old earth

Evidences for an Old Earth

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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.

The Non-Literal Days of Genesis

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I decided to read Genesis this morning for my devotional and came upon a very good summary of the old earth/young earth argument. I have The Apologetics Study Bible, the Holman CSB version. This article is by Ted Cabal, and will just quote his summary paragraphs:

Young earth creationists (YCs) interpret the days as 24-hour, consecutive periods for reasons such as the following: (1) The days in Gn 1 are consecutively numbered and comprised of an “evening and morning.” (2) Exodus 20:8-11 commands a literal week of six days of work and one day of rest based on God’s original creation/rest week. The two weeks would seem, then, to be of equal duration. (3) According to Rm 5:12, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,” but old-earth creationism would have animal death entering the world before the sin of Adam and Eve.

Old earth creationists (OCs) argue against 24-hour creation days for reasons such as these: (1) The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) is used in different ways in the creation account. For instance, Gn 1:5 refers to yom only to daytime (daylight), not nighttime. Also, Gn 2:4, literally translated, speaks of “the yom that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (2) God’s rest on the seventh “day” has no evening and morning (Gn 2:2-3), and Heb 4:3-11 portrays this same Sabbath as continuing to the present time. (3) Adam could not have named all the birds and animals in 24 hours according to Gn 2.

YC (1): Consecutively numbering days does not imply 24-hours. I could easily consecutively name “ages.” The evening/morning example could be convincing, IF the Bible only used the word day to always mean 24-hours, which it doesn’t. The OC (1) argument clearly refutes the consistent literal 24-hour day interpretation. Since the Bible uses day flexibly, it cannot be proved, based on evening and morning, that these are 24-hours days.

YC (2): The literal days for us does not mean God’s days are literal. See OC (1) argument.

OC (2): This is a very telling argument. God did not end his seventh day, and Hebrews tells his rest, his seventh day, continues to this very day.

YC (3): did Adam die the day he ate the fruit? God said, “For on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” (Gn 2:17). Since Adam did not physically die, it seems clear to me that it can be understood God (who does not lie) was talking about spiritual death.

OC (3): Yep, how do you name all the animals in 24 hours – 12 hours, really, considering he would need daylight to see them.

I have also spent some time reading Genesis 1 and considered whether it is plausible for all the things of day 3 to happen in 24 hours. Dry land appears and all the vegetation coming forth. It does not seem logical to have all the vegetation of the earth grow differently than it grows currently, for it takes time for plants to grow and produce seeds and fruit, weeks for grasses and years for trees. And on day 5, God created the sea creatures and birds and told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters of the seas.

First, God did not fill the waters. He command the creatures to multiply, then fill. Certainly even a single generation of any animal takes longer than 24 hours. God could do it (as in, cause the reproduction of these animals to last only minutes), but why would He have the creatures live one way (quick reproduction) and then change that to the normal life times of today?

This, coupled with the ambiguity of “yom” used in Genesis, essentially ends the argument for me. I am convinced that the days are not literal, but I do want to read more of what the YCs have to say, particularly in AnswersinGenesis.com. Also, by believing an old earth, I do not believe I am undermining the Bible in any way whatsoever.

Comment on 09-Jan-12: Here is, apparently, an entire book putting Old Earth Creationism on Trial on the site AnswersInGenesis.org. Rather than just dismissing the argument as over, I will concede to read it to correctly assess the validity of the YC argument. I am, however, reading Signature in the Cell and so will not be able to read this book for a while.

A Holy Inquisition?

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It is amazing how sometimes completely unrelated books or topics collide and connect. I have been reading two books lately; one is Signature in the Cell about the Intelligent Design argument. This has also lead me to some tangential reading about the age of the universe. I have also been reading The Spanish Brothers, which is about two brothers that discover the gospel (Protestantism, that is) during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and essentially become heretics in the view of mother church.

There is, of course, a split between those that believe the days of creation described in Genesis are literal 24-hour and those that believe they are more like “ages.” I’m not trying to make an extended argument here, but I believe in an old earth. I have read about plenty of middle age scientists (Newton, Kepler, etc) who believed God gave us senses to discover our world, and we have discovered it is old. I plan to blog about my reasons later, but here is a scripture that has made me consider Genesis does not support the literal interpretation of Genesis.

Gen 2:4: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.”

How many days of creation? A literal six days or a literal one day? I have found that “day” here is the same hebrew word used in Genesis 1. The word for day, yom, is used in the Bible to refer to 12-hour, 24-hour or a longer period of time. Gen 2:4 demonstrates that there is enough ambiguity that the discusion is far from straightforward. (Here and here are more about the days of Genesis…)

What connected this topic to the Spanish Inquisition in my thoughts was the way people who believe in young earth tend to treat other Christians who do not believe in this literally. Perhaps old earthers do the same, I am not sure. This is only my impression. Answers in Genesis tells us that if we do not believe in literal days, we undermine the whole Bible. The attitude is that “if you do not believe in six literal days, you do not believe in the Bible.” Essentially, I get the impression they are implying you are a heretic.

(I get the same impression from “Full Gospel” churches, by the way. By calling their church “full,” they imply your are less if you do not agree with them and their interpretation of speaking in tongues as proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. People don’t say you are less, and there may be a measure of “let people believe what they want,” but in essence they treat others as heretics.)

There was a part in The Spanish Brothers where some relatives had found out about Carlos being a Lutheran heretic, and they treated him like he had the plague. He was considered far worse than any murderer. The motivation of the church is that it will have no disagreement, and you will suffer if you disagree. Who really wants to suffer, or in this case, argue? S0 we keep our mouths shut. And I have, at times, felt that pressure to just keep my mouth shut.

And so, one of my goals for 2012 is to get solid on my understanding of the Intelligent Design question. I also want to finally get solid on my thoughts and information on the young earth, old earth discussion. I don’t want to do this to be combative or divisive, but it is time for me to look critically at the facts, the reasons for argument, and to decide what I believe.