most common methods of long age dating used by modern science have to do with rocks: 1). Radiometric dating of rocks, and 2). Dating of fossils enclosed in sedimentary rocks by the Carbon-14 method. But is this dating absolute? And how and when did we begin to conceive of a universe vastly older than we had ever imagined before?

For eighteen centuries of church history, these were non-questions, as most people of the western world believed in an earth of roughly 6,000 years of age. Although the Bible does not specify an exact age of the earth, it is filled with chronological information, which if examined carefully, provides sufficient data to calculate its approximate age.

But with the scientific revolution of the seventeenth-century, man began to seek answers to the age of the earth outside of scripture. The discovery of rock strata was thought to possibly provide an alternative view. The science of stratigraphy, a branch of geology which studies layers of rocks, began with an eighteenth-century English surveyor named William Smith, who thought he observed rock distinctions in various coal mines he surveyed in Great Britain. Smith believed that each of these distinctions could be identified, by the fossils it contained. He reasoned that the fossils on the bottom layers, or strata, must have been deposited first and were thus older. He published his findings in a map, which showed various types of rocks and the fossils they contained.

Scottish geologist James Hutton added the concept of uniformitarianism to Smith's ideas. Uniformitarianism, critical to modern scientific notions of great geologic ages and "deep time," is the assumption that the natural processes of the past are the same as the present. This is in direct contrast to the biblical idea of catastrophism, which says that the earth was created by supernatural means and subsequently shaped by a massive catastrophe, the Noahic Flood, into its present condition.

A Scottish lawyer named Charles Lyell expounded on the principles of uniformitarianism in his 1833 work, Principles of Geology. He began dividing rock strata into named periods based upon certain fossils found therein. The strata were assigned dates because of the fossils they contained. Then, the fossils were hypothesized to fall within the age of the strata where they lay. In other words, the fossils were dated by the rocks and the rocks were dated by the fossils. Medieval logisticians would have called Lyell's arguments Circulus in Propando, Latin for "circle in a proof." This is circular reasoning, a classic example of faulty logic. Yet it was hailed as a triumph by geologists and remains uncorrected to this day.

Lyell's work also suggested that the earth might be several million years old. When Charles Darwin, a big fan of Lyell, published his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he assumed that for the slow change of evolution to work, the earth had to be much older than that. He needed the great ages of the earth to accommodate his new theory. By the 1870s the earth was dated at 20 million years, by the 1880s it was 60 million, by the 1890s, 100 million. Each regressive assumption of the earth's age caused the age of rock strata and the fossils they contained to be dated proportionately earlier.

With the advent of radiometric dating in the 20th century, geochemists believed they could date certain rocks in the billions of years, and thus, once and for all prove the age of the earth. This new idea was based upon known decay rates of the element uranium within certain rocks. These decay rates could be measured, they reasoned, to ascertain approximate ages for the rocks. Later, it was discovered that a similar method could be used for the element carbon, found in all plant and animal fossils, to determine the age of these as well.

How well do such dating methods work? It depends on who you're talking to. Science, of course, insists that they supply definitive answers to the mystery of the earth's age. But the truth is, there are a great many problems with radiometric dating methods, just as there are problems with postulates of great geologic ages. For the sake of space, let us focus on two.

1.) The major hypotheses do not correlate. The notions of fossils and strata ages were conceived almost a century before any radiometric dating was developed. Thus, such dating methods must be forced fit into the theories they propose to prove. Dates for any groups of fossils or strata are all over the board. For example, the lava dome at Mount St. Helens, which was created by the eruption of 1980, has been dated by radiometric methods at 2.8 million years. Modern human remains have been found in coal deposits dated at 18 million years. Because of such preposterous discrepancies, the vast majority of samples are invariably thrown out. Only those with dates that fit previous theories are accepted.

2.) Uniformitarianism is based upon unprovable assumptions. It suggests that the present conditions of the earth, atmospheric and otherwise, have remained constant from the beginning. There is simply no empirical way to prove this. It is illogical to suggest that the earth has been a closed system for its entire existence. Natural events, such as the eruption of a volcano, can so corrupt the atmosphere of the planet even for a short time, that they serve to invalidate the idea of uniformity. The over thrusting of continents and the uplifting of mountains, the advance and retreat of glaciation over time, single fossils found across strata lines, which are supposedly separated by millions of years, and layers in the geologic column which are found in reverse order (the more ancient on top of the more modern) from how they are supposed to be. All of these factors and many more, practically scream out the opposite view of uniformitarianism, which is the biblical view of catastrophism.

2 Peter 3:3-7 seems to anticipate modern science's denial of the obvious when it says: "there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, who say, Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation (uniformitarianism). For this they willfully forget, that by the word of God the heavens were of old and formed out of water and by water, through which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by that same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men."

God's word is clear that there was a global catastrophe in the form of a massive flood. There is a multitude of evidence outside of scripture which suggests the same thing. Fossil beds on every continent, intact animal skeletons bound in hardened sediment, coal deposits that would require a sudden covering of miles of vegetation, marine fossils found in virtually every mountain range of the earth, and almost three hundred stories of a such a flood from vastly different ancient societies all point to a cataclysmic event that should slice any idea of uniformity in two.

In addition to this, there are over three hundred natural chronometers which indicate a young earth. Again, for the sake of space, we shall focus on only two. The first involves moon dust. That's right, moon dust. It was long believed that the ultraviolet rays of the sun should have crumbled the rocks and surface area of the moon to dust at a certain rate. If calculated at over four billion years ( The approximate age of the moon according to science), there should have been a twenty to sixty foot layer of dust upon the moon. This was such a cause of concern to NASA that before the Apollo 11 landings, they sent an unmanned spacecraft to the moon. They were surprised to find that the surface dust comprised only two to three inches, which of course would indicate a relatively young moon. The earth and the moon are thought to be the same age.

Ocean sediment is another indicator of a young earth. The river systems of our planet dump silt into the oceans at a fixed, observable rate. We can easily calculate the amount of such silt added to the ocean floor on an annual basis from each river system. There are only a few thousand years worth of sediment resting on the ocean floor.

The vast majority of educated people in the world today, including many Christians, readily accept scientific speculation about the earth's age. But the real evidence for such an idea is slim. It isn't so much that we reject science, or disavow rocks (I actually like rocks), or insist blindly on the idea of a young earth. We simply prefer to accept God as our authority rather than man. The sedimentary layers of the earth are filled with the remains of dead animals called fossils. God tells us that death was introduced into the world due to the sinful actions of an initial human being called Adam, whose life fits into a chronological timescale that goes back approximately 6,000 years. There was no death before sin and no sin before Adam.

I believe in a young earth because this is what the Bible teaches, and I see nothing from man, or science, or rocks to tell me otherwise. Jesus Christ taught this same concept when He said in Mark 10:6 that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning, not after billions of years had gone by. In the end, He is the only Rock that truly matters.

Love in Christ,