The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Bozeman Creation Conference — Radiometric Dating

AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE

This is the third in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.

1. Bozeman creation conference preview and expectations

2. Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.

3. This article – What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating

4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.

The second presentation at the April 2016 Bozeman young-Earth creation conference was “What You Haven’t Been Told About Radioisotope Dating” by Dr. Jake Hebert of the Institute for Creation Research. I could write a rather lengthy article in response, but I will try to keep things brief. I will start my review by quoting Dr. Hebert’s closing declaration:

“No Christian should be intimidated by radiometric dating.”

This is a true statement. All truth is God’s truth, including the truths revealed in the creation. If radiometric dating works—and I believe it reveals accurate dates most of the time—Christians should not be intimidated. Geologists have known for a long time that the isotope geochemistry of Earth is complex, and that radiometric dating does not always return what is considered to be a geologically-valid result, but there is no reason for old-Earth Christians to be intimidated by discrepant dates. It turns out that “wrong” radiometric dates are often helpful, and provide additional insights into geologic history.

Before going into Dr. Hebert’s arguments, it is important to emphasize that geologists do not believe that our planet is many millions of year old because of radiometric dating. Young-Earth creationists regularly attack radiometric dating techniques, thinking that if they discredit these methods they will undermine the idea of an ancient Earth, but this is not the case. Most scientists who investigated Earth history in the late 1700s and early 1800s came to the conclusion that Earth must be far older than just a few thousand years. This was long before the discovery of radioactivity in the 1890s or the development of radiometric dating techniques in the 1900s. Most of these early geologists were Christians of one sort or another, and a number of them were quite orthodox in their theology. These early geologists—along with modern geologists—observed a rock record that tells a story. That story includes chapters that speak of processes that require lengthy periods of time, such as the cooling and crystallization of magma to form igneous rocks, weathering of rocks to produce ancient soils (paleosols) and unconformities; growth of fossil reef organisms (as well as other complete fossilized ecosystems), and transformation of rocks by metamorphic processes. Volcanoes are complex features representing numerous eruptions, coral reefs do not grow in just a few days (especially in muddy floodwaters), and many metamorphic processes involve the extremely slow diffusion of ions through solid crystalline structures. Geologists assemble the details of Earth history by the application of principles that are rooted in Christian thought: the universe is real and not an illusion, the universe is understandable, and the universe is governed by laws. Without the various radiometric dating methods, geologists would still believe Earth is ancient. What radiometric dating does is give geologists discrete ages to assign to many events in Earth’s long history, something that would be impossible to do using other techniques.

A SHORT REPLY TO DR. HEBERT’S ARGUMENTS

For those of you who do not want to wade through this entire article, here’s a summary:

  • YECs like to point to instances where radiometric dating doesn’t work. Geologists know that radiometric dating sometimes gives unexpected or conflicting results, so this is nothing new. What YECs don’t tell you is that radiometric dating usually does work, and that it usually gives results that are consistent with standard geological interpretations of Earth history.
  • Non-radioisotopic YEC arguments for a young Earth, such as erosion rates, sedimentation rates, or the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, are generally based on distortions or misapplications of the principle of uniformitarianism. Why use processes that have variable rates rather than a process (radioactivity) that has been observed to occur at a highly regular rate? In addition, most of YECs arguments for the age of the Earth still yield dates that are in millions of years, not just a few thousands of years.
  • The results of the largest YEC investigation into radiometric dating—the RATE project (for Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth)—actually confirm that radiometric dating is built on a firm scientific foundation. The YECs still like to point to oddities such as carbon-14 in coal (which is explainable in an old-Earth framework), but overall they acknowledge that a vast amount of radioactive decay has occurred in Earth history, that radiometric dates are usually consistent with standard interpretations of Earth history, and that geoscientists have valid means of determining whether or not parent or daughter isotopes have been added or removed from samples. The only thing left to YECs, in many cases, is the idea that the rate of radioactive decay was greatly accelerated at one or more times in Earth’s history, such as during Noah’s flood. There are a number of problems with this hypothesis, such as the amount of heat that would have been released by this million-fold increase in decay.

A LONGER ANALYSIS OF DR. HEBERT’S ARGUMENTS

Dr. Hebert had four main “reasons to be confident that radiometric dating does not prove millions of years.”

Radiometric dating contradicts common sense

Dr. Hebert mentioned a few commonly-used YEC examples of radiometric dates which do not conform to reasonable old-Earth interpretations. One of these was the study done in the 1990s by Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research, in which ICR submitted samples from the 1986 dacite lava dome eruption of Mt. St. Helens to a laboratory for potassium-argon dating. The resultant dates for mineral and whole-rock samples ranged from 0.34 to 2.8 million years old, even though the dacite was a product of an eruption that occurred in 1986. The YEC reasoning on this is that if radiometric dating cannot yield a “common sense” date on a sample of known age, how can scientists trust it for dating any rocks?

There are several good critiques available of this YEC argument about the 1986 Mt St Helens samples (such as this article by Kevin Henke) , so I will only summarize:

  • This experiment by ICR was set up to fail from the beginning. K-Ar dating is not expected to work on samples that formed only a few years ago. The half-life of potassium-40 is 1.25 billion years. The amount of radiogenic argon-40 produced from potassium-40 in only a few years is miniscule, and so in general, standard K-Ar dating is not recommended for samples believed to be less than 2 million years old, as there is a risk of contamination from residual argon from previous samples. This problem in itself is sufficient to lead one to be skeptical of this YEC claim.
  • Additional problems abound, such as the presence of xenocrysts (crystals that appear to be derived from the walls of the magma chamber or other sub-volcanic conduits rather than crystallizing from the magma itself), zoned crystals (which indicate that mineral grains crystallized in stages in the magma chamber), and presence of volcanic glass in the samples (which would have trapped much of any argon-40 that was dissolved in the magma).

Radiometric dating ages disagree with ages determined by other methods

Dr. Hebert stated that most other means of determining the age of the Earth, such as the rates of accumulation of various salts in Earth’s oceans and the decay of the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, give ages much younger than billions of years.

There are several obvious problems with this argument:

  • Why would one think that processes with highly variable rates, such as erosion of continents or addition of various salts to seawater, would be more reliable geochronometers than a process with known rates, such as radiometric dating (I will address the issue of constant decay rates later)?
  • Dr. Hebert used a distorted definition of uniformitarianism in his presentation. I know of no modern geologists who would say that either erosion or sedimentation occurs at a constant rate. This goes for a large number of geological processes.
  • Many have critiqued YEC seawater arguments. I have written about seawater as well: Aluminum and the 100-year old oceans and The YEC “salty seawater” argument — not worth a grain of salt. There is also no clear evidence that I know of that the oceans are becoming more saline over time.
  • The old YEC argument about Earth’s “decaying” magnetic field has no merit. YECs will point to the decreasing strength of Earth’s magnetic field over the past few hundred years and claim that if this trend were extrapolated back tens of thousands of years, the magnetic field would be so strong that Earth would be uninhabitable. But they have no compelling reason (other than their YEC beliefs) to plot their magnetic field strength points on an exponential decay curve. Given the fact that we know that the polarity of Earth’s magnetic field is highly variable, it is also likely that the strength of Earth’s magnetic field is also variable, and that what we have seen over the past few centuries is just variations of a cycle. We cannot go back in time and directly measure the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, but proxies (substitutes) which are measurable indicate that the intensity of the field varies rather than decays over time (see Earth’s Magnetic Field Strength – Past 800,000 Years).

I cannot think of a single geological process that unambiguously points to an Earth that is only 6000 years old. I also cannot think of a single geological process that is inconsistent with an Earth that is many millions of years old.

Radiometric ages disagree with other radiometric ages

This is the “problem” of discordant ages. Dr. Hebert emphasized two examples of discordancy: helium diffusion from zircon and radiocarbon dating of materials believed to be millions of years old.

Helium leakage from zircon

ICR’s Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth (RATE) program studied zircon mineral grains from a geothermal well in New Mexico. The rocks have been dated at around 1.5 billion years, while the RATE team determined a helium diffusion (outgassing) age of only 6,000 years. A good critique of the RATE helium diffusion dates is given at Helium Diffusion in Zircon: Flaws in a Young-Earth Argument, Part 1 (of 2). To summarize, the YEC team used the present high rate of heat flow in this geothermal field and applied this to the entire thermal history of the area, rather than a thermal history model that takes into account the fact that these rocks have been much cooler for most of their history. Warm mineral grains lose helium much more rapidly than cool grains do. This is another example of YECs using a distorted version of uniformitarianism (by extending the present blindly into the past) as the foundation for their young-Earth arguments. In addition, the RATE team used an overly-simple model for helium diffusion from zircons rather than a more realistic model that takes into account defects in the crystal structure. All of this biased the results in favor of a younger Earth.

Radiocarbon

Dr. Hebert stated that radiocarbon dating assumes the same ratio of carbon-14 (radiocarbon) in the atmosphere for thousands of years. I was really surprised that he said this; perhaps my notes are wrong. Geochronologists have known for a number of years that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere is somewhat variable, so radiocarbon dates are calibrated based on radiocarbon dates from archeological or biological samples (such as tree rings) of known age.

Dr. Hebert stated that there should be no carbon-14 in samples over 100,000 years old. He then stated that carbon-14 has been found in coal, dinosaur bones, diamonds, and petroleum, all of which are believed to be millions of years old. It is true that any traces of original carbon-14 in a sample should be gone after 100,000 years. But there are a number of perfectly reasonable ways for more recently-formed carbon-14 to be present in ancient deposits. One is by groundwater contamination, which brings atmospheric carbon-14 into underground systems. This would be particularly effective at bringing carbon-14 into coal. Another mechanism is naturally-induced nuclear reactions, in which neutrons (mostly from uranium and thorium) react with nitrogen-14 already in the samples to produce carbon-14. But the most likely source for carbon-14 in these samples is laboratory contamination. Most of the carbon-14 detected in YEC experiments has been at levels that push the limits of detection. It is impossible to completely clear mass spectrometers and other laboratory equipment of residues from previous analyses, and so chances are, virtually any sample analyzed will register at least some miniscule trace of carbon-14 whether or not there was any actual carbon-14 in the sample.

Radiometric Dating Assumptions

Dr. Hebert listed three conditions (he called them assumptions) that must be true in order for radiometric dating to work:

  • No starting daughter isotope present.
  • Neither parent nor daughter isotope can be added or taken away.
  • Decay rate must be constant.

The first of these is true for some radiometric techniques, but not for all. In many cases, we know that there was some of the daughter isotope present in the sample when it formed. This is not a problem for either isochron dating (commonly used with Rb-Sr dating) or U-Th-Pb dating, which uses concordia diagrams. In both of these cases, the mathematics of the technique reveals the amount of daughter element that was present when the sample formed. If you disagree, then your problem is with math, not with geology.

The second condition must be fulfilled in order to determine an accurate radiometric date. Geochronologists will generally avoid samples that have obviously been altered since formation, as these are likely to have experienced gain or loss of either the parent or daughter nuclide. Instead, they know that it is best to analyze samples that appear fresh, unaltered, and unweathered. For isochron techniques, the graphs produced by the analyses will usually reveal whether any parent or daughter elements have been added or removed. Hyperphysics gives a good summary of isochron dating techniques.

The third condition—constant decay rates—must also be true in order for radiometric dating to work. YECs have spent much effort trying to demonstrate that radioactive decay has greatly accelerated in the past, and have thus far been unsuccessful. They also tend to dismiss the critique that their million-fold increase in radioactive decay during Noah’s flood would have irradiated all life on Earth, including everything on Noah’s Ark, and would have released enough heat to vaporize Earth’s oceans, and then some.

Other discordant dates, such as where K-Ar dates do not agree with Rb-Sr dates, are not uncommon in geological research, but they are also the exception in radiometric dating rather than the rule. When discordant dates do occur, geologists actually often get excited, as this may mean that more information can be learned about the history of a sample than just how old it is. For instance, when an igneous rock forms from magma, both the K-Ar and Rb-Sr clocks are set to zero. If the rock is re-heated (but not melted) millions of years later, such as by contact metamorphism, the Rb-Sr clock may keep on running, but argon may be driven out of the rock, resetting the K-Ar clock. This will result in two discordant, but highly useful, dates: one (Rb-Sr) for the initial rock crystallization, and one (K-
Ar) for the subsequent heating event. The scientist just has to be smarter than the rocks.

Evolutionists don’t trust radiometric dates either

The YEC criticism here is that geologists will throw out radiometric dates that do not meet their preconceived notions about how old a rock is. Dr. Hebert gave several examples of this. My response is that it is valid to weigh or prioritize various contradictory evidences, rather than throwing out what you know from a long list of reasons just because of one discrepant result. If geoscientists consistently got inconsistent results from radiometric dating, they would never use it. But radiometric dating usually gives results that are consistent with the order of events in Earth history that geologists have reconstructed over the past 200 years. Precambrian rocks usually have Precambrian radiometric dates, Paleozoic rocks usually have Paleozoic radiometric dates, and Pleistocene materials usually have Pleistocene radiometric dates. When “goofy” results come back from the radioisotope lab, geologists do not just throw up their arms and give up on the techniques. Nor do they throw out the geologic history of an area that is based on multiple investigations. Sometimes the discrepant result will lead to a better understanding of geologic history. At other times the discrepant result will remain a mystery, perhaps to be solved by the next generation of geoscientists. That is how science often works in a complex world.

FURTHER THOUGHTS

Dr. Hebert entitled his presentation “What You Haven’t Been Told About Radiometric Dating.” What his audience needed to hear, however, was a talk entitled “What YECs Haven’t Told You About Radiometric Dating.” What Dr. Hebert did not tell his audience was that the findings of the RATE study were an implicit admission that radiometric dating works most of the time. The RATE team determined that

  • A tremendous amount of radioactive decay has occurred in rocks during Earth history.
  • The first two assumptions of radiometric dating are usually satisfied in geologic settings, and that it is often possible to recognize when this is not the case.
  • Most radiometric dates are consistent with the order of events that both YEC scientists and old-Earth geologists agree on. Radiometric dates of Precambrian rocks are usually older than radiometric dates of Paleozoic rocks, which are usually older than radiometric dates of Mesozoic rocks, which are usually older than radiometric dates of Cenozoic rocks. Despite YECs continuing to point to discordant or discrepant dates, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

RATE is an admission that radiometric dating works. The only thing left for YECs to cling to is accelerated nuclear decay. And their only remaining argument for the actual occurrence of accelerated nuclear decay in Earth history is that it is the only way for them to compress the clear evidence for past nuclear decay into their young-Earth timespan.

Radiometric dating is based on chemistry and physics, not evolution, naturalism, or even belief in an old Earth. There are no reasons for Christians to be intimidated by radiometric dating.

Grace and Peace

————————————————

Notes

I interacted a little bit with Dr. Hebert between sessions. He is a bright, articulate individual, and was respectful of me as an old-Earth Christian.

My analysis is based on handwritten notes I took during the meetings. There is always the chance that I mis-heard or misunderstood the speaker, or mis-wrote my notes. If this is the case, I apologize in advance to the speakers.

For a much more thorough presentation of radiometric dating, see Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective, by Roger Wiens.

Dr. Hebert usually used the term “radioisotope dating” rather than “radiometric dating.” They are synonymous terms.

YECs are very hesitant to state that “All truth is God’s truth.” This YEC denial that all truth is God’s truth, whether revealed in Scripture or in the creation, is a denial that creation is real rather than an illusion, and has much in common with both Gnosticism and postmodernism.

Dacite (e.g. from Mt. St. Helens) is a volcanic rock intermediate in composition between rhyolite and andesite.

Dr. Hebert illustrated the conditions necessary for radiometric dating to work by describing someone peeling potatoes. If you walked in on someone peeling potatoes, could you determine how long ago they started peeling potatoes based on the amount of potatoes peeled and the rate at which they were presently being peeled?

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creationism, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 3 Comments

Bozeman creation conference – Does Genesis Really Matter?

AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE

This is the second in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.

1. Bozeman creation conference preview and expectations

2. This article – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.

3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.

4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.

As I was paging through the brochure for this year’s young-Earth creationism conference—there is a large YEC conference like this in Bozeman every other year—I was struck once again by the educational background of the main speakers, all of whom will speak on geological issues:

  • An M.S. in Biotechnology
  • A PhD in Physics
  • An M.S. in Atmospheric Science.

Where is the geologist?

If I used this question as an argument against a point they were making, I would be making an ad hominem argument, and I will avoid that. I certainly wander outside of my areas of expertise from time to time (I will write about Hebrew grammar in a bit). But it is certainly interesting that so few Christian geologists are convinced by young-Earth arguments.

Talk #1 – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Brian Thomas, Institute for Creation Research

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of The GeoChristian that I found things to agree with in Mr. Thomas’s presentation. Genesis lays a foundation for a number of doctrines that run throughout the Bible, such as sin, redemption, and marriage. These doctrines have their beginnings in the book of beginnings, find their highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and are fully realized in Christ in the closing chapters of Revelation. As I have said in my Creation Creeds, I believe in a real Adam, in a real garden, committing a real sin, with real consequences.

So, yes, Genesis matters. What Mr. Thomas failed to demonstrate is that accepting a young Earth is necessary in order for Genesis to matter.

Mr. Thomas began by pointing to the decline of Christianity in our culture. Despite our many churches and institutions, the nation is become less Christian over time. Two-thirds of our Christian youth leave the church when they become adults (I would say that part of the problem is YEC). He then set up a choice: are we going to listen to God’s Word, or man’s word? Of course, I believe we should listen to God’s Word, but I am not convinced that YEC is the best way to understand God’s Word, and that a false dichotomy was once again set up: we have to choose between YEC and old-Earth evolutionism. To his credit, Thomas did say that one does not have to be a YEC in order to be a Christian. I hope that sunk in with the audience.

Mr. Thomas went on to attempt to poke holes in various old-Earth interpretations of Genesis 1, such as the gap interpretation and day-age interpretation. Some of his points were valid, but not all. I will pick two of his anti-old-Earth arguments

Mr. Thomas (who acknowledged he doesn’t read Hebrew) said that both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3 begin with a waw disjunctive, which is a Hebrew grammatical construction that carries the story along, and is often translated in English as “and.”

2 and the earth was without form and void…

3 and God said, “Let there be light.”

I will start by being nitpicky (though I don’t read Hebrew either): verse 2 starts with a waw disjunctive, but verse 3 starts with a waw consecutive, and some have said this distinction is quite important in understanding the relationships between these verses. In any case, Thomas’s point was that this story all flows as one event after another, a point that not all Hebrew scholars agree with. But even if the story were connected by one waw disjunctive after another, that would not require events follow one another immediately. In English, I could say, “My ancestors emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, and my grandparents moved to Montana, and I was born in Billings, and I went to college in Bozeman.” The word “and” would be the waw disjunctive, and nothing in this sentence requires that the events must have occurred immediately one after the other; only that they occurred, probably in the order stated. In reality, these events in my family history were spread out over a century.

Mr. Thomas then stated that any time “day” is associated with a number in the Old Testament, the day is an ordinary 24-hour day. I have heard that this is a YEC rule of grammar, not necessarily a fixed Hebrew rule of grammar. Genesis 1 has a rather unique layout in Hebrew literature, and YECs do not always take this into account when reading the chapter. From many YEC presentations, there are only two Old Testament genres: historical narrative and poetry. In this, the YECs greatly oversimplify the issue. What is the genre, or type, of literature is Genesis 1? It is a narrative, but it is not a “historical narrative” such as what is found in much of the rest of Genesis. There are no true parallels of the structure of Genesis 1 in the Old Testament; indeed in all of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Yes, the days are numbered. But certainly some of these days are unlike any other: days with unique creation events, days without the sun, days that suggest lengthy processes. These distinctives must be taken into account. In any case, the Hebrew word yom (day) is used in a non-24-hour-day way elsewhere in the passage, such as 1:5 and 2:4. There are a number of other reasons to question that these were literal days, as developed in the analogical days interpretation.

Does accepting an old Earth undermine any Biblical doctrines? Mr Thomas, like many YECs, said that if there was death before sin, the gospel is undermined. I would say that this YEC statement is not firmly based in Scripture. There is no passage in Scripture that ties animal death to Adam’s sin. Neither Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, or 1 Corinthians 15—the passages that discuss Adam’s sin—say anything whatsoever about animal death. If the Scriptures don’t tie animal death to Adam’s sin, we should not insist that there is a connection.

Mr. Thomas touched on some scientific issues in his presentation. I will address only one: the geologic time scale. He stated that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning: fossils date the rocks and rocks date the fossils. This is a common YEC argument, and it is wrong.

The geologic time scale (or geologic column) is a product of inductive reasoning, not circular reasoning. Geologists have observed that, based on fossils, rock layers always occur in a certain order, which geologists have labeled as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. The layers always occur in this same order in undeformed (not folded or faulted) rocks. It is never Jurassic-Ordovician-Permian-Cambrian or some other order. Never. There are even some sedimentary basins, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, that contain rock layers of every Period from Cambrian through Quaternary, in proper order. Even in areas subjected to severe folding and faulting, this “law of fossil succession” holds true once the deformation is unraveled. There is no circular reasoning here.

I could say much more, and I have spent more time on our differences than on our common ground. But as old-Earth and young-Earth Christians, our common ground is much greater, and much more important.

  • The universe was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible.
  • The universe belongs to God and displays his glory.
  • Humans are created in the image of God and therefore have great worth.
  • Humans are place in a position of responsibility over the Earth, and yet are embedded in Earth’s ecology.
  • Humans are sinful, which has broken our relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
  • Jesus Christ is the savior, the redeemer, and the king over the creation.

Grace and Peace

 

 

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Creationism, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Duane Gish of ICR dies at age 92

Dr. Duane Gish was one of the most prominent young-Earth creationists back in the 1970s and 1980s, especially popular among YECs for his tenacity in debates. According to the Institute for Creation Research (where Dr. Gish was vice president under Henry Morris) and Answers in Genesis, he died yesterday, March 5, 2013.

Gish was also an author, being the writer of  Evolution: The Fossils Say No! and other popular-level books.

I heard Duane Gish in one of his famous debates at Washington State University back in 1987, where he debated WSU anthropology professor Dr. Grover Krantz (who was best known as an advocate of the existence of Sasquatch). Gish’s debate style was a quick-talking overload of facts, taking the time he had to pile on evidence against evolution and an old Earth from a wide diversity of fields—biochemistry (Gish’s PhD field), paleontology, geology, meteorology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, anthropology, archeology, and more. Most debaters were not equipped to answer such an array of “evidence,” and thus Gish could always find something his opponent had no answer for. Some of his arguments were sound; many were not (he was big on the moon dust and 2nd law of thermodynamics arguments—at least back when he was prominent—which have since been abandoned by mainstream creationists).

On the afternoon before the Gish-Krantz debate, Dr. Gish was invited to speak to the WSU Geology Department graduate seminar. I remember being apprehensive, as I was concerned that he would say things that would further harden hearts against Christianity. I was actually pleasantly surprised; he stayed on safer (and stronger for him) subjects such as the origin of life and the gaps in the fossil record at higher taxonomic levels. He did not talk about flood geology or the age of the Earth, and when asked about these things in the Q&A time, he simply stated that he had his own beliefs on these, but many Christians differed on the matter. In discussions after the debate, I remember one of the geology PhD candidates saying that if that were all that creationists were after, he would not have been opposed to teaching it in public schools. If only Dr. Gish had been more consistent in voicing this view, and if more YEC leaders would humbly do the same.

I may have also heard Dr. Gish speak at Montana State University in the early 1980s, but am not sure.

Despite whatever errors Gish taught  and whatever sins he committed (just like me), Duane Gish has now heard the Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness.”

I pray for his family and colleagues in their time of grief (which will not be like the grief of the world).

Matthew 25:21       1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Grace and Peace

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Christianity, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 1 Comment

My way or the highway — adultery edition

The age of the Earth is and should be a secondary doctrinal issue within Christianity. It is not up there with central Biblical teachings such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nor is it up there with doctrines such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, election, and the work of the Holy Spirit, all of which Christians have differences on.

Some young-Earth creationists will say that the reason the age of the Earth is a primary issue is because if one does not interpret Genesis the way they do, one denies the authority of the Scriptures on which all other doctrines are based. This allegation is demonstrably false. Like many other old-Earth Christians, I believe the Bible from the very first verse, and my old-Earth beliefs do not compromise a single core doctrine of the faith.

One example of a young-Earth creationist who looks at the age of the Earth as a primary doctrinal issue is Henry Morris III, CEO of the Institute for Creation Research, and son of ICR founder Henry Morris. According to the ICR article Geologist Claims Creationists Abandoned Faith (an article which brings up another topic I really need to write about), Morris was asked, “Do you believe that you can be a committed biblicist and come up with an old age view as [old-Earth Christian Glen Morton] has done?” Henry Morris III’s reply was,

“It’s kind of like asking: Can you be a Christian and an adulterer.”

I’m wondering if Dr. Morris replies in a similar way to Christians who disagree with him on other doctrinal matters:

Christian: Can I be a Christian and differ with you on baptism?

Morris: “It’s kind of like asking: ‘Can you be a Christian and an adulterer?’”

Christian: Can I be a Christian and differ with you on the timing of events in the end times?

Morris: “It’s kind of like asking: ‘Can you be a Christian and an adulterer?’”

Christian: Can I be a Christian and differ with you on the Holy Spirit?

Morris: “It’s kind of like asking: ‘Can you be a Christian and an adulterer?’”

Grace and Peace

January 29, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 6 Comments

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 4

This is the fourth post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1— The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2— Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — This page. Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

Dr. Jeanson moved on to the topic of the age of the Earth, lecturing on ocean salinity, sedimentation rates, and radiometric dating.

Ocean Salinity

Seawater contains a number of dissolved ions: sodium, chlorine, magnesium, and so forth. A common YEC argument for a young Earth is that if the oceans have been in existence for billions of years, they should—in their minds, at least—contain much higher concentrations of dissolved ions (salts) than what is observed. According to the YEC argument, if one can determine how fast an element is entering the ocean, such as from rivers, and how fast it is being removed, such as through chemical reactions on the sea floor, one should be able to determine a maximum age for the oceans. Dr. Jeanson stated that the oceans could not possibly be older than 62 million years old, a number commonly given in YEC literature.

I have addressed this issue a couple times in the past (see The YEC “salty seawater” argument—not worth a grain of salt and Aluminum and the 100-year old oceans). I’ll summarize by saying:

  1. This YEC argument is, once again, based on a faulty application of “uniformitarianism.” Geologists do not teach that rates of geologic processes are constant, such as the rate of sodium input or removal from the oceans. Sodium input, for example, is dependent on the amount of erosion that occurs on continents. In times when oceans covered more of the continents, sodium input to the sea would have been considerably lower than at present. At times when large evaporite deposits were being formed in restricted basins, sodium removal rates would have been considerably higher.
  2. YECs have not demonstrated that the concentrations of various salts in the ocean are actually increasing. In fact, seawater salinity has actually decreased since the most recent glaciation. This makes sense, as the melting of tens of millions of cubic kilometers of ice would have diluted the oceans. It is difficult to determine the exact salinity of the oceans throughout geologic time, but it appears that there has been a general downward salinity trend since the Cambrian, as can be seen in the figure from Hay et al (2006) shown here.
  3. If one applies the YEC argument to minor elements in seawater, one comes up with wacky maximum ages for the oceans, such as 100 years for aluminum. This should raise a giant red flag or turn on flashing warning lights, as we know the oceans are indeed older than my grandparents.

Sedimentation Rates

Jeanson asserted that if one measures the rate at which mud is entering the ocean compared to the amount of mud that is on the ocean floor, one comes up with a maximum age for the ocean of 12 million years. Again, this argument depends on the distorted YEC definition of uniformitarianism, and ignores many factors.

Radiometric Dating — Assumptions

Dr. Jeanson began his discussion of radiometric dating by describing the 238U to 206Pb decay chain. No controversy there. Then he stated three assumptions that must be true for radiometric dating to be valid:

  1. There must be no daughter isotope (e.g 206Pb) at the start.
  2. There can be no contamination of parent or daughter.
  3. There must be constant rate of decay.

The first assumption given by Jeanson is not always necessary. Some radiometric dating methods can work just fine even if there was an initial quantity of a daughter isotope. A common example is rubidium-strontium dating of igneous rocks. What matters in this case is not that the rock or mineral being dated has no initial strontium, but that the magma was homogeneous in terms of its 87Sr/86Sr ratio. Being that 87Sr is formed from  87Rb, minerals in a rock with higher concentrations of 87Rb will have a greater increase in the 87Sr/86Sr ratio over time than minerals with a low 87Rb concentration. By plotting multiple analyses for the same rock on a graph, geochronologists can determine the age of the rock, even though it initially had 87Sr. This is an example of isochron dating. The mathematics behind this technique are straightforward, and rubidium-strontium dating has been used successfully many thousands of times, even though it violates the first of Dr. Jeanson’s assumptions.

In other radiometric dating techniques, we can be certain that there was no daughter when the mineral formed, without making assumptions that may or may not be true. An example is fission-track dating. A  fission-track is formed when a nucleus of 238U spontaneously undergoes fission, rather than undergoing the more common emission of an alpha particle. The two newly-formed nuclei, both being positively-charged, are repelled from each other with tremendous energy, and create a trail of damage in the crystal. The number of fission-tracks formed a mineral is dependent on the uranium concentration and age; the initial concentration of fission-tracks will certainly be zero.

The second of Jeanson’s assumptions can often be tested. First of all, geochronologists recognize the importance of dating fresh, unaltered samples. Rocks or minerals that have gone through chemical alteration or weathering are more likely to have problems with gain or loss of elements. With the isochron method, if there has been a gain or loss of parent or daughter isotopes, it will be obvious on the graph of isotope ratios (see the fourth diagram on the isochron dating page). When contamination has occurred (i.e., when the mineral or rock is not a closed system), the date determined by radiometric dating is more likely to be “wrong.”

The third assumption is one that has been called into question by YECs, and there is some evidence that there can be minor fluctuations in some decay rates. There are a number of problems, however, with YEC arguments regarding decay rates. They claim, for example, that radioactive decay occurred at a dramatically increased rate during Noah’s flood. The problem is that radioactive decay generates a tremendous amount of energy, and accelerating the process to this extent would produce enough heat to boil the oceans and melt a significant portion of Earth’s crust. A second problem is that the amount of radiation released by accelerated nuclear decay would have fried the inhabitants of Noah’s ark. Not only would radiation be coming from Earth’s crust, but radiation would be coming from the million-fold increase of decay of 40K and 14C in Noah and his family; the animals, and the wood of the ark. A third problem with accelerated decay is that whatever causes this decay (neutrinos?) would have had to affect a number of very different decay mechanisms—alpha, beta, positron, spontaneous fission, and others—in exactly the same way. This is because, despite what YECs say, most dates determined by radiometric methods are both consistent and concordant. They are consistent in that they usually give results that make sense in terms of geological history as understood by geologists, and they are concordant in that different methods used on the same rocks usually give similar ages.

Radiometric dating — YEC reasons for why it doesn’t work

Radiometric dating usually works as intended by geoscientists, and gives results that are consistent with Earth history as it has been painstakingly unraveled by thousands of workers. YECs emphasize the instances when radiometric dating does not work correctly, and use those instances in an attempt to invalidate the entire method. Dr. Jeanson gave three reasons to reject radiometric dating:

  1. Inaccurate — Radiometric dating sometimes gives results that are clearly wrong, but YECs want you to believe this is the rule rather than the exception. Dr. Jeanson discussed volcanic rocks that are of known age, such as the dacite from the 1980s eruptions of Mount St. Helens. These rocks (or mineral and glass separates from the rocks) give K-Ar dates that range from 340,000 to 2,800,000 years, even though we know they were formed in the 1980s. It must be understood, however, that the K-Ar method cannot be used for samples less than a few hundred thousand years old. Samples younger than that are expected to have significant errors due to traces of argon in the laboratory. Jeanson went on to state that every rock of known age ends up with a goofy age when dated by radiometric dating. This is quite simply not true; one example is a date determined for the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius (here). I could go on about xenoliths and 40Ar/39Ar dating, but will save that for another time, or you can read about xenoliths here.
  2. Inconsistent — Radiometric dating methods sometimes give results that are inconsistent with one another, therefore all radiometric dating is suspect. Dr. Jeanson discussed rocks that were dated at 1.5 billion years by U-Pb dating, but when dated using a YEC helium diffusion model, the age turned out to be 6,000 years. It has been demonstrated that, in the YEC RATE study which Jeanson was referring to, the YEC researchers once again applied a faulty definition of uniformitarianism, and used a simplistic model for helium diffusion in the mineral zircon. When corrections are made to the helium diffusion model, the data is much more consistent with an old Earth than with a young Earth. You can read more about it here and here.
  3. Impossible results — Dr. Jeanson discussed another much-publicized finding of the RATE study, and that is the existence of carbon-14 in samples that are alleged to be millions of years old and should therefore be radiocarbon-dead. In hindsight, it should not be surprising that traces of radiocarbon would be found in these substances. Not all 14C in Earth’s crust has a biological source; some will be created anyplace where a carbon-containing substance (e.g. coal, diamond) has uranium associated with it, which is not uncommon. Neutrons from spontaneous fission of 238U, for example can cause nuclear reactions in the crust that form 14C. This is insufficient to form all 14C found in coal, but there are other explanations for the bulk of that, such as contamination by organic carbon carried in groundwater. An additional problem for the YECs is contamination in the laboratory, which is especially significant given that the amount of 14C in these samples is near the lower detection threshold for the mass spectrometry instruments used.

The YEC attacks on radiometric dating probably sounded convincing to most of the audience, but are full of flaws and should not be used as Christian apologetics.

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana, part 2

This is the second post in a multi-part review of a young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentation given by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Billings, Montana in November 2012.

Part 1 — The Relevance of Genesis (I was in complete agreement with Dr. Jeanson). The YEC version of the scientific method.

Part 2 — This Page. Hyper-rapid post-flood diversification of species. Five fossil facts that YECs think point to Noah’s flood.

Part 3 — Distortion of “uniformitarianism.” Mount St. Helens.

Part 4 — Seawater. Mud sedimentation rates. Radiometric dating.

Part 5 — Dinosaurs in the land of bunnies and daisies. My question in the Q&A.

I am an old-Earth Christian and strongly disagree with much of what Dr. Jeanson presented. I believe that young-Earth creationism is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible. Dr. Jeanson is my brother in Christ, and nothing I am writing in this series should be taken as an attack on him or any other YEC believer.

There are two additional posts related to this conference. In I do have an advocate before the Father, I discuss a conversation I had with a fellow attendee at the conference. In There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, I critique a video that was shown promoting a radical anti-environmental documentary.

This morning (9/10/2012) I attended another of Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson’s young-Earth creationist (YEC) presentations, sponsored by the Big Sky Worldview Forum. He gave three presentations, one each on biology, geology, and dinosaurs.

Biology

It is interesting that YECs are so opposed to evolution, but then turn around and advocate hyper-rapid evolutionary change (all called microevolution) in the time after Noah’s flood.

I won’t report much about Dr. Jeanson’s biology presentation, except to say that the rate of post-flood diversification of species advocated by YECs would make the most ardent evolutionist’s head spin. According to the YECs, one did not have to have horses, zebras, donkeys, and all the other equids on Noah’s ark, but only a single pair of ancestral equids. All of the modern equids—horses, zebras, etc.—came from this pair through rapid divergence after the flood.

He discussed Darwin’s finches (on the Galapagos Islands) and talked about how this shows that related species can indeed form over time from a common ancestor. He then pointed to a YEC study that states that not only Darwin’s finches, but perhaps 1000 bird species, all came from a single pair on Noah’s ark. The PowerPoint slide looked like this included cardinals, orioles, and a wide variety of other birds.

Elsewhere in his biology presentation he stated that all of this diversification occurred in the past 4300 to 4500 years, the time since YECs say Noah’s flood occurred. But he really does not have that much time for ancestral finches to diversify into 1000 species, or for the ancestral equids to diversify into the wide variety of horses, zebras, and donkeys that we see in the world today. This is because most of this diversification would have had to happen—and I’m thinking of the YEC chronology here—within the first few hundred years after the flood. Otherwise, you could not have the distinction between horses and donkeys in the Old Testament, the diversity of life that is described in other ancient writings, nor the geographic distribution of organisms around the world that we see today.

Geology — Fossils

Dr. Jeanson began this presentation by reminding us that the Bible requires that:

  • There was no animal death before Adam’s fall into sin (no it doesn’t — see my post Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective).
  • There were no thorns before the curse (that is really hyper-literal over-reading of the text).
  • Noah’s flood had to be global (only if you only read YEC commentaries — see my post The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic).
  • The fossil record must have been deposited by the flood (just like the Bible says in Genesis chapter 6½ verse 22.7b, and in 3 Thessalonians 14:55).

Next, Dr. Jeanson gave us Five Facts That Point to the Flood:

  1. Fossils are 95% marine. He showed a diagram of the geologic time scale, with trilobites in the earlier Paleozoic, fish in the middle Paleozoic, amphibians and insects later in the Paleozoic, dinosaurs in the Mesozoic, and mammals in the Cenozoic. He said that we should not look at this order, however, but at the fact that most fossils throughout the geological record are marine, such as fossils of fish, trilobites, belemnites, ammonites, and brachiopods. So he dismissed the order of land vertebrates with a hand wave—a vertical distribution that YECs have yet to adequately explain—and then ignored the fact that the marine fossil record also shows significant change as one goes up the geologic column.
  2. Fossil distribution — they are found on the continents. This implies that the oceans covered the continents. I would say that marine fossils on continents are a problem for neither YECs or within the standard old-Earth geological interpretation. It was interesting, however, that the picture Dr. Jeanson showed for this point was of a fish from the Green River Formation in Utah. These fish are all freshwater fish, who lived together with a wide variety of plants and animals who made up a freshwater ecological community, and are beautifully preserved in non-marine lake sediments. It is extremely difficult to envision how this freshwater community was caught up in Noah’s flood, held together as a cohesive unit, and deposited late in the flood with exquisite preservation. If, as some YECs envision, the Green River Formation is a post-flood deposit, it is difficult to imagine how all of these organisms got to the Green River Basin of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado quickly after the flood, matured into a complete ecosystem, and did this while thousands of feet of sediments were being deposited to make the Green River Formation.
  3. Geologic layers can extend over large areas, sometimes covering an entire hemisphere. This implies a large, watery catastrophe. He gave the example of chalk layers in Texas that extend all the way to Britain. The standard interpretation of these extensive layers—here in Montana the Madison Limestone is the same layer as the Redwall in the Grand Canyon—is that similar ecological conditions existed over very large areas. I see no problem with this. On the other hand, I do see problems with Jeanson’s chalk layer. Chalk—such as exposed at the White Cliffs of Dover in England—is composed of innumerable microscopic shells of coccolithophores, which are algae. These algae need sunlight in order to do photosynthesis. The YEC explanation for thick chalk deposits is that there was an algal bloom during the flood, and that the organisms all died and sank to the bottom. The problems with this hypothesis include the fact that the flood waters must have been murky, which would reduce photosynthesis, and that too many other things would have been going on at the same time to allow the coccoliths to all settle to the sea floor to make a rather pure layer.
  4. Snapshot fossils imply quick burial. He showed another Green River fossil fish photo, with a bigger fish choking on a smaller fish (here are some examples). This has all of the problems I listed above on #2. How did these freshwater fish survive most of the flood, only to be entombed at the end? Why were they not abraded by all of the silt they are preserved in? He also showed an ichthyosaur caught in the fossil record giving birth. In the YEC scenario, this marine reptile survived two-thirds of the flood and was suddenly overwhelmed by the flood that had already been going on for weeks or months.
  5. Soft tissue fossils imply a young age and recent burial. Jeanson talked about soft tissues that have been discovered in bones of Tyrannosaurus rex. I agree that the discovery of soft tissues in these Cretaceous fossils is quite surprising, and that paleontologists don’t have a good explanation for how they could be preserved for more than 65 million years. I don’t know the answer. It is possible that a mechanism for preserving certain organic compounds for very long periods of time will be discovered, but that has not happened yet. This is one of the few YEC arguments that I don’t have an answer for. One anomaly is not enough to demonstrate that YEC is true.

Jeanson concluded his Fossils section by saying that this all screams Noah’s flood. No, it screams that YEC arguments are full of holes, and should not be used by Christians as proof of the truthfulness of God’s Holy Scriptures.

There is much more, but that is enough for one sitting at the computer. There is more to come.

Grace and Peace

=====================================

Update 2/19/2015 — I stated that I had no answer for “soft tissues in dinosaurs.” I think this is still a partially unsolved issue, but the blog Naturalis Historia does a great job of turning the argument back on the YECs. If soft tissue (and DNA) can be preserved for over four thousand years–and we know that it can be preserved that long–then why isn’t the geologic record full of organisms with preserved soft tissues? Read more at:

Rapid Burial Allows Preservation of a Hadrosaur Fleshy Head Comb

Young Earth Creationism and Ancient DNA

November 10, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | Leave a comment

Perhaps the oceans haven’t been created yet

Last year I published a blog post regarding young-Earth creationists’ use of seawater composition to “prove” that Earth is nowhere near 4.5 billion years old (Aluminum and the 100-year old oceans). This argument is one that needs to be added to their growing “Arguments creationists should not use” page, but it continues to make the rounds. This month’s Acts & Facts publication from the Institute for Creation Research has a rather inconsistent article called “The Ocean’s Salt Clock Shows a Young World,” written by ICR Senior Science Lecturer Frank Sherwin.

On the one hand, Sherwin argues that sodium inputs into the ocean far outweigh sodium outputs, proving that the age of Earth’s oceans cannot be anywhere near the billions of years as advocated by geologists. The most significant sodium input into seawater is ions dissolved in river water. Outputs—those processes that remove sodium from seawater—include sea spray and exchange of sodium ions with other ions in clay minerals on the sea floor. According to Sherwin, the maximum age for the oceans based on sodium concentration is 40-60 million years, and the oceans must be much younger than this because it would be best to assume that the oceans were created with a composition not all that different than what it is today.

On the other hand, Sherwin brushes off the criticism that similar reasoning using aluminum would show that the ocean is only 100 years old. He states that aluminum concentrations in the oceans are at equilibrium but sodium concentrations are not. Perhaps this is a case of “sodium concentrations support our position, and aluminum values do not, so the sodium values are valid and the aluminum ones are not.”

In reality, concentrations of all elements in seawater are somewhere near equilibrium, but none of them are perfectly at equilibrium at any one time. In other words, the amount of sodium in seawater—or of any other element—can increase or decrease over time as global conditions change. This has certainly been true in the Quaternary Period, with rapid and significant climate and sea level changes, and has likely been true throughout geologic history.

Sherwin concludes his article with:

“Accumulating salt in the ocean does not “prove” anything, but it does deal a death blow to evolutionary ideas. Holding to the well-attested biblical text gives us the true age of the world’s oceans–measured in just thousands of years.”

It is not clear what he means by “not proving anything,” because he clearly thinks he has proven something. But he hasn’t proven anything, as one can see by diving a little deeper into the literature. On a side note, many conservative Biblical scholars would contest the idea that the Bible requires an Earth that is only a few thousand years old.

A technical treatment of the issue from a young-Earth creationist perspective is The Sea’s Missing Salt: A Dilemma for Evolutionists, by Austin and Humphreys.  They examine sodium inputs and outputs, and claim that 3.56 x1011 kg of sodium enters the ocean per year, while only 2.06 x1011 kg is removed. If this is true, sodium concentrations in the ocean are increasing over time rather than being near equilibrium.

Christian geophysicist Glenn Morton (formerly a young-Earth creationist) wrote a response to Austin and Humphreys’ article, closely examining their values for sodium inputs and outputs. Morton identified additional mechanisms for removal of sodium from seawater, and calculates that 3.81×1011 of sodium is removed from the ocean per year, which is greater than the amount of sodium that enters. There is a degree of uncertainty about the magnitude of some values, as many seafloor geochemical processes are only incompletely understood, but Morton’s values are likely to be at least approximately correct.

Conclusion: Ion concentrations—whether of sodium, aluminum, or any other element—cannot be used to determine the age of the oceans.

Or perhaps we should conclude from these numbers that the oceans have not been created yet!

Grace and Peace

HT: Webmonk.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , | 1 Comment