This post started as a simple list of observations that show that the earth is older than the 6000 years that young creationists hold to. I left radiometric dating for the end because I have seen some writings saying this data is wildly inaccurate. I have linked a site with an extensive page on radiometric dating, with a quote addressing the supposed inaccuracy. Read for your self. I also found a study by the Institute of Creation Research that, just like this post concerning Answers in Genesis, disturbed me.
Evidence for >6000 years old
This evidence is either common sense, or you have to conjure the idea that God created the world to look old.
Tree Rings: 12,000 year old trees have been found, the age determined from yearly growth rings
Varves: Lakes can form these deposits. They are composed of thin layers of clay and silt from a single summer and winter. They are of contrasting color and texture, and represent one year of deposits. Lakes actively forming varves can be found with 100,000 layers, and some ancient lakes have millions of layers preserved.
Ice Cores: Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica preserve the longest record of snow deposits. Greenland shows about 50,000 layers, while Antarctica shows about 740,000 layers.
Speleothems: cave growths (stalagmites & stalactites) form similar layers as that of tree rings. Some cave formations have over 200,000 layers.
Carbon-14 Dating: This method of dating organic material has been combined with tree ring and varves, confirming each dating method.
Supernova 1987a: Prior to 1987, this was a star approximately 168,000 light years away. On Feb 23, 1987, the star exploded and became a supernova. That is, 168,000 years ago it exploded and it took that long for the light to reach the Earth.
Radiometric Dating: Isotopes are radioactive elements that decay into a non-radioactive form of the element. This can happen quickly or slowly, depending on the element. Here is a good explanation of the science. It is long and technical and I found it convincing. Scientists have dated rocks at ~3.6 billion years using multiple methods.
As to inaccuracy:
Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly. The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages. Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice.
Extinct Radionuclides: Scientists have determined what isotopes would have formed in stars and supernovas. They have looked for these isotopes in nature and found the shorter lived isotopes missing, indicating the Earth is old enough for them to have decayed away.
Extinct Radionuclides Data Accepted by Young Earth Creationists
In doing some research on radionuclides, I found an article by Randy Isaac for the American Scientific Affiliation assessing studies made by the Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I found it very interesting because, rather than disputing the data on extinct radionuclides, the researchers affirmed it. The purpose of their project was to explain the evidence from a young earth perspective.
The program was called the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) Project, and it’s findings were published in 2005. Isaac summarizes the key points of the book as follows:
1. There is overwhelming evidence of more than 500 million years worth of radioactive decay.
2. Biblical interpretation and some scientific studies indicate a young earth.
3. Therefore, radioactive decay must have been accelerated by approximately a factor of one billion during the first three days of creation and during the Flood.
4. The concept of accelerated decay leads to two unresolved scientific problems, the heat problem and the radiation problem, though there is confidence that these will be solved in the future.
5. Therefore, the RATE project provides encouragement regarding the reliability of the Bible.
This study is billed as “groundbreaking results,” and it is considering that the ICR researchers concede that there is evidence for “more than 500 million years’ worth (at today’s rate) of nuclear and radioisotope decay.” Isaac notes that it is a “departure from previous creationist claims that radioactive decay is much less than reported.” In other words, the ICR researchers acknowledge to the amount of decay attested by mainstream science and validates the radiometric observations.
The ICR researchers reason that during the Flood, the rate of decay accelerated to accommodate a 6000 year old earth. The problem with this acceleration, the study admits, is the amount of heat generated—enough to evaporate the earth. It requires “a most unusual heat removal mechanism that is outside the known laws of thermodynamics.” I would qualify that as an understatement. A second problem is the radiation generated by this increase—one million times greater than today. How anyone (i.e. Noah et al.) survived this proposed year-long radioactive exposure is not known.
The young-earth advocate is therefore left with two positions. Either God created the earth with the appearance of age (thought by many to be inconsistent with the character of God) or else there are radical scientific laws yet to be discovered that would revolutionize science in the future. The authors acknowledge that no current scientific understanding is consistent with a young earth. Yet they are so confident that these problems will be resolved that they encourage a message that the reliability of the Bible has been confirmed.
I find it disturbing that these researchers, clinging so tightly to literal 24-hour days in Genesis, they propose radical and fundamental changes to physical laws that only last for about a year. With the other evidence for an older earth noted above, it seems absurd to cling to this fantastic theory rather than consider an erroneous interpretation of Genesis 1. This happened to Calvin and Luther, who clung to a geocentric solar system as supported by scripture. We now know they were wrong, so one is above error.
But to gloss over the major roadblocks to this theory and hail it in support of the Biblical authority is blind, deceptive and/or both. Isaac’s concludes his assessment this way:
The ASA does not take a position on issues when there is honest disagreement among Christians provided there is adherence to our statement of faith and to integrity in science. Accordingly, the ASA neither endorses nor opposes young-earth creationism which recognizes the possibility of a recent creation with appearance of age or which acknowledges the unresolved discrepancy between scientific data and a young-earth position. However, claims that scientific data affirm a young earth do not meet the criterion of integrity in science. Any portrayal of the RATE project as confirming scientific support for a young earth, contradicts the RATE project’s own admission of unresolved problems. The ASA can and does oppose such deception.