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In this chapter, we will examine the most common scientific arguments for an old earth.
We have commonly heard scientific-sounding arguments that the earth and universe are many billions of years old. We are told that radiometric dating shows that certain rocks formed billions of years ago. We are told that starlight from distant galaxies takes billions of years to arrive on earth. But do these arguments stand up to scrutiny? In this chapter, we will examine the most common scientific arguments for an old earth. We will find that in all cases the old-earth arguments are based on faulty, secular assumptions or faulty reasoning.
In the last chapter, we examined the nature of scientific dating techniques. Such techniques inevitably depend on a number of assumptions about the past. These assumptions include the initial conditions and the constancy of rates. Both Christians and non-Christians must make assumptions about initial conditions and rates in order to make a scientific age estimate. However, since Christians and non-Christians have different worldviews, they often make different assumptions about rates and initial conditions.
Creationists, for example, believe that the universe was perfect and complete by the end of the very first week because the Bible gives us this information. On the other hand, secular scientists believe the universe started much differently and has gradually evolved to its present state. They generally assume the philosophy of naturalism—the belief that nature is “the whole show.” God is not even a consideration, no matter how much evidence seems to point to Him. As such, a supernatural creation as described in Genesis is dismissed out-of-hand.
Creation scientists and secular scientists may also have different assumptions about the constancy of rates. Creation scientists are careful to include the effects of the worldwide flood in their estimation of ages; however, secular scientists dismiss the worldwide flood because they generally hold to the assumption of uniformitarianism—the belief that the present is the key to the past. Secular scientists assume that earth’s geological features, such as mountains and canyons, have been produced by the same slow and gradual processes that we see operating today.
In the previous chapter, we saw how a rejection of biblical history has led the secular scientists to make vastly inflated estimates of the earth’s age. By embracing the false philosophies of naturalism and uniformitarianism, the unbeliever is incapable of correctly interpreting the scientific evidence pertaining to the age of the earth. It is not a matter of intelligence, nor is it a matter of knowledge of the evidence. It is a matter of having the correct starting assumptions. Secular scientists start with the wrong assumptions and consequently obtain the wrong answer.
In this chapter, we will see that in most cases, old-earth creationists also embrace the secular assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism. It is curious that persons professing to believe the Bible would start with assumptions that are the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Most old-earth creationists seem to be unaware of this inconsistency. It is understandable that an unbeliever would reject the supernatural origin of the universe, or the fact that the world was judged by God and flooded with water. But it is disappointing that so many Christians have conformed their thinking to the ways of the secular world, perhaps without even realizing it.
Old-earth creationists are charged with using secular assumptions when doing science rather than presuppositions based on Scripture. False starting assumptions have caused them to err when interpreting data. A sound, logical argument must have conclusions that follow from the starting assumptions (the “premises”), and the premises must be true. Suppose I made the following argument:
|All things with wheels are green||Major premise (F)|
|My car has wheels||Minor premise (T)|
|Therefore, my car is green||Conclusion (F)|
This argument is logically valid—meaning the conclusion follows from the premises. However, the first premise is false—and so is the conclusion. Likewise, the estimates of the age of the earth made by old-earth creationists are unreliable. This is not because the logic is invalid, but because the starting assumptions are false—namely naturalism and uniformitarianism. Although, we will also see that there are some arguments in which the logic is faulty as well.
If the starting assumptions of a logical argument are wrong, then the conclusions will be unreliable. In the next sections, we will examine the assumptions behind some of the most common arguments for an old earth. We will start with radiometric dating of rocks. This section is a bit “meaty,” but it is very important to understand because radiometric dating is so often cited as proof that the earth is billions of years old. We’ll then move on to some other old-earth arguments and examine the assumptions behind them. In particular, we will look carefully at the assumptions of rates and initial conditions. We will find in all cases that old-earth arguments are based on the fallacious, anti-biblical assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism. Remember, if the assumptions of a dating method are wrong, then the conclusions cannot be trusted.
One of the most commonly used arguments for an old earth involves the technique of radiometric dating. We are told that rocks “have been dated” to be billions of years old. Radiometric dating is supposed to tell how much time has elapsed since a rock was formed (from magma).
First of all, we know that radiometric dating is unreliable because it can be tested on rocks of known age. Indeed, geologists have taken rocks of which we know the age because they were formed from recent volcanic eruptions (the age of a rock is supposed to go back to the point of solidification). These rocks were then “age-dated” using the standard radiometric dating techniques. The results came back that these rocks were estimated to be hundreds of thousands to millions of years old,1 when in fact their true age is only a few years. This is not an isolated incident; it is quite common. Dr Andrew Snelling, a geologist, points out several of these instances with potassium-argon (a common method for dating the earth at millions of years).2 A few are listed below:
|Where?||When did the event occur?||Date by radiometric dating||Mt. Etna basalt, Sicily||122 B.C.||330,000–170,000 years old|
|Mt. Etna basalt, Sicily||A.D 1972||490,000–210,000 years old|
|Mount St. Helens, Washington||A.D. 1980||300,000–400,000 years old|
|Hualalai basalt, Hawaii||A.D. 1800–1801||1.76–1.44 million years old|
Radiometric dating has been shown to not work on rocks of known age. Yet most secular scientists and other old-earth supporters assume that radiometric dating does work on rocks of unknown age. This is quite an obvious inconsistency.
Instead of asking whether or not radiometric dating is reliable, we should be asking, “Why is radiometric dating unreliable?” As we have already hinted, the answer lies in the assumptions that are involved in this method—assumptions about starting conditions and constancy of rates. As we saw in the previous chapter, these assumptions are strongly influenced by a person’s worldview. It is our contention that the assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism are responsible for the incorrect age estimations. To support this claim, we need to examine how radiometric dating is supposed to work.
The methods used to obtain such estimates are based on measuring the relative amounts of radioactive substances (A) found in rocks. Radioactive elements have the ability to spontaneously change into other elements (B), releasing one or more forms of radiation in the process. Most elements in our everyday experience are not radioactive but stable. Nevertheless, rocks contain trace amounts of radioactive elements.
For example, a volcanic rock might contain traces of the radioactive element potassium-40. After some time, a fraction of that potassium-40 will have changed into argon gas. If we waited long enough, all the potassium-40 would have been converted into argon. We can measure the amount of potassium-40 and argon in rocks today. We also know the rate at which potassium-40 decays into argon; it is quite slow. It seems to follow that we could use this process to estimate the age of the rock in which these elements are found. So, if we measure the current amount of potassium-40 and argon in a rock, we could extrapolate backward (assuming the current decay rate) to find when the rock had only potassium-40 with no argon.
Hopefully, you were able to identify some of the assumptions involved in this technique. How do we know that the rock had no argon in it at the start? This is an assumption of the initial conditions. In this case, secular scientists claim to have good reasons to believe that there should be no argon in the rock when it first forms. Since argon is a gas, it can move through liquid fairly easily, but is somewhat trapped once the rock hardens. This certainly seems reasonable, but it is still an assumption and could be wrong in some instances. In fact, there are some cases where we actually know what the initial conditions were—because the rock is recent and its origin was observed. We know that in some cases today rocks form with argon already trapped inside. Yet it is often just assumed that more ancient rocks do not have this problem.3
Another assumption behind radiometric dating is that the rate at which the radioactive material decays has always been the same as it is today.4 Once again, this stems from the assumption of uniformitarianism. The secular scientist reasons that if radioactive material decays slowly today, then it must always have decayed slowly. However, we should not arbitrarily assume that such rates have not changed with time. In fact, scientists have been able to speed up certain kinds of radioactive decay by as much as a billion times!5 We know that the rates can be accelerated today under the right conditions. Moreover, God could have accelerated radioactive decay in the past using supernatural means not available to us. Although God would not arbitrarily change such rates, we know that God has acted in a supernatural way in the past in order to accomplish His will. In particular, we know that God was acting in a supernatural way during the creation week. Therefore, we cannot necessarily assume that radioactive decay happened during the creation week at the same rate it happens today.
Additionally, God cursed the earth when Adam sinned (Gen. 3:17–18). The Bible provides only a few details of how the world was changed, such as thorns and thistles. Can we be certain that radioactive decay rates were not affected? The Christian would be hard-pressed to make such a claim on the basis of Scripture alone. Another important event in history that we must consider is the worldwide flood. Creation scientists have shown how the global flood could have caused many of earth’s features to form much more quickly than they could at today’s rates. Although it is difficult to believe that a flood could cause radioactive decay rates to change, the reverse is quite plausible. A drastic change in radioactive decay rates could have been the catalyst that God used to trigger the global flood. If radioactive decay rates were vastly accelerated, it would generate the heat necessary to initiate the plate tectonics associated with certain Flood models.
There are at least three times in history where the Bible-believing Christian has good reason to think that radioactive decay rates may not have been the same as they are today. In fact, a team of creation scientists from the Institute for Creation Research and the Creation Research Society have discovered very compelling evidence that radioactive decay rates have been drastically accelerated at one or more times in the past. They found that there is a tremendous amount of helium trapped in rocks. This helium is a by-product of radioactive decay, and since it is a very light (and “slippery”) gas, it is able to slowly move through these rocks and escape. If the rocks were really millions of years old, the helium would have had plenty of time to escape. Since it obviously has not escaped, we can conclude that the rocks must be relatively young. The fact that a lot of helium has been produced indicates that a lot of radioactive decay has happened. Nevertheless, it must have happened quickly in the past few thousand years, otherwise the helium would have already leaked away. More details on this discovery are available in the book Thousands … Not Billions by Don DeYoung.6
It is clear that Christians have very compelling reasons to believe that radioactive decay rates have not remained constant throughout history. It certainly is understandable that a non-Christian would ignore the effects of creation, the fall of man, and the global flood. It is unfortunate that old-earth Christians would ignore these effects, choosing instead to blindly follow the secular philosophy of uniformitarianism.
It is important to realize that all radiometric dating techniques assume uniformitarianism. They assume that radioactive decay has happened at the same rate at which it occurs today. Yet we know that radioactive decay can be vastly accelerated under the right conditions, we know of at least three biblical events (creation, the Fall, and the Flood) where God may have altered radioactive decay to accomplish His will, and we have compelling scientific reasons to believe that decay rates have been accelerated in the past. Furthermore, we know that radiometric dating is unreliable when checked against the true age of rocks whose age is known. Therefore, from a logical perspective, radiometric dating of rocks cannot be considered reliable because it stems from faulty assumptions. People may strongly believe in the age estimates given, but this thinking is “blind faith,” since the starting assumptions are wrong.
Old-earth creationists will often point to so-called annual rings or layers in an effort to prove an old age for the earth. Dr. Ross has written:
Tree rings, coral reefs, ice deposits in Antarctica and Greenland, and sedimentary layers in lakes and seas are like calendars in that they record the passing of years. Each year another ring or layer is added. By counting the rings or layers, an investigator can determine for how many years the tree, reef, ice deposit, or sediment has been in existence.7
These methods seem simple enough. Most people probably already know that you can estimate the age of a tree by counting its rings. But what assumptions have gone into the above computations? All of the above assume the constancy of rates. In other words, they have assumed that one tree ring is produced every year; however, this is not always the case. Scientists have observed that trees can form more than one ring per year, particularly in years in which mild weather produces a longer growing season. Interestingly enough, these are precisely the conditions that would have existed in many parts of the world during the Ice Age.
Creation scientists such as Mike Oard have found that an Ice Age lasting a few hundred years would have logically resulted when the global flood ended. Contrary to the mental picture many people have, many parts of the world would have had a very temperate climate with mild seasons (cool summers, relatively warm winters) during the Ice Age. This would have caused conditions favorable to the production of multiple tree rings in a single year. It is also quite obvious that in the colder regions, the weather during the Ice Age would have deposited many more layers of ice per year than normally happens today. Hence, the name “Ice Age”!
Many people don’t realize how quickly ice layers can be deposited even today.8 Near the top of an ice layer, there are consecutive bands of alternating oxygen isotopes. These bands form quasi-annually due to the alternating cycle of heat and cold (summer and winter). However, storms also produce a heat-cold cycle, but in a matter of days. The alternating layers become much less distinct farther down in the ice sheet. Those who believe in an old earth have already assumed that the ice layers are hundreds of thousands of years old, and therefore that such layers have been drastically compressed (vertically) and stretched (horizontally) near the base. As a result, they assume the indistinct annual layers thousands of feet down in an ice sheet would be perhaps 100 times more compressed than a creationist would assume.9 Thus, a given volume of ice would be interpreted to have many times more annual layers in the uniformitarian view than in the creationist view. Old-earth assumptions have driven the old-earth conclusions. However, there is no scientific reason why such ice sheets cannot be laid down quickly. When we consider the effects of the post-Flood Ice Age, ice cores are consistent with the biblical time scale.10
One of the thickest coral reefs in the world is the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Although coral reefs have been estimated to grow at rates of 0.8 to 80 millimeters per year at the surface, depth-sounding measurements have reported much higher growth rates. The reason for the difference is that low tides and intense sunlight can kill corals at the surface. In fact, some estimates for the growth rate at depth are as high as 414 millimeters per year. At this rate, the entire coral reef could form in less than 3,500 years.11 Once again, we see that one of the thickest coral reefs in the world is consistent with the biblical time scale—even when we use rates measured today.12 Clearly, coral reefs do not support an old earth.
Sedimentary layers can be laid down quickly in flood conditions, as we examined in the last chapter. Some layers contain alternating thick and thin layers of shale that are interpreted to form in summer and winter respectively.13 Certain formations, such as the Green River Formation in Wyoming, contain millions of these layers, which are called “varves.” Old-earth supporters have argued that varves prove the earth is very old. Once again, uniformitarian assumptions play a key role. The old-earth creationists believe that in the past, varves have always been deposited annually—as they normally are today. However, similar alternating layers have been produced very quickly under the right conditions.14 Moreover, well-preserved fossils of fish and birds are found in the Green River Formation. This indicates that conditions were much different than those that exist in lakes today, which do not normally provide the conditions necessary for this kind of fossilization. Only by ignoring the effects of the global flood and other catastrophic events could we conclude that layers of rock, such as varves, represent vast ages.
Clearly, these old-earth arguments are all assuming uniformitarianism. Specifically, they ignore the effects of the global flood and the Ice Age that followed. When the effects of the Flood and the resulting Ice Age are included, we find that ice cores, lake sediments, coral reefs, and tree rings are consistent with the biblical time scale.
Ironically, each of these arguments against a young earth actually becomes evidence for a young earth when interpreted in light of Scripture! Take tree rings, for example. If we allow for the fact that trees can occasionally produce more than one ring per year, and if we count these rings, we find that the ages of the oldest trees in the world are only a few thousand years. This is consistent with the biblical time scale. The oldest-known living trees have roughly 4,600–4,800 rings.15 It is therefore somewhat surprising, and perhaps a bit of a bluff, that an old-earth supporter would try to use tree rings to support the long-age position.
We also want to address some arguments that allegedly indicate an old universe. In our experience, the most commonly used argument for the supposed antiquity of the universe is “distant starlight.” Some galaxies are so far away that presumably it should take billions of years for their light to reach earth. Since we do see these galaxies, obviously their light has arrived. Old-universe supporters claim this demonstrates that the universe is really billions of years old. We will now examine the assumptions that have gone into this estimation.
First, we must recognize that creationists and evolutionists agree on some of the assumptions involving distant starlight. We agree that the galaxies really are far away because the techniques that allow us to measure such distances are logically sound, repeatable methods; they are part of operational science. Furthermore, most creationists agree that the light from the stars was not created “already on its way.” The reason for this is that we see things happen in space; stars explode, pulsate, and so on. If we are merely observing light that was created in-transit, then none of these things have actually occurred. After all, the assumption that our senses are basically reliable (and therefore what we see is a reasonably accurate representation of reality) is a biblical assumption.
Also, the argument makes some assumptions concerning the constancy of rates. One such assumption is that the speed of light has not changed with time. If light were much faster in the past, then it could easily have traveled most of the distance from the galaxies to earth at its increased rate until it slowed down recently. Some creationists have suggested that this is the solution to the distant starlight argument; however, caution is in order. There are some good reasons to think that the speed of light really may be constant over time. The speed of light is “linked” to other constants in physics; if one changes, so do the others. It may be that the speed of light must have been pretty close to what it currently is in order for life to have been possible. Although such details are still being researched, most creationists believe that the constancy of the speed of light is probably a fairly good assumption. However, there are other rates that have been assumed to be constant in the distant starlight argument.
One other assumption is that the rate at which time itself flows is essentially constant. But Einstein showed that this is not the case. Under certain conditions, clocks will tick slower than in other conditions. This is called “time dilation” and it has been experimentally demonstrated. One creation-based cosmology uses this principle to get distant starlight to earth in only thousands of years. We have a number of resources discussing this exciting research,16 and so we will not repeat the details here. The point to remember is that old-universe supporters have made a uniformitarian assumption concerning the constancy of time. They have assumed that the effects of time-dilation have never been significant as light travels through space. This critical assumption could be completely wrong; so, the conclusion that the universe must be old is unreliable.
The distant starlight argument also assumes naturalism since it supposes that the light arrived on earth entirely according to today’s laws of nature. Is this reasonable? A Christian should not assume that this must be so. After all, stars began giving off light during the creation week when God was supernaturally creating the universe. Remember, the reason why the laws of nature are constant today is because God upholds the universe (Heb. 1:3) in a consistent way. The laws of nature describe the logical, consistent way that God has sustained the universe since He made it. But while God was creating the universe, He was acting in a way that is different than today. For example, He spoke stars and animals into existence. The laws of nature are not adequate to describe how God created the universe.
This is not to say that none of the laws of nature applied before God ended His work of creation. God was simultaneously sustaining the universe while continuing to create it. The description of the sustaining aspects of God’s actions during the creation week might be what we would call the laws of nature. But God was also working in a different way than He works today. This cannot be overstated. When God created the lights in the firmament (the sun, the moon, and the stars) He made them to be for signs, seasons, days, and years, and “
to give light upon the earth” (Gen. 1:14–15). Genesis 1:15 ends with the phrase “
and it was so,” suggesting that the stars fulfilled their purpose immediately, or at least on that day.
A consistent Christian must be open to the possibility that the mechanism God used to get the starlight to earth during the creation week cannot be understood in terms of today’s “laws of nature.” This thought may be disappointing to science-minded individuals because we want to know everything. And, of course, it is also possible that God did use “natural” means to get the starlight here. The point is that a Christian should not assume that this must be the case. Such an assumption is not warranted by the Bible.
There are other questionable assumptions that have gone into the distant starlight argument. For a more detailed discussion on these assumptions, see chapter 19 of The New Answers Book.17 The purpose of this chapter is to show that old-earth (and old-universe) creationists have used unbiblical assumptions to support their worldview. Once again, we have seen that the old-age proponents have fallaciously employed the secular assumptions of uniformitarianism and naturalism in order to arrive at their age estimate. Therefore, distant starlight cannot be considered to be a logical or reliable argument for an old universe.
Most biblical creationists believe that the universe is expanding, or has been expanded. Based on passages that describe God stretching out the heavens (Isa. 40:22; Job 9:8), we conclude that the universe is somewhat larger now than when it was first created. This expansion appears to be supported by scientific evidence as well, and most secular astronomers do believe the universe is expanding. The old-earth creationist Hugh Ross believes that this expansion is strong evidence for an “old” universe. His argument is unsound for more than one reason, and to be fair, I suspect that most old-earth supporters would not use it. I mention it here only because it is one of Hugh Ross’s most common arguments18 and because it is easy to see the faulty reasoning in it. Dr. Ross writes:
So, careful measurement of the distances to galaxies, combined with their redshift values, can tell astronomers the rate of cosmic expansion. From that data they can then calculate how long the universe has been expanding.19
In other words, like secular scientists, Ross has assumed that the universe has always been expanding the way it is today.20 Then he has extrapolated this expansion back in time while assuming that the universe started from (virtually) zero size. The assumption that today’s rate of expansion has always applied21 is the assumption of uniformitarianism. This is a particularly bad assumption in this case, because the Bible tells us that God himself stretches out, or has stretched out, the heavens. This may indicate that the bulk of this expansion was done supernaturally (using means that God does not normally use today).22
There is another assumption in this argument and it is quite strange. The old-universe argument assumes that the entire universe started with no size! This is an assumption of the initial conditions. The old-earth supporter would have us believe that all the mass and energy in the universe (and even space itself ) were contained in a point with essentially no size called a “singularity.” This idea certainly does not originate from Scripture.
The notion that this universe began as an infinitesimal point which suddenly catastrophically expanded forming matter, stars, galaxies, and everything else is called the “big bang.” The big bang is what secular scientists believe created the universe. And many old-earthers have latched onto this secular model. In fact, Dr. Ross often refers to the big bang as the “creation event,” presumably to make it sound biblical. Do not be fooled. The big bang is the secular model for the origin of the universe.
Why would anyone assume that the universe started with no size as a singularity? The answer is that secular scientists want to avoid a supernatural origin at all costs. Clearly, the creation of a large universe from nothing would require an act of God. Nothing large could ever pop into existence by itself; it would require a Creator, which is an unacceptable notion to the secular mind. However, at the very smallest level, particles seem to appear and disappear randomly. This is a very bizarre phenomenon in the field of quantum physics. Without going into details, it is sufficient to say that secular scientists hope to use what seems to be a “loophole” in physics. They hope that by pushing the problem to an infinitesimally small size it will allow them to believe in the creation of the universe from nothing without having to invoke a Divine Being. The problem for the secular scientist is that this doesn’t solve the problem, because even at very small sizes, particles do not truly come from nothing but from spacetime.23
The assumption that the universe began with no size is really an atheistic assumption and is a form of naturalism. Again, we want to stress that not all big-bang supporters are atheists. Many do believe in some sort of god, but they usually do not believe in the biblical God. The secular philosophy of naturalism dominates the thinking of scientists today. So the supernatural is excluded from the start. Many old-earth creationists have bought into the assumptions of the big bang without realizing its atheistic underpinnings.
We have seen that the expanding universe argument uses not just one, but two unbiblical assumptions. It assumes uniformitarianism (that the expansion rate has always been consistent with what we observe today) even though we have biblical reasons to think otherwise. It also assumes naturalistic initial conditions (that the universe began with no size). This particular old-universe argument is especially revealing. It confirms what we have stated previously, that old-earth creationists use the same assumptions as unbelievers when interpreting scientific data. This fact alone should cause believers to be very cautious about accepting old-earth claims.
We want to briefly address some of the mistakes in logic that are occasionally committed by old-earth supporters. We do not mean to imply that these blunders are as common as the above arguments. For the most part, the conclusions of old-earth supporters follow logically from their incorrect assumptions; however, we have seen a substantial number of old-earth creationists and evolutionists employ the following logical fallacies.
First is the appeal to the majority. This is when a person argues that something must be true simply because a majority of people believe it. Of course, this is not a logical reason to believe something. A similar argument is the faulty appeal to authority. This is when someone argues that a particular thing must be true because an expert in the field has said so. Although we certainly should respect people who are experts in their field, this does not mean that everything they say is true—even regarding matters in their own field of research. This is particularly clear when there are examples of other experts in the same field who disagree with each other.
Often the appeal to majority is combined with the faulty appeal to authority. “How could all those scientists be wrong about the age of the earth?” Although the question is meant to be rhetorical, it is easily answered. They start from the wrong assumptions due to a rejection of God’s Word. Evolutionist24 and old-earth supporter Eugenie Scott is fond of using this fallacy. Along with Glenn Branch, she wrote:
The positive claims of young-earth creationism—that the universe and the earth were created ~10,000 years ago, that the Earth was inundated by Noah’s Flood, and that all living things were created by God to reproduce “after their kind,” thus setting limits on evolution—are unanimously rejected by the scientific community.25
This statement is obviously false, since there are many members of the scientific community who embrace the Bible’s teachings. Although the majority of scientists reject a young universe, it can hardly be considered unanimous. And even if every single scientist believed in billions of years, it would not mean that it must be true. Remember, the majority of scientists also reject the resurrection of Christ. Just because a majority of scientists believe something does not make it true. This is not to say that we should ignore what scientists say. We should respect their knowledge. But we must always be careful to consider how their philosophy/worldview has colored their interpretation of the evidence.
In a sense, virtually all old-earth arguments are circular. They assume the secular “old-earth” assumptions of uniformitarianism and naturalism in order to “prove” that the earth is old. This circular logic may be due to the fact that many old-earth supporters are not aware of their own starting assumptions. However, astute thinkers should be able to identify the circular nature of many old-earth arguments. We pointed out earlier that radiometric dating is unreliable because it has been shown to give wrong age estimates on rocks whose ages are historically known. A prominent old-earth creationist has responded to this criticism. Note the circular reasoning in his statements:
Supposed “evidence” against the reliability of radiometric dating focuses on the method’s “flaws” or inaccuracies when applied outside its limitations. For example, uranium-238 radiometric dating, when applied to young samples, yields absurd dates. Why? With a half-life of 4.51 billion years, uranium-238 dating cannot be effective for measuring the age of any sample younger than a few hundred million years old.26
What’s wrong with this reasoning? The problem is that all rock samples are “young.” According to Scripture, they are all much younger than a few hundred million years. Therefore, uranium-238 dating will yield “absurd dates” for all samples. The old-earth creationist quoted above has assumed that radiometric dating really does give correct answers on rocks that are really millions of years old; but how do we know which rocks are really millions of years old? By uranium-dating them, of course. But this only works on “old” rocks. By the author’s reasoning, we would have to already know the rock is ancient in order to use radiometric dating to prove that it is ancient. The reasoning is circular and thus proves nothing.
We have heard a number of old-earth supporters make statements such as this: “If the universe really were young, then why does it look old?” We saw in the previous chapter that there are many evidences consistent with the biblical time scale. The statement that the universe “looks old” really reveals more about the person’s starting assumptions than anything about the universe. Furthermore, this argument involves a number of fallacies: a failure to recognize the starting assumptions, the assumption of naturalism, and circular reasoning.
First, let’s examine the starting assumptions behind this argument. If taken literally, the argument suggests that age can be identified by sight. This simply is not correct. How can the universe (or the earth or a rock) literally “look” old? Remember that age is not a substance that can be measured by instruments, and certainly not by eye. I could make a rock in a laboratory that is essentially identical to one found in nature. They would look identical, but would have vastly different ages. I could even place the same amounts of radioactive elements in the artificial rock, so it would give the same radiometric age estimate as the natural one. In order to know the age of something for certain, we would either need to have been present when the thing was created or have a historic record written by someone who was. When such information is missing, we can only make an educated guess about an object’s age. Clearly, it is impossible to tell just by looking at the universe or the earth how old they are.
Of course, figuratively speaking, there is a sense in which something can “look” old or young, if we use the phrase loosely. For example, we might say that a person “looks” a particular age. But what do we really mean by this? Clearly, we don’t mean that we can actually see someone’s age as if it were a label stamped on his forehead. Rather, we mean that this person resembles other people, in some ways, whose age we do know. We might notice that Joe (whom we just met) is starting to lose his hair just like our good friend Greg (whose age we know either because he told us, or we grew up together, etc.) We might conclude that Joe is about the same age as Greg. Granted, people do not age at exactly the same rate, but it is not so far off that we would confuse teenagers with the elderly.
In order to make such age estimations, we need a large “sample size.” We would have to observe many people whose age we know in order to make comparisons to a person whose age we are trying to estimate. Likewise, in order to correctly assess the age of the universe by sight alone, we would need to have a large sample of universes of different ages with which to compare it! But then, how would we know the ages of those other universes? Unless they are so very young that we had witnessed their creation, we would have to rely on eyewitness testimony of someone who had seen them created—perhaps God. Then we could say that our universe looks most like “Universe 103C” which God has told us is a particular age. However, as far as we know, God has only created the one universe. So, it just is not rational to say that the universe “looks” old when there is nothing with which to compare it.
In the same way, we cannot accurately say that the earth “looks” old, either. Although we do have a sample of other planets in the universe, we would have to know their ages in advance in order to compare with the earth. But how would we know their ages? By comparing them with still other planets, perhaps? We would have to know how old planets are in order to say how old they “look.” Clearly such reasoning is circular. In fact, all the planets in the universe are the same age—except Earth! The Bible tells us that the stars were made on the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:14–19). The Hebrew word for stars would also include what we call planets. All the celestial lights were made on the fourth day—three days after the creation of earth.
There is another fundamental flaw in arguing that the universe and earth “look” old. Many age-dating techniques overlook this simple point. It concerns the initial conditions—the way the universe and earth first started. To illustrate this point, we will go back to our analogy of estimating the ages of people. We can certainly get a very rough estimate of a person’s age by their physical characteristics (size, hair color/amount, skin texture/wrinkles, etc.) since we have observed how people age. But suppose we could travel back to day 7, just one day after God created Adam. If we tried to estimate Adam’s age in the same way we do with other people today, what would we conclude? You might say that Adam “looks” like a 30-year-old adult, but in fact, Adam was only one day old at this point.
Does this mean that God is dishonest? Was it deceptive of God to make Adam “look” 30 years old when his true age is only one day? Of course not. Remember, strictly speaking, something does not “look” old or young; age is an indication of history—not appearance. Why would we ever conclude that Adam “looks” older than he is? It is because we have made an incorrect assumption about initial conditions. We have assumed that Adam came into existence the same way people do today—conceived and born from previous people. This follows from the assumption of naturalism. When a baby is born, then it does take many years for him or her to become an adult.
In contrast, Adam did not need any time to become an adult. He looked exactly the way he was supposed to when God created him. If we incorrectly conclude that the one-day-old Adam “looks” 30 years old, this is an error on our part, not God’s. Adam did not “look” 30 years old when he was created, although he may very well have looked similar (in some respects) to a typical 30-year-old man living today.
By incorrectly assuming that Adam came about by a natural process (the “ordinary” way God sustains the universe today), we would vastly overestimate his age, since Adam was supernaturally created. That is, God created Adam in a way He does not create people today: by forming him from the dust of the ground and breathing life into him. Remember that the earth and universe were also supernaturally created by God (Gen. 1:1). In contrast, the secular scientist believes that the earth and universe came about by the same natural processes in operation today. If we followed their lead, then we would likely conclude that the universe is much older than its true age, just as one might do with Adam. The assumption of naturalism leads to vastly inflated age estimates.
Some creationists have said that Adam was created with the “appearance of age.” This is a subtle contradiction of terms because, as we’ve said, age cannot be seen. It would be better to say that Adam was created as a mature adult. In addition, the earth was created mature, and so was the universe. They were all fully operational from the moment God created them. Since secular scientists adhere to naturalism, they believe the earth and universe were created by the kinds of natural processes we see in operation today. This causes them to overestimate the age of things by a factor of millions.
In virtually all cases of old-earth arguments, there is an implicit unbiblical assumption of uniformitarianism or naturalism. To help you become better at recognizing these, we want to provide you with a couple of exercises. See if you can find the unbiblical assumption(s) in the following old-earth argument.
Backward-revolving moons can also be explained in the context of great age… . The processes involved in moon capture, in radical tilting of a planet’s rotation axis, and in significant slowing of a planet’s rotation rate take millions of years to work their effects. They speak of age, not youth.27
Did you catch the unstated assumptions? The above argument assumes naturalism; it assumes that planets and moons formed by natural forces from a collapsing nebula. The possibility that God supernaturally created the planets and moons much as they appear now is not even considered. Yet the Bible makes it clear that the worlds were supernaturally created from nothing by God himself (Heb. 11:3). You might think that the above argument was offered by an atheist, but you would be mistaken. The author is an old-earth Christian. Like the atheist, he denies the possibility of a supernatural, ex-nihilo (“out of nothing”) creation of the solar system by God. As we have said before, old-earth creationists use essentially the same assumptions as secular scientists.
Once you have learned the basic principles of identifying the starting assumptions in an age-estimate, it is easy to spot the flaws in old-earth arguments—even ones that are fairly technical. So let’s try a more in-depth example from the field of astronomy. The old-universe argument is summarized in the next paragraph. Even without going into the physics details, it is possible to identify the secular starting assumptions.
The sun produces a tremendous amount of energy in its core by nuclear fusion. This energy is in the form of high energy photons—particles of light. These photons travel from the core to the surface of the sun. But they don’t travel in a straight line because they are absorbed and re-emitted (in a random direction) by the hot solar plasma.28 It takes quite a long time for the photons to “wander” randomly to the solar surface, where they escape to space. The process is called photon diffusion. Astronomy textbooks report that the photon diffusion time scale in the sun is about 100,000 years.29 In other words, it would take an average of about 100,000 years for a photon created in the solar core to reach the surface of the sun. Since we do see photons (light) from the surface of the sun, the old-universe supporter argues that the sun must be at least 100,000 years old, and so the biblical time scale of about 6,000 years must be wrong.
Even though this argument is a bit more technical than most, it still suffers from the same flaws. The argument has employed secular assumptions to argue against the biblical time scale. In this case, the assumption is naturalism, which has led to incorrect initial conditions. In other words, it is assumed that we know that the photons on the surface of the sun today actually were produced in the core by the same natural processes in which they are produced today.
When God created the sun, it was shining right away—not because the photons had taken a long time to travel from the core, but because God made the sun hot! Notice that God did not need to create the photons directly (out of nothing). Simply by God giving the sun a high temperature, photons are produced from the plasma.30 Today, that temperature is maintained by nuclear fusion in the core, but there is no rational reason to believe that the energy being released at the sun’s surface today was once produced in the core. It was created supernaturally by God. So the secular assumption of naturalism is to blame for the inflated age-estimate.
There are many more such arguments that could be examined but have already been refuted in our other literature.31 It is important to realize that all of them stem from the faulty and secular assumptions of naturalism, and uniformitarianism or in some cases, faulty logic. In fact, it is usually very easy to identify these assumptions in an old-earth argument. Go ahead and try it! Respectfully ask an old-earth supporter why he or she thinks the earth is old. Pay attention to the starting assumptions. With some practice, you will quickly be able to identify the faulty reasoning of old-earth creationist (or evolutionist) arguments.
A perpetual motion machine is a hypothetical device that can run forever without any input of energy. Many such machines have been proposed over the years. Some schematics appear on the surface very reasonable, but they always fail. Why? The laws of physics do not allow for such a mechanism. Specifically, the second law of thermodynamics insists that energy always goes from a useful to a useless form, and thus, any machine inevitably runs down unless it acquires new energy from an outside source. No matter how good a perpetual motion machine looks on paper, it could never work because it violates a law of physics. This law has demonstrated itself to be correct time and again.
Likewise, many arguments have been devised that supposedly prove the earth and universe are billions of years old. Some of these may seem good on paper, but they could never actually work because they violate the teaching of Scripture. The Bible has demonstrated itself to be correct time and again. We can have absolute confidence in what it says about the time scale of creation. Evolutionists and other old-earth supporters may continue to search for the proof that the universe is old, but their search is as futile as the search for a perpetual motion machine. No argument that goes against God’s Word can possibly be sound.
Since the Bible undisputedly teaches a young earth, when someone claims that scientific evidence proves otherwise, we can be certain that they are mistaken. We have seen that faulty assumptions are responsible for inflated age estimates. Specifically, the unbiblical doctrines of naturalism and uniformitarianism cause unbelievers and other old-earth supporters to make incorrect assumptions about initial conditions and constancy of rates. Every “scientific” old-earth argument we have come across involves either incorrect starting assumptions or logical fallacies. In the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15, it is important to learn to identify these errors, so that we can give an answer to the unbeliever and to believers who are not yet strong in the faith. We should also remember the last phrase of 1 Peter 3:15; we must always answer with gentleness and respect.
The Bible tells us that “
all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are deposited in Christ (Col. 2:3, (NASB)).32 Think about it: all truth is in Christ. God’s Word is therefore the ultimate foundation for all knowledge. We must always strive to build our thinking on the rock of God’s Word, not the shifting sands of man’s opinion (Matt. 7:24–27).33 Since it provides an infallible account of what God has done, the Bible is our supreme guide to interpreting the scientific evidence. It is because the Bible is true that science is possible! Since even unbelievers do accept that science is possible, it is clear that they know in their heart of hearts that the Bible is true. Sadly, they suppress that truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18–20).
The secular world rejects the idea of a supernatural creation of the universe and earth. The unbeliever dismisses the catastrophic biblical flood of Genesis; the Bible says they “willfully forgot” that the world “
perished, being flooded with water” (2 Pet. 3:5–6). Instead, the unbeliever embraces the philosophy of uniformitarianism—the idea that “
all things continue as they were” (2 Pet. 3:4). The Bible tells us to beware of secular philosophies. “
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).34
Many Christians have been taken in by the secular principles of naturalism and uniformitarianism. These false philosophies cause them to misinterpret scientific evidence and draw incorrect conclusions. Most people are not aware of the assumptions behind secular interpretations of data. They are inclined to accept the conclusions of the majority of scientists as truth without regarding the driving philosophies behind those conclusions. We are warned in 1 Timothy 6:20–21 to avoid “
opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge.’ ”35 We have seen how old-earth creationists have accepted the assumptions and conclusions of unbelievers, and how such secular thinking has led to severe “re-interpretation” of God’s Holy Word.
We saw in the last chapter how Proverbs 26:4–5 suggest a “don’t answer, answer” strategy for responding to a critic. We should never be fooled into accepting the critic’s unbiblical assumptions (“don’t answer”—verse 4), but we should show how such faulty assumptions would lead to an absurd or inconsistent conclusion if they were true (“answer”—verse 5). When we employed this strategy, we showed how the faulty assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism lead to inconsistent conclusions—age estimates that are much less than the billions of years required by secular origins models.
However, in this chapter we have seen that old-earth creationists have not followed this strategy. They use the “old-earth” assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism to “prove” that the earth is old. Such reasoning is circular and proves nothing. Rather than showing how the unbeliever’s assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism lead to an inconsistent result, they have embraced these assumptions. By “answering the fool according to his folly” (Prov. 26:4) they have “become like him.” Old-earth creationists have embraced the assumptions of unbelievers, and have become like them—refusing to believe the clear teachings of Scripture.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.