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Origins

Indicators of a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth,
with rebuttals based on creation science


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Overview:

The theory of evolution describes an earth that is about 4.5 billion years old. But many creation scientists interpret the Genesis account of creation as requiring an earth that is only 6,000 to 10,000 years of age. There are numerous indicators that the earth was in existence billions of years ago. However, these indicators all assume that various processes like the speed of light, nuclear decay, etc. happen today as they have in the past. Because no human before 4,000 BCE was able to observe, measure, and record these processes, it is impossible to prove that the earth is billions of years old to everyone's satisfaction. 

Some of the indicators of an old earth are presented below, with typical rebuttals as might be stated by a creation scientist. Most of the rebuttals take the position that God created the universe less than 10,000 years ago, but made everything from tree rings to dinosaur eggs; from mountains to fossils as if the universe had a multi-billion year history. Since the creative power of God is assumed by believers to be infinite, God could have engineered creation in just this manner -- perhaps with the intent of fooling future generations of scientists.


Age of the galaxy

There is one good indicator that our galaxy is very old:

  • Indicator: The sun is one of countless numbers of stars in our galaxy. The galaxy is over 100,000 light years across. This means that light from some stars in our galaxy has taken many tens of thousands of years to reach earth. This would indicate that our galaxy is much older than 10 millennia.

    Rebuttal: Believers in a young earth might argue that God created our galaxy less than 10,000 years ago, complete with light rays going in all directions from each star, in order that the galaxy would appear to be more ancient than it really is. That is, God created the universe as if it had a history at the time of creation. Also, the above indicator assumes that the speed of light has remained constant. There is no proof that this is true.

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Indicators that the earth is over 8,000 years old

There are three direct indicators that the earth's age is in excess of 8000 years:

  • Indicator: Some bristlecone pine trees in the White-Inyo mountain range of California date back beyond 2000 BCE. One, labeled "Methuselah" germinated in 2726 BCE. This ocurred centuries before the date that conservative Christians assign to the Noachian flood. But their tree rings have been matched with those of dead trees; this shows that the latter germinated about 6000 BCE, which predates the year 4004 BCE by 2 millennia.

    Rebuttal: When God created the pine trees which are now dead, he may have created them complete with tree rings as if they had been alive before they were created.

  • Indicator: In the Green River there are varves (millions of annual layers of sediment) laid down over the past 20 million years. 4

    Rebuttal: These varves may not represent annual layers of sediment; perhaps they are something like hourly layers caused by some unknown factor. Alternatively, when God created the river, he might have created it as if it had a multi-million year history of varves.

  • Indicator: During each springtime, tiny, one-celled algae bloom in Lake Suigetsu, Japan. They die and sink to the bottom of the lake. Here, they create a thin, white layer. During the rest of the year, dark clay sediments settle to the bottom. The result are alternating dark and light annual layers -- much like the annual growth rings on a tree. Scientists have counted about 45,000 layers; they have been accumulating since about 43,000 BCE. This is far beyond the estimates of 6 to 10 millennia made by many creation scientists.

    Rebuttal: Perhaps in the past, multiple layers were laid down each year, due to temperature fluctuations. Thus, 45,000 layers could have taken fewer than 10 millennia. 6

  • Indicator: Ice core samples have been taken in Greenland that show 40,000 annual layers of ice.

    Rebuttal: Again, these may not be annual layers of ice; perhaps they are seasonal layers. Or, God may have created the ice layers, so that they looked as if they had been formed over a very a long time.

Indicators that the earth is much older than 10,000 years of age

We have selected 14 indicators: 

  1. Indicator: The Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a method of measuring the length of time that surface rocks have been exposed to cosmic rays. Cosmic rays stream into the atmosphere from all directions in outer space and break neutrons free when they collide with air molecules. When these neutrons hit rocks on the ground, they sometimes react with a tiny number of mineral atoms which create radioactive isotopes. At sea level, a few hundred modified atoms are created each year in a gram of quartz which is near the surface of the ground. New measuring techniques can detect very small numbers of these atoms and thus estimate the number of years that the rocks have been exposed. Scientists have found ages of about 8,500 years for "recent" glacial moraines in Newfoundland and 830,000 years for extinct volcanoes in Nevada.

    Rebuttal: This indicator assumes that cosmic ray levels have remained constant over the past years, and that the degree of reaction between the cosmic rays and the quartz has also been constant. Perhaps these rates in the past have been much higher than at present; this would generate the observed level of modified atoms over a few thousand years.

  2. Indicator: The "nuclide" argument is one of the best proofs of an "old earth". Nuclides are forms of matter that are radioactive. Each nuclide decays into another form of matter at a certain rate. After an interval of time equal to its half-life, only half of the original material is left. Scientists have found that:
    • Every nuclide with a half-life over 80 million years can be found naturally occurring on earth.
    • All Nuclides with a half-life under 80 million years do not exist naturally at detectable levels.

    The only logical explanation for these observations is that the world formed billions of years ago. There are enough long-lived nuclides still around to be still detectable. The short-lived nuclides have long since decayed and disappeared. The only exceptions to the latter are short lived nuclides which are being continuously generated by the decay of long-lived nuclides.

    Rebuttal: As before, God might have decided to create the world so that it appeared to have a pre-creation history. Thus, he would have not included nuclides with short half-lives.

     

  3. Indicator: Because of tides, the rotation of the earth is gradually slowing, by about 1 second every 50,000 years. About 380 million years ago, each day would have about 20 hours long! There would have been about 398 days in the year. Studies of rings on rugose coral fossils that were independently estimated to be 370 million years old revealed that when they were alive, there were about 400 days in the year. This relationship has been confirmed with other coral fossils. This is rather good evidence that the world was in existence a third of a billion years ago. 1 More information.

    Rebuttal:
    The radiometric method used to predict the age of the coral fossils assumes that the speed of light has been constant over the life of the corals. The ring calculations would have assumed that the current rate by which the earth's rotation is decelerating is the same as it has been in the past. The agreement of the two age calculations may thus be coincidental and without significance. Both calculations may be equally flawed.

  4. Indicator: The thickness of the coral reef at Eniwetok atoll in the Pacific Ocean has been measured at up to 1,380 meters. Even the most optimistic coral growth rates would require that the atoll be over 130,000 years of age.

    Rebuttal: The temperature, oxygen content of the atmosphere, etc. in ancient times may have been much higher than they are at present. These factors could have caused much faster coral growth in the past. The estimate is without significance.

  5. Indicator: It takes thousands of years of below-freezing temperatures to build a 100 foot layer of permafrost. But large areas in the north are permanently frozen to depths of almost one mile! This took many tens of millennia to accomplish.

    Rebuttal: This calculation assumes that the freezing point of water has remained constant over the past thousands of years. There is no proof that this has happened.

  6. Indicator: Radiocarbon dating of wood, using accelerator mass spectrometry, is accurate as far back as 50,000 years. The method has identified many wooden and textile objects to be many tens of thousands of years old.

    Rebuttal: Radiocarbon dating assumes that the speed of light is constant. There is no proof that this is true.

  7. Indicator: Reversals of the earth's magnetic pole are recorded in the Atlantic Ocean sea bottom for the past 80 million years.

    Rebuttal: This calculation assumes that the Atlantic Ocean is increasing in width at a constant rate. Under the influence of the Noachian flood, the rate of increase may have been much higher in the past than it is at present. This would greatly influence the accuracy of the above calculation.

  8. Indicator: The rate at which the continents are spreading apart from each other indicates that the Atlantic Ocean is about 200 million years old.

    Rebuttal: Same as for Indicator 7.

  9. Indicator: Accelerator mass spectrometry measures particles of high atomic mass. Surface rocks have had their ages measured up to 10 million years old by detecting their level of Beryllium-10 and aluminum-26 isotopes. 2 Other elements like Potassium and Argon are used for older rocks. Radioactive dating of some earth rocks gives an age of almost 4,000 million years. Some moon rocks and meteorites from outer space give dates in excess of 4,000 million years.

    Rebuttal: All of these calculations assume that the decay constant (the fraction of the radioactive atoms in a sample which disintegrates per unit of time) is constant. This, in turn, assumes that the speed of light has remained constant. There is no proof that these assumptions are true.

  10. Indicator: If we assumed that all of the minerals which are carried by rivers into the oceans remains trapped in the oceans, then it would take 260 million years for the concentration of sodium to reach its present level. If plankton, fish or other plants adsorb sodium, then it would take much longer. We can conclude that the age of the earth is something greater than a quarter billion years, and is in all probability much longer.

    Rebuttal: This indicator assumes that all of the sodium entered the oceans via rivers. When the "fountains of the great deep," mentioned in Genesis 7:11 and Genesis 8:2, were opened, water rushed to the surface from deep under the earth. This water may well have brought a high concentration of sodium with it.

  11. Indicator: Measurements by sensors attached to satellites shows that space dust accumulates on the moon at the rate of about 2 nanograms per square centimeter per year. (A nanogram is one thousandth of a million of a gram.) This rate would require 4.5 billion years to reach a depth of 1.5 inches, which is approximately the depth experienced by the astronauts who walked on the moon. This agrees rather well with radioactive dating of moon rocks.

    Rebuttal: There is absolutely no indication that the rate at which space dust is deposited on the moon is constant. The solar system may have passed through a region of the universe where the amount of space dust was millions of times higher that it is at the present. The measured age of the moon rocks may well have a massive error.

  12. Indicator: Estimates for the length of time for the galaxies to have spread apart to their present spacing are in excess of 10,000 million years.

    Rebuttal: Many astronomers base their age calculations on the Hubble constant (H0). This "constant" describes how fast the universe is expanding. By extrapolating backwards, scientists can estimate when the universe was concentrated into a single point, at the time of the "Big Bang".  But this assumes that the entire universe did actually originate in one location in the form of a Big Bang. God could just as easily created the galaxies, say 8,000 years ago. He might have separated them across vast stretches of space and set them moving away from each other.

    What astronomers have done is to observe the present location, velocity and acceleration of many galaxies, and assume that the entire universe has existed long enough so that one can extrapolate backwards in time to the time of the big bang. The result is an estimate of the age of the universe at between 10,000 and 16,000 million years. There is faulty logic here. First they assume an old universe, then calculate its age, and find that it is old. They have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  13. Indicator: Evolutionary principles applied to geology indicate that about 100 million years ago, the ancient super continent of Pangea was beginning to split apart so that land that would become South America and Africa  drifted apart. At first, the drift caused some shallow seas and a few land bridges. Later, the Atlantic Ocean opened up and became gradually wider until it became the ocean that we see today. This theory would have a logical consequence in the evolution of dinosaurs. Before this split in land mass took place, dinosaurs would have evolved into a variety of species which were found throughout Pangea. Since 100 million years ago, when the land bridges disappeared and the seas became too deep to cross, the dinosaurs would have evolved differently in Africa and South America, due to their isolation from each other. This is precisely what has been observed in the fossil record.

    Rebuttal: The tremendous stresses on the earth's crust which happened during the world-wide flood of Noah may have caused the Atlantic Ocean to have widened from nothing into its present width over a period of a few years circa 2350 BCE, not tens of millions of years as estimated by some scientists. At the time that the split began, there may simply have been different species of dinosaurs created by God, who found the climate and food supply better suited to their needs on either side of the embryo Atlantic Ocean. Over a period of a few years they might have found themselves isolated from each other. Neither the old world nor the new world dinosaurs evolved into new species. The belief in evolution of the species is simply a mistake in interpreting the fossil record. All of the species of land animals, with the exception of humans, were created in a single day.

  14. Indicator: The human genome project has mapped all of our genes. Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics has written:
    "The genome reveals, indisputably and beyond any serious doubt, that Darwin was right -- mankind evolved over a long period of time from primitive animal ancestors...The core recipe of humanity carries clumps of genes that show we are descended from bacteria. There is no other way to explain the jerry-rigged nature of the genes that control key aspects of our development...The theory of evolution is the only way to explain the arrangement of the 30,000 genes and three billion letters that constitute our genetic code...The message our genes send is that Charles Darwin was right."
    Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said that if you look at our genome it is clear that "evolution...must make new genes from old parts." Since evolution of the species must have taken billions of years to evolve from bacteria to humans, the earth must be very old.

    Rebuttal: That is an invalid conclusion. When God created humanity a few thousand years ago, he could have decided to re-use building blocks that he had already formed in order to create bacteria, mold, etc.

Summary:

  • Old earth proofs: Most scientists accept these indicators, and many more like them, as proof of an old earth and universe. However, those scientists are forced to make a basic assumption: that naturally occurring processes and fundamental constants in the past behaved in the same way as they do today. For example:
    • The speed of light has remained more or less constant.
    • The number of cosmic rays hitting the earth has not changed much over time.
    • Space dust has accumulated at about the same rate over many thousands of years
    • The rate of growth of coral is similar in the past to what it is today.
    • Etc.

    Even if you assume that coral growth was once 10 times faster than today, the atoll is still over 13,000 years old. If you assume that the cosmic ray rate was once 80 times the current level, the hills in Nevada are still over 10,000 years old. If you assumed that space dust accumulated 1,000 times faster in the past, then the moon would still be 5 million years old.

Any one of these examples indicates that the earth is probably much older than 10,000 years old,  Taken together, they are even more convincing.

Some of the examples can have reduced accuracy caused by sample contamination. For example, nuclide tests assume that no "parent" or "daughter" isotopes migrated in or out of the sample. Fortunately, these errors can been eliminated by testing of multiple samples from a variety of locations.

  • Rebuttal of old-earth proofs: The main weaknesses of the old earth indicators is that they all make assumptions about the uniform nature of certain fundamental factors: the speed of light, mass of the electron, gravitational constant, decay rates of radioactive substances, etc. These various parameters do seem constant today. However, there is no proof, acceptable to young earth creationists, that these factors have remained constant over long periods of time in the past. If one assumes that new-earth creationists' interpretation of the Bible's creation stories is correct, and that the earth and the rest of the universe was created between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago, then one can estimate roughly how these "constants" have varied over the past millennia.

A related essay on this web site:


References:

  1. Bill Chaisson, "Coral Astronomy" at the end of: http://www.earth.rochester.edu/ees207/oct28.html
  2. "Dating," Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, at: http://www.gns.cri.nz/atom/dating/
  3. "Dating rocks by means of radioactive minerals," at: http://gretchen.geo.rpi.edu/roecker/GeoII/articles/
  4. R.J. Schadewald, "Six flood arguments creationists can't answer," at: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/6flood.htm
  5. Robert Schadewald, "Six 'Flood' arguments Creationists can't answer." Creation/Evolution 9: 12-17. Quoted in Mark Isaak, "Problems with a Global Flood," at: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/
  6. H. Kitagawa and J. van der Plicht, "Atmospheric Radiocarbon Calibration to 45,000 yr B.P.: Late Glacial Fluctuations and Cosmogenic Isotope Production," Science 279:1187-1190, 20 1998-FEB-20.
  7. Arthur Caplan, "Darwin vindicated: Cracking of human genome confirms theory of evolution," at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/534127.asp?cp1=1 

Copyright © 1997 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2008-AUG-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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