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?

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

 

 

Bozeman creation conference preview and expectations

AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE

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

1. This article – 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. 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.

On April 1-3, 2016, Grace Bible Church in Bozeman, Montana will be hosting a Creation Conference featuring three prominent young-Earth advocates. I plan on attending this conference, and posting reviews and critiques here on The GeoChristian. My goal is not to be provocative or argumentative, but to listen, think, and write. I am usually pretty quiet when I attend events like this, though I will ask a question or two at the appropriate times, and interact with speakers and people sitting around me. I plan on writing summaries similar to those I wrote when Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research spoke in Billings in 2012.

Young-Earth creationists are first and foremost my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love and respect them, and appreciate their zeal for the Bible, for Christ, for evangelism, and for discipleship. In these things they and I are on the same page (for the most part). I do, however, believe that young-Earth creationism is not required by the Bible, and that it is not credible scientifically. Because of this, YEC apologetics (defense of the faith) sometimes does far more damage than good, especially among the scientifically literate.

It is important to add that I was a member of Grace Bible Church when I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University in the early 1980s. The church was (and I assume still is) an excellent, Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, people-loving church, and the teaching I received there laid a strong foundation for my life as a Christian. I am deeply thankful for the influence Grace Bible Church has had on my life.

I plan to attend the following Friday evening and all-day Saturday sessions. The biographies of the speakers can be found here.

  1. Brian Thomas (Institute for Creation Research) – Why Genesis Matters.

From my experiences at previous YEC seminars, I expect that I will be in substantial agreement with the speaker on this one. Genesis lays the foundation for many key themes that run throughout the Scriptures: The one and only true God, humans created in the image of God, human sin, redemption, marriage, grace, forgiveness, covenants, and so forth. One thing on which I will disagree with Mr. Thomas will be his insistence that if Earth is millions of years old, then these foundations crumble. There is nothing in the Scriptures that ties any of these doctrines to the age of the universe.

  1. Dr. Jake Hebert (Institute for Creation Research) – What You Haven’t Been Told About Radiometric Dating.

My expectation is that Dr. Hebert will talk about discordant dates, accelerated nuclear decay, and carbon-14 found in coal and diamonds. What Dr. Hebert will not tell the audience is that radiometric dating usually works, which was the major unspoken finding of ICR’s RATE study. Because radiometric dating usually works, the main thing YECs have fallen back on is the idea of vastly accelerated nuclear decay rates, a hypothesis that has a number of serious problems.

  1. Michael Oard (the “Mr. Ice Age” of the YEC world) – The Ice Age: Only the Bible Can Explain It!

I expect that Mr. Oard will state that the ice age is “impossible with evolution, easy with creation.” I, on the other hand, find YEC post-flood ice age scenarios even less credible than their whole flood geology schemes.

  1. Hebert – Ice Cores and Deep Seafloor Sediments: Do They Really Prove Millions of Years?

I suppose that means what one means by “prove.” Does the signature of John Hancock on the U.S. constitution prove that John Hancock existed? I’m sure we could come up with some conspiracy theory to cast doubt on Hancock’s existence. I haven’t read much YEC material on this topic, so I am not really sure what to expect. I have been conditioned by YEC writings, however, to expect problems.

  1. Oard — What Does the Lake Missoula Flood Teach Us?

Mr. Oard will tell us that there was only one Lake Missoula flood. The driver for Oard’s conviction is that the YEC timeline is already squeezed to the limits, so any evidence for multiple Lake Missoula floods must be disregarded. One thing the Lake Missoula floods teach us that Mr. Oard is unlikely to mention is that if Earth’s surface was shaped by catastrophic global flooding only 4300 years ago, then the dominant erosional geomorphic features on Earth’s surface ought to be extensive channeled scablands such as found on the Columbia Plateau. And this is not at all what we see.

  1. Hebert – Exciting New Research at ICR.

(This is the topic listed on the creationsciencedefense.com site; the ICR events site lists the topic as “Does the ‘God Particle’ Prove the Big Bang?”)

The ICR Research page lists several projects, including:

  • Column Project: analyzing rock layers globally to reconstruct the stages of the Genesis Flood and explain why certain fossils are found only in certain areas, and to determine the approximate topography of the pre-Flood world.
  • Refuting Milankovitch Project: exposing circular and inconsistent reasoning in secular methodologies

The fact that YECs have to have a research project about the geologic column reminds us that the geologic column is a valid concept, and that YECs haven’t figured out how to explain it yet. And of course Milankovitch cycles are clearly anti-Biblical and must be exposed!

  1. Thomas – The Beginning of Life.

I will probably agree with much of what Mr. Thomas has to say. The simplest conceivable, metabolizing, reproducing cell is an incredibly complex thing, and sixty years of origin-of-life studies have only accented the gap between non-life and life. But this is a tentative position on my part, and is based on my understanding of the science of abiogenesis. I don’t think the Bible precludes the possibility of God creating a universe that is so wonderfully designed that life could spring from non-life.

  1. Hebert – Science or Science Fiction? Why the Laws of Physics Could Not Have Created the Universe.

I am not sure whether this will be a presentation of the cosmological argument, which I would be in agreement with, or an attack on Big Bang cosmology. I will probably be getting rather sleepy by this point on Saturday afternoon.

  1. Thomas – Soft Tissues in Solid Rock.

YECs believe that the discovery of soft tissues in dinosaur fossils (a discovery made by a Christian paleontologist!) was a nail in the coffin of old-Earthism. The finding of protein fragments and pliable tissues in Cretaceous fossils was certainly unexpected, but for several reasons is not a death blow to the concept of millions of years.

In addition to these grown-up sessions, there will be a number of meetings for young people, with topics such as “Why the World is Only Thousands of Years Old,” “‘Global Warming’ and the Christian,” and “Dinosaurs & Dragons.” Those teaching the children are certainly well-intentioned, but are also setting some of the kids up for a fall.

As I often say: Young-Earth creationism is neither required by the Bible nor credible scientifically. Bad science is bad apologetics that turns people away from the gospel.

Please pray for me, the speakers, the audience, and most of all, the youth who will be attending this conference.

Grace and Peace

Observations about commenting on young earth creationist Facebook pages

I’m not sure what gave me the urge, but I spent quite a bit of time in late November and early December commenting on young Earth creationist (YEC) Facebook pages. I limited myself to the Big Three: Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Ministries International. Here’s what I learned:

1. Answers in Genesis is the Big One of the Big Three, at least in terms of the number of “Likes” indicated on the Facebook pages.

Answers in Genesis — 312,165 likes

Institute for Creation Research — 88,678 likes

Creation Ministries International — 41,841 likes

For comparison, here are some “Like” statistics for other YEC and old-Earth Christian Facebook pages:

Biologos — 23,675 likes (Evolutionary creation/theistic evolution)

Creation Today — 11,528 likes (YEC site run by Eric Hovind, son of Kent Hovind, a.k.a. Dr. Dino)

Reasons to Believe — 10,218 likes (old-Earth creationist Hugh Ross)

Discovery Institute — 2,363 likes (Intelligent design)

2. Creation Ministries International (CMI) moderates its page constantly.

I don’t mind at all that CMI quickly removes the “creationists are morons” sort of rubbish, but they almost go to the other extreme of “No dissent allowed.” Usually when I left a comment on CMI’s Facebook page, CMI responded with something like

CMI_2

or

CMI_3

The articles usually did not specifically addressed the topics I raised.

3. Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) seem to do only a minimum amount of moderating, which means that the comment threads quickly become clogged with attacks by skeptics and counter-attacks by Christians.

4. The typical YEC placing a comment on Facebook doesn’t know creationism very well, much less the “other side.” It is common to read arguments that the mainstream YEC organisations no longer use, such as arguments about moon dust or Paluxy River tracks, as well as fringe YEC arguments, such as hydroplates.

5. Kent Hovind’s imprisonment for tax evasion has not diminished his popularity among YECs. I advise my YEC friends to stick to the Big Three, as they have scientists who have weeded out the worst of the worst (although they still present some really bad science). But many rank-and-file YECs were raised on Dr. Dino videos, and think he’s the greatest apologist alive.

6. A large number of YECs continue to view old-Earth Christians as “so called Christians.” This will not change until the YEC leadership stops labeling those who accept a billions of years old Earth as “compromisers.”

7. YEC Facebook posts get thousands of “Likes” and “Shares.” YEC is alive and well in our Evangelical churches.

8. Facebook is an awful place for intelligent, polite discussion about the issues. There are several reasons for this. A) Too many hot-headed people who are eager to join the conversation. B) Too many people who don’t know what they are talking about who are eager to join the conversation.

9. Facebook is ephemeral, like a stream in the desert. Unlike a blog, there is no easy way to go back to a discussion weeks, months, or years later.

10. I need to remind myself that not all things are profitable.

11. I need to remind myself to speak the truth in love.

So what did I learn that I didn’t already know? Not too much.

Perhaps some young-Earth creationist saw that not all YEC arguments are sound.

Perhaps some young-Earth creationist saw that an old-Earth Christian can be a fellow follower of Christ and have insights into the Word.

Perhaps some skeptic saw that not all Christians accept the teachings of the YECs.

Perhaps not.

I might still occasionally comment on YEC Facebook sites. It won’t be often.

Grace and Peace

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Here are some of the Facebook posts I commented on, to give you a flavor of the conversations:

CMI – A Canyon in Six Days! — YECs extrapolate from rapid erosion through unconsolidated silt to rapid excavation of the Grand Canyon during Noah’s flood.

AiG – Where Does the Ice Age Fit? — Squeezing the entire Quaternary and all of pre-2000 BC human history into a few hundred years is an incredible stretch. And it isn’t in the Bible. I pointed out to the AiG readers a major blunder in the article.

ICR – Job’s Icy Vocabulary — YECs try to find the Ice Age in the book of Job. But it isn’t in there.

AiG – Doesn’t Carbon-14 Dating Disprove the Bible? — If you look hard enough for C-14 in a carbon-bearing sample, it will be there. It has nothing to do with the age of the sample.

ICR – Is the Young Earth Model the Best Explanation of the Ice Age? – This conversation was brief, but drew in ICR’s geologist, Jake Hebert, as well as two other Christian geologists. Perhaps there is hope for Facebook.

ICR – The Iconic Isochron — Perhaps I killed the conversation by pointing out some very serious problems with this article on radiometric dating.

Stuck in a tar pit

The June 2013  issue of Acts & Facts magazine from the Institute for Creation Research has a two-page article on the fossils of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. “The La Brea Tar Pits Mystery” was written by Dr. John Morris, president of ICR, and Dr. Timothy Clarey, ICR’s new staff geologist.

The article correctly states that some paleontologists have moved away from the simple “animals got stuck in the tar when they stopped for a drink of water” interpretation of the La Brea tar pits. It appears that at least some of the fossils were washed downstream from the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and became trapped in the tar. Morris and Clarey make an unjustified extrapolation from this, and claim that all of the fossils must have been transported to the La Brea site from elsewhere.

Morris and Clarey believe that the La Brea Tar Pits and their enclosing sediments were formed after Noah’s flood. In their flood geology model, Noah’s flood deposited the bulk of Earth’s rock record, but most deposits that geologists would consider to be of Quaternary age (i.e. the Ice Ages) were deposited in a period of a few hundred years after Noah’s flood. This is sometimes referred to as “residual catastrophism.” Morris and Clarey describe the formation of the La Brea fossil deposits as follows:

Large flooding events (sometime after the Great Flood) could have swept the animals into the tar pit openings and deposited the bones in tight, jumbled masses. Biblical scientists have reinterpreted the fossil deposits as a consequence of closely spaced, catastrophic flood events that likely occurred in the waning of the post-Flood Ice Age. The immediate post-Flood years were likely chaotic and more geologically active than today as the earth’s surface recovered from the catastrophic activity of the Flood.

There are a number of problems with the residual catastrophism model as it relates to La Brea. Here are just a few:

  • Soil formation — Soils do not form overnight, and plants need soil. The La Brea flora comes from mature forest ecosystems, and the large herbivores were dependent on abundant vegetation. In the YEC residual catastrophism scenario, soil would have had to form very rapidly, but this process would have been impeded either by high rates of erosion or high rates of deposition.
  • Ecological succession — This is related to the problem of soil formation. Ecological succession is the process of development of an ecosystem over time. If one started with bare rock or sediment after the flood, there would have had to have been a succession of communities that inhabited the area over time, starting with pioneer species that could live on the barren surface, such as lichens, mosses, and insects. Over time there might have been communities dominated by grasses, brush, and eventually a variety of forest types. In the YEC scenario, this would have had to occur very quickly, leading up to mature flora capable of supporting the animal community. Post-flood residual catastrophism suffers from the same problem as the rest of YEC geology: too many events, too little time.
  • Migration — The mammal and bird fossils of La Brea would have had to migrate from Ararat (in modern-day Turkey) and become well-established in the Los Angeles area in a very short time. This is part of the broader biogeographical problem of YEC — kangaroos all migrated to Australia (exactly where kangaroo fossils were deposited by the flood) and didn’t leave any stragglers behind, African animals all migrated to Africa, western North American animals (again, as evidenced in the fossil record) all knew to migrate to western North America, and so forth.
  • Sedimentation — All of this migration and fossilization happened while residual catastrophism was occurring, which in many places meant the deposition of many hundreds of meters of sediments!

In the second-to-last paragraph, the YEC explanation for the La Brea fossils goes from bad to worse:

Uplift of the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and associated earthquakes could have instantly changed river directions and the levels of the land surface, setting local floods in motion. Rapid melting of the glaciers at the end of the Ice Age could have also contributed catastrophic outpourings of floodwaters from the mountains, depositing animal remains in the process. Close-spaced catastrophic events likely continued until Earth reached the relatively stable balance we now experience.

I was quite surprised to see the authors propose that melting of glaciers could have contributed to the formation of the sediments of La Brea. The sediments of these deposits were clearly derived from the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, which in that area presently do not exceed 1500 feet (460 m) in elevation. There is absolutely zero evidence that the Santa Monica Mountains were ever glaciated. A few small glaciers may have existed above 10,000 feet (3050 m) in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains during the Pleistocene, but it needs to be emphasized that these were small glaciers, and that the sediments of La Brea did not come from these ranges.

The authors conclude with a typical YEC overstatement:

The better explanation for the fossils in the La Brea tar pits matches perfectly with the biblical perspective of recent creation.

The authors have certainly not demonstrated that their residual catastrophism model can explain the La Brea fossil assemblages or their enclosing sediments. Like much of what is presented by the YECs, it is not necessary biblically, nor valid scientifically.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

In 2012, I reviewed a previous Acts & Facts article by Morris: Young-Earth creationism and the intensity of volcanism. Morris tried to show that the intensity of volcanism has been decreasing ever since the flood, but he did so through choosing eruptions that matched his premise, and then ignoring many thousands of other eruptions.

Also in 2012, I got involved in a discussion about the La Brea Tar Pits with young-Earth creationist Jay Wile on his Proslogion blog. Dr. Wile was advocating for the La Brea Tar Pits being formed during Noah’s flood rather than after the deluge, while I gave a number of reasons why neither the flood explanation nor the post-flood explanation worked. See A Large, Detailed Study Confirms Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction.

PCA 2013 General Assembly — The YECs get their turn

In 2012, two old-Earth Christian geologists gave a presentation at the General Assembly (annual meeting) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Gregg Davidson is a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and Ken Wolgemuth is an oil industry consultant, and their presentation was entitled “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?”

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, holding to biblical inerrancy, as well as conservative positions on a number of other issues. Like a majority of denominations that hold to biblical inerrancy, the PCA does not take a position on the age of the Earth. There are large numbers of scholars, pastors, and elders within the PCA who believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, and large numbers who believe the Bible does not require a young Earth.

In the 1990s, the PCA created a committee to address the issues surrounding origins, such as the age of the Earth and biological evolution. The committee released its Report of the Creation Study Committee in 2000. This is a fairly balanced document, outlining the biblical arguments in favor of young-Earth creationism alongside those for three old-Earth biblical interpretations.

However, some young-Earth creationists within the PCA were outraged that the denomination would include these old-Earth Christians at the General Assembly. There were those who were upset that any old-Earther would be give the floor in a General Assembly seminar, others who were angry because of perceived ties between the speakers and the theistic evolution (a.k.a. evolutionary creation) organization BioLogos, and others who merely asked why equal time was not given to young-Earthers.

I see that this year’s General Assembly has a YEC seminar, as well as a YEC exhibitor. Here’s the description for the YEC seminar:

Astronomy Reveals Creation
Seminar Speaker: Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research, Institute for Creation Research

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

The Institute for Creation Research will have a booth in the exhibition hall.

It appears that there are no old-Earth seminars or exhibitors.

I pray for unity, clarity, faithfulness, love, grace, and peace within the denomination in regards to this sometimes divisive issue.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

If my recollection is correct, one of the presenters was unable to be at last year’s seminar, though he had been scheduled.

Davidson and Wolgemuth are available as speakers for seminaries, Bible schools, and other organizations through Solid Rock Lectures.

I wrote about the 2012 General Assembly here: PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth. Here are some quotes and comments I found at the time from blogs advocating YEC-only within the PCA:

“there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding.”

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”

Davidson and seven other PCA geologists have written an article entitled PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth which was published in Modern Reformation magazine in 2010. YEC geologist and PCA church member John Reed wrote a response which is posted on the Answers in Genesis website.

Duane Gish of ICR dies at age 92

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duane_Gish
Wikipedia

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