In this chapter we will examine the nature and role of science, as well as the ability and limitations of scientific dating methods.
At this point, we have established that the Bible unequivocally teaches a “young” earth. In other words, God created the universe and the earth in six ordinary days, roughly 6,000 years ago. But what do the scientific dating methods indicate?
In this chapter we will examine the nature and role of science, as well as the ability and limitations of scientific dating methods. It is crucial that we have a proper understanding of how science works, and the underlying philosophy and assumptions involved in any age-dating method before any accurate age estimates can be made. We will then apply proper scientific techniques to the evidence. We will find that the scientific evidence confirms the biblical age of the earth of several thousand years.
The Bible must come first in our quest for knowledge; it is superior to other sources of information, including knowledge gained from the natural sciences. This must be the case because other sources of knowledge presuppose the Bible. In other words, in order for us to gain knowledge about anything in the universe through any means (including scientific analysis), we would have to already assume that the Bible is true. People do not often realize this, so let’s briefly explore this idea.
In order for science to be possible, what things must be true?1 What are the things that scientists assume (presuppose) before any investigation of evidence? Scientists presuppose that the universe obeys logical, rational laws, and that the human mind is able to discover and understand these laws and make predictions about how the universe will be in the future. Without these assumptions, science would be impossible. Yet, these assumptions are exactly what we would expect from the Bible. God is rational and upholds the universe in a logical, orderly fashion—which we call the “laws of nature.” And since God made our minds to be able to function in this universe (and since we are made in God’s image), it stands to reason that our minds would have the ability to discover truths about the universe.
But without the Bible, we wouldn’t have justification for these truths. This isn’t to say that unbelievers cannot do science; they can. The non-Christian also assumes a rational, orderly universe, and a rational mind that can understand the universe. But the non-Christian cannot justify these concepts within his own worldview; he cannot account for what he is doing. Science cannot be rationally used to override the plain teaching of the Bible, because the plain teaching of the Bible is required in order for science to be possible.
Furthermore, since the Bible has never been wrong about anything, and since it is the very Word of the One who knows everything, we must place our confidence in the Bible above all other sources of information. Many old-earth creationists do not accept this principle. Instead, they have a tendency to put the Bible at the same level (in principle) or below the level (in practice) of the latest secular scientific theories. This is rationalized under the premise that since God made the universe, nature must be as truthful as the Bible. Old-earth creationists will sometimes say it like this: “The record of nature must be just as perfect, and reliable and truthful as the 66 books of the Bible that is part of the Word of God.”2 As mentioned earlier, Dr. Hugh Ross has said, “The facts of nature may be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible.”3
However, there is a fundamental error with this reasoning. Nature is not propositional truth. Propositional truth is a statement or sequence of statements that are true. However, nature is not comprised of statements! Therefore, nature cannot be true or false; it simply is. If I held up a rock and asked someone to evaluate whether it was true or false, this would make no sense. True and false apply to statements. If I made a statement about the rock (“This rock exists”), then we could evaluate the statement as true, but not the rock itself. Likewise, when scientists make statements about nature, we can evaluate those statements as true or false, but not nature itself.
In fact, the “record of nature” is somewhat misnamed because a record is an account in writing, whereas nature is not written. Again, nature is not propositional truth. On the other hand, the Bible is propositional truth. It is a sequence of statements, and all the statements that are affirmed in the Bible are true. In a sense, the Bible is the “record of nature” since it records the creation of the universe and many of the major events of history. It is simply false when old-earth creationists talk of fossils and rocks as a “record of nature” that is supposedly comparable to the Bible.
This isn’t to say that we cannot learn anything from nature. When evidence from the natural world is properly interpreted, it can provide a wealth of information. However, the way in which such evidence is interpreted depends largely on what a person already believes about the world. Most people are unaware of how significantly a worldview affects one’s interpretation of data. This is an important principle, and we will revisit this in detail later. For now, it is sufficient to say that the conclusions scientists draw from data are very strongly influenced by their beliefs. Science is not nearly as objective as many people believe it to be.
There are several problems with treating scientific theories about nature as if they were at the same level as Scripture. First, as mentioned in chapter 4, nature is cursed (Rom. 8; Gen. 3), whereas the Bible is not. This instantly places the Bible in a higher position.
Second, scientific theories are not nature; rather, they are statements made by men about nature. As such, they are fallible—whereas the Bible is not. It is true that we can misunderstand the Bible and we can also misunderstand scientific claims. However, we must remember that the Bible is never wrong, whereas scientific claims sometimes are.
Third, the way in which we interpret nature is strongly dependent on what we believe about the world. In order to do science at all, we must accept some of the truths of the Bible. As such, the Bible is actually the foundation of science.
This is not to say that we should never trust scientific theories; many of them are very well established. However, when there is a conflict between the ideas of men and the Word of God, the Bible must be considered our ultimate authority, because scientists can and have made mistakes. (It happens a lot—take it from me!) But God knows everything and never errs nor lies. So, unlike human wisdom, the Bible is an infallible source of information. Since the Bible teaches a young earth, we can know for certain that the earth is young.
This really should be enough for a Bible-believing Christian. Sadly, it’s been our experience that few professing Christians really believe the Bible in its entirety. They may believe that the Bible has moral value and they may even believe much of biblical history—such as the death and resurrection of Christ. However, when secular scientists tell them that we know the world is billions of years old, they crumble. Many Christians simply will not believe the history recorded in Genesis 1, no matter how clear the text is, because they place more faith in men than in God. They will either reject Genesis outright, or worse, they will “reinterpret” the Bible to match the secular notion of billions of years. However, when someone “reinterprets” the clear meaning of the words to accommodate outside notions, it simply means he does not believe the words.
“Reinterpreting” = not believing the text
However, many of the evidential old-earth arguments are really nothing more than unbiblical, faulty philosophy disguised as science. When we understand the role of science, and apply it properly, we will find that it supports the biblical time scale. We offer these two chapters to help people understand that when scientific evidence is correctly interpreted, it will confirm what the Bible teaches.
The word science comes from the Latin scientia, which means “knowledge.” So, in its broadest sense, science is what we know. Under this definition, all historic events, including all the events recorded in the Bible, fall within the realm of science.
Today, many dictionaries will define science as knowledge that has been gained through observation and experimentation. This is the most common definition today, and it is more restrictive than the original meaning. For example, we do know some things that fall outside the modern definition of science. Recorded history is one example. We know that Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States. We know this, but not because we have observed it, or confirmed it by experimentation; rather, we know it because we have reliable historical records.
Since science relies on observation and experimentation, it is well suited for describing and quantifying how the universe operates today. To be clear, we’ll call this kind of study “operational science.” Operational science would include such branches as physics, chemistry, and biology. For example, by observing how things fall, and by performing controlled experiments, we can deduce the formula for gravity, as Isaac Newton did. This formula, along with other laws of physics, can then be used to make predictions about the future—such as the positions of the planets next year. For the most part, physics, chemistry, and biology describe the way the world operates today, and therefore fall under the scope of operational science.
The topics of creation, evolution, and the age of the earth do not fall under the category of operational science. These issues pertain to the past—how and when the universe came into existence. This is not something that can be answered directly by observation and experimentation. That’s not to say that the methods and processes of operational science cannot shed light on these issues. Clearly, scientific methods can help inform our understanding of the past. However, since the past is gone, it cannot be observed, nor can we experiment on it.
The above statement may seem obvious, but many people do not really grasp this concept. In fact, many have objected to this concept by saying, “But a fossil is a piece of the past.” This objection just is not true. A fossil is a piece of the present; otherwise we would not have it! We could certainly make some guesses about how and when the fossil formed in the past. But, could operational science ever prove these guesses to be true? No. At best, operational science could establish that fossils can be formed in a certain way today. For example, by creating fossils in a laboratory, we know that they can form very quickly under the right conditions. But operational science could never prove for certain how a particular fossil formed if that fossil’s formation was not observed. Past events are not accessible to operational science because they cannot be observed or experimented upon.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with making a reasonable conjecture about how a fossil formed by drawing on the observations and experiments of operational science. For example, operational science tells us that fossils and rock layers can form very quickly under flood conditions. It is therefore reasonable to conjecture that many of the fossils and rock layers of the earth were formed during a particularly massive flood. Applying scientific techniques of the present to answer a question about the past is called “origins science.” Note that some branches of study, such as astronomy and geology, include both operational and origins science.
Origins science is an attempt to answer a history question using science. Radiometric dating is one example. The radioactive elements contained in a certain rock are measured (in the present: this is the science part—it is testable and repeatable), and then (along with certain assumptions that we will discuss below) an estimation is made about how long ago the rock formed. In principle, there is no reason why such a guess cannot be made. However, origins science is much less certain than operational science, because it is difficult to ever prove or disprove the conclusions. How do we really know for certain how long ago the rock formed? Any “scientific” age estimate is really just an educated guess, and in most cases it is impossible to know with any certainty whether that guess is actually correct. We should also understand that questions of age and history are best answered by consulting a history book, if one is available.
Consider the following facetious example. Suppose two students are asked to find out when World War I started. This is obviously a history question. The first student consults several history books written around the time and finds that they generally agree on the date. He concludes that it began in A.D. 1914. The second student puts on his white lab coat, and gathers a number of chemicals, beakers, and DNA samples, and begins experimentation in a laboratory. After several weeks, he concludes from his experiments that World War I began 3.7 million years ago. Which student would you be more inclined to believe? What if the second student actually held a PhD in geology and had just won a Nobel Prize? Would this change your mind?
Hopefully, you would dismiss the 3.7-million-year date as absurd since recorded history indicates precisely when the war began. Even without knowing the details, we can conclude that the second student was mistaken. His education and accomplishments are irrelevant. It would be simply absurd to reject recorded history in favor of guesswork—even “scientific” guesswork. And yet this is precisely what many people do when it comes to the age of the earth. When we ask about the age of something, we are not asking a science question, but rather a history question. We are asking, “At what point in the past did something come into existence?” Why is it that when it comes to the age of the earth, people reject the recorded history of the Bible in favor of “scientific” guesswork? It seems that many Christians do not have any real confidence in the Bible.
Many times, unbelievers will ask a Christian to leave the Bible out of the discussion when talking about the age of the earth or evolution. The foolish response would be to accept these terms, say okay, and then proceed to throw science evidences at the unbeliever without the Bible. And sadly, this is what many Christians do. This approach is generally futile.
It tends to be ineffective because the unbeliever does not have the correct worldview to properly interpret the evidence. The wise Christian never abandons the Word of God—he must challenge the assumptions of the unbeliever rather than accept them! Proverbs 26:4 states, “
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.”
By this, we are not implying that all unbelievers are fools, but it is most certainly “folly” to start with the assumption that the Bible is not true or is irrelevant to origins. Why? Because the Bible is true and is very relevant to origins, considering it is the Word of a perfect God who has always been there and created everything. Why would we start with an assumption that is false?
Proverbs 26:5 states, “
Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Some people think that this verse contradicts verse 4, but they are mistaken. Verses 4 and 5 together do not form a contradiction; they form a strategy. We do not accept the erroneous, unbiblical assumptions of the unbeliever or we would be like him (verse 4). However, we can and should, for the sake of argument, show where his erroneous assumptions would lead if they were true. In other words, we show how the unbeliever’s faulty assumptions lead to a ridiculous conclusion that he does not accept. This will demonstrate that he cannot be “wise” for starting with such fallacious assumptions (verse 5). This may sound very abstract, so we will illustrate it with the following example.
An unbeliever might say, “I’m an evolutionist; your view is unscientific because you believe that God created the universe. If you’re going to prove that evolution is false then you have to use the laws of science only.” Rather than buying into this premise, we challenge it (Prov. 26:4). We might say, “Why do you think a belief in God is ‘unscientific’? This isn’t true; in fact, it is because God exists that science is possible. Think about it: the reason the universe is orderly and logical is because a logical God has imposed order on His creation. It’s because God created our minds that we are able to discover the laws of science that He created.” We then respectfully show the inconsistency in the unbeliever’s thinking (Prov. 26:5). “If the universe were just an accident as you believe, then why should it obey orderly principles? Why should there be laws if there is no Lawgiver? You have accepted the biblical principle of an orderly, logical universe, while simultaneously denying the God who makes such order possible.”
This same kind of approach can be used on old-earth creationists. We will show that they accept secular, anti-biblical assumptions while simultaneously claiming to believe the Bible. Such inconsistencies are common in old-earth creationism. In the next few sections, we will compare and contrast the biblical and secular philosophies of science. Note that, for the most part, old-earth creationists embrace the secular assumptions of science rather than the biblical ones. So, we are really contrasting the young earther’s biblical assumptions with the old earther’s secular assumptions.
The consistent Christian approaches science from the following perspective. Since God created the universe, and since God is logical, we expect the universe to be logical. We expect it to obey rational laws, since God is the ultimate Lawgiver. Since God created our minds, and has given us stewardship of the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28), we expect to be able to understand, to some degree, how the world works. Since God is the omnipresent sustainer of all things, and since He does not change, it makes sense that God would not arbitrarily change the way He sustains the universe. Granted, there have been times when God has acted in an extraordinary way to accomplish an extraordinary purpose. But the fact that God normally upholds the universe in a logical and quantifiable way is what the Christian would expect. The laws of nature are descriptions of the logical, consistent way that the Lord sustains the universe. The fact that these laws apply throughout space and do not vary with time is a reflection of God’s omnipresent and consistent nature.
Interestingly, secular scientists also embrace the above biblical principles of science, although they deny the biblical basis for these principles. That is to say, secular scientists agree that the universe is logical and orderly, that it obeys natural laws, that the mind is able to understand much of the universe, and that the laws of nature are constant with time and space. Yet, they would have no logical reason to believe these things if the Bible were not true. This is a very blatant inconsistency in secular thinking, and so we will explore this in greater detail later.
However, there are some additional biblical assumptions of science that are embraced by the consistent Christian but are usually rejected by the secular scientist. For one, Christians have a supernatural worldview. That is, we allow for miracles. In fact, we insist on them. Since God is beyond the universe that He created, we know that He is able to work outside natural law, and according to the Bible, He occasionally does. We could define a “natural law” as a “description of the way God normally upholds the universe.” A miracle would occur when God acts in an unusual way to accomplish an extraordinary purpose. The resurrection of Christ would be one example. God does not normally raise the dead today.
Another biblical axiom is that God created the universe supernaturally. During the creation week, God was acting in a way that He does not today. God was speaking into existence new things—the land, the plants, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the animals. God also created Adam from the dust of the earth, and Eve from Adam’s side. God is not doing these things today and the Bible specifically tells us this. It states that God ended His work of creation by the seventh day (Gen. 2:2). Therefore, the consistent Christian does not expect that the laws of nature (which describe how God upholds the world today) can properly describe how God created the world.
Today, for example, we have the law of conservation of energy and mass, which states that no new energy or mass can come into existence. This law was obviously not in effect (at least in its present form) during the creation week; new energy and mass were coming into existence at God’s command. Likewise, the consistent Christian expects that God will again act in a supernatural way when He brings an end to this world and creates a new heaven and earth. Biblical miracles such as the resurrection of Christ and the creation of the universe are historical facts. They are true but are largely beyond the scope of operational science.
One must understand that the way God created the universe is not the same as the way He maintains the universe today. This is absolutely clear from the Bible. Secular scientists deny this principle, since they deny biblical creation. They are forced to assume (not because of facts, but because of their philosophical bias) that the creation of the universe was a natural event. They expect that the processes that formed the universe are the same as those that are acting within the universe today. Even though this is unbiblical, this secular assumption is also largely embraced by old-earth creationists, as will be shown in the next chapter.
One last biblical axiom has to do with the geological impact of the Flood. After the Flood, God promised to never again send such a devastating Flood of waters upon the earth (Gen. 8:21, 9:11). So, we can infer from Scripture that the Flood was the most geologically significant event since creation. Psalm 104:8 suggests that mountains rose and valleys sank during this catastrophe. Therefore, we would expect that many of earth’s geologic features, such as mountains, canyons, volcanoes, and rock layers were shaped rapidly during and soon after the worldwide flood.
We have seen that most secular scientists use a number of biblical assumptions when doing science. They assume (just as a Christian does) that the universe obeys natural laws, that these laws do not change with time or space, and that the human mind is capable of understanding the laws of nature, etc. However, the secular scientist has no logical reason to believe these things if the universe were merely an accident. He might argue that he uses these assumptions because they work—they make science possible. But that does not explain why they are true, whereas the Bible does explain this.
Because of his denial of Scripture, the secular scientist has several assumptions that differ from the Christian’s perspective. These assumptions deal largely with origins science rather than operational science. This explains why Christians and non-Christians largely agree on matters of operational science; that is, we agree on how the universe works today. However, we disagree about the past because the secular scientists make a number of philosophical assumptions that are unbiblical and unfounded. The two most obvious are naturalism and uniformitarianism.
Naturalism is the belief that nature is all that exists. A naturalist does not believe in miracles. He believes that everything that happens or has ever happened has occurred within the laws of nature. This even includes the origin of nature. The secular scientist assumes that everything that exists is the result of the laws of nature working over time. Curiously, a number of secular scientists do believe in God, or some version of a supreme being. However, they seem to regard this as irrelevant to their studies. It is as if they intentionally pretend that “nature is all that there is” when in fact they believe that to be false. Naturalism has become the modus operandi of the secular scientist in our day. It is the guiding principle to which virtually all secular scientists adhere. Yet, it is false.
If naturalism were true, it would be impossible to prove anything.4 Proofs involve use of the laws of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction, which says that you can’t have A, and not-A at the same time and in the same relationship. The laws of logic are not part of nature. They are not part of the physical universe. You can’t stub your toe on a law of logic. So, if nature (the physical universe) is all that exists and if laws of logic are not part of nature, then they can’t exist. But they are required for rational reasoning. So, the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. If it were true, it would be impossible to reason. Yet naturalism is what secular scientists use as the foundation for their thinking. We will show why this explains many of the incorrect conclusions drawn by secular scientists, such as evolution and an old earth.
Uniformitarianism is the belief that nature is uniform. This term can be used in more than one way, so let’s expand on this. First, uniformitarianism can simply mean that the laws of nature do not arbitrarily change with time. Of course, this is true. It is a biblical principle that God has maintained the universe consistently since its creation.5 We part company with secular scientists when they assume that the laws of nature have always applied—even to the origin of the universe and life. We do this because the Bible teaches that God created the universe and life supernaturally.
More frequently, the term uniformitarianism is the assumption that rates have always been generally the same as they are today.6 This is summed up in the phrase “the present is the key to the past.” Secular scientists observe that canyons are deepening, and some mountains are slowly lifting today. They assume that these present rates have been more or less constant throughout time. If that were the case, then it would take a very long time for mountains and canyons to form. Uniformitarianism assumes that the major geologic features of earth were formed gradually over vast periods of time by the slow and gradual processes we observe happening today. Since we do not observe a worldwide flood today, this event is dismissed out-of-hand by the uniformitarian scientist.
We are not suggesting that it is always unbiblical and wrong to assume that a particular process has been constant throughout time. For example, we believe the orbit of earth around the sun has remained about the same since God created the sun on the fourth day. However, we should always have a good, cogent reason for making such an assumption on a case-by-case basis. In addition, we certainly would not assume a rate is constant when we have good biblical reasons to believe otherwise. For example, there are certainly some universal biblical events that would have affected the rates at which some things occur. The global flood killed people and animals at a much greater rate than is happening today. So our disagreement with secular scientists is not that rates are never constant, but rather that (1) secular scientists have a tendency to arbitrarily assume that such rates are generally constant, and (2) that secular scientists ignore biblical events, such as creation and the Flood, that would most certainly affect the rates of various physical processes. The present is not the key to the past. The biblically minded person should realize that the reverse is true: the Bible (which tells us about the past) is the key to (understanding) the present.
It is clear that a belief in naturalism and uniformitarianism would lead to vastly inflated estimated ages for the earth and its various features. If we incorrectly assumed that the earth had formed by natural processes, then we would incorrectly conclude that it took a great deal of time for the earth to cool from the molten blob from which it allegedly formed. If we incorrectly assumed that there was no worldwide flood to push up mountains and form canyons, then we would incorrectly conclude that it took vast ages for these features to form at today’s rates. These conclusions are not irrational; they follow logically from the starting assumptions. However, the starting assumptions are wrong—and consequently, so are the conclusions! We will now examine how these assumptions and others adversely affect the unbeliever’s estimates of the age of the earth.
Recall that questions of age are not “science” questions but history questions, since they ask when in the past something happened. Age is not a substance that can be measured in the present by scientific processes. Age-dating methods are applied to a process—where something changes to something else at a known rate, such as the radioactive decay of substances in a rock. By extrapolating backward, one can estimate when the process began. There are several assumptions involved in this process that cast serious doubts on such methods.
It has been our experience that very few people really understand the assumptions involved in science—especially those of the age-dating methods of origins science. There are three significant assumptions involved in almost all age-dating techniques. These are the constancy of rates, the initial conditions of the system, and the assumption that the system is “closed” (which means that no material from the system is exchanged with the outside world). In this text, we will deal primarily with the first two assumptions. These assumptions tie in very strongly with the assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism.
Here is an example to illustrate these assumptions. Suppose a friend decided to pay us a surprise visit one day. We have not seen him for a while because he moved to a town 500 miles away several years ago. We notice that he is moving at 50 miles per hour as he arrives. We wonder how long ago he began his trip. This is a history question. To travel 500 miles at 50 miles per hour would take ten hours. So we conclude he began his journey ten hours ago. Of course, this may not be accurate because we have employed the above assumptions, which may not be true. He may have been traveling faster than 50 miles per hour for most of the trip, only slowing down for the last leg. In this case, our age estimate would be too high. We have assumed the constancy of rates, when the rate was not constant.
We have also made another assumption. It may be that he no longer lives in that city 500 miles away but now lives in a town that is only 50 miles away. So even if his rate really were constant, it would only take him one hour to arrive rather than ten. In this case, we have assumed the incorrect initial conditions, and this leads us to a vastly inflated age estimate.
Since the majority of secular scientists believe in naturalism and uniformitarianism, this causes them to make incorrect assumptions about the initial conditions and constancy of rates of various earth processes. These faulty assumptions lead to inflated estimates for the age of the earth. Here is a real-world example to illustrate this concept.
Today it is estimated that the Grand Canyon is eroding at a rate of 168 million tons per year.7 When we factor in the average density of material (2.0 g/cm3), this works out to a volume of 0.018 cubic miles per year of sediment that is removed. The Grand Canyon itself is just under 1,000 cubic miles in volume. If we divide 1,000 by 0.018, we find that it would take over 50,000 years8 for the Colorado River to remove enough material to form the Grand Canyon at today’s rate of erosion.
Notice the assumptions that have gone into this estimation. One assumption would be the starting conditions. We have assumed that there was not a canyon there to begin with—it really was cut out of pre-existing rock. This is a pretty safe assumption since the rock layers are mostly sedimentary rocks—the kind laid down by water. Most people would agree that the earth was not created with a Grand Canyon already there; so the Christian and non-Christian agree on the starting conditions in this case.
What about the rate of erosion? Have we made an unwarranted assumption here? Is it possible that the rate at which water cuts the canyon was faster in the past? Certainly! We know from Scripture that there was once a worldwide flood that killed all air-breathing land animals9 and people except those on the Ark (Gen. 7:21–23). Such a catastrophic event would lay down many successive layers of sediment, trapping the remains of animals killed during the Flood. We would expect to find layers of rocks containing fossils all around the world—and this is exactly what we do find. The walls of the Grand Canyon are made of these fossil-bearing sedimentary rock layers. So the canyon formed after the Flood.
Since all the land on earth was covered with water (Gen. 7:17), the amount of water that rushed into the oceans after the Flood would have been staggering! Such a massive quantity of water would have certainly cut canyons quickly. We know that such things can happen, because we have recently observed smaller canyons forming in a matter of days from massive flooding.
A consistent Christian would conclude that most of the Grand Canyon must have formed rapidly by catastrophic amounts of water and mud shortly after the worldwide flood. But since the unbeliever adheres to uniformitarianism, he denies the biblical flood, and consequently his estimated age of the Grand Canyon is far too old. Faulty starting assumptions have resulted in faulty conclusions. We will examine more of these kinds of arguments in the next chapter.
Whenever we come across any age-dating technique, we need to think about what assumptions have gone into it. When it comes to estimating the age of something, the Christian should always examine the assumptions about initial conditions, the constancy of rates, and whether the system was closed. This is not to say that a creationist would always disagree with the assumptions of a particular age estimate. Sometimes we have good reasons to think that certain rates really have been essentially constant; however, we do not arbitrarily assume that this is so. Moreover, we certainly do not assume constancy of rates when we have good biblical reasons to believe otherwise, such as the rapid changes in earth’s topography caused by the worldwide flood.
In the spirit of Proverbs 26:4, we refuse to accept the erroneous and unbiblical philosophies of uniformitarianism and naturalism. These doctrines have caused unbelievers to make incorrect assumptions about initial conditions and constancy of rates. In fact, virtually all old-earth arguments assume these false philosophies. Clearly, we cannot accept the conclusions of age estimates that are based on faulty starting assumptions. Unfortunately, old-earth creationists generally do accept such arguments. In some cases, they may not have realized the assumptions from which such estimates are derived.
However, in the spirit of Proverbs 26:5, we can, for the sake of argument, show how the secular assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism would lead to logical inconsistencies. When creationists talk about scientific evidence that confirms the biblical age of the earth, this is usually how the topic is approached. For the sake of argument, we will assume naturalism (nature is all that there is) and uniformitarianism (rates are generally constant—no worldwide flood) in the following examples. Then we will show how the logical conclusions still contradict the notion of billions of years.10
Rivers are constantly removing small fractions of salt from the land and transporting it to the ocean. The rate at which this happens has been measured. The salt added to the ocean by all the rivers in the world is about 450 million tons per year.11 The water at the ocean’s surface is constantly evaporating and then falls as rain, which collects in rivers, completing the cycle. The salt does not evaporate and only a fraction (27 percent is a generous upper limit) of the salt added to the ocean every year can be removed (by salt sprays and a handful of other processes). As a consequence, the ocean gets saltier every year by at least 330 million tons.
Assuming uniformitarianism (that this trend has been more-or-less constant throughout time), we can extrapolate backward to figure out when the ocean was entirely fresh water. In fact, just to be generous to the old-earth supporters, we will use a “worst-case scenario” rate even larger than today’s rate. When we do the calculation, the answer we get is that the oceans cannot be older than 62 million years. Note that we have also assumed the “worst-case scenario” initial conditions; we have assumed the ocean had no salt in it at all when it was first created. If the ocean did have salt in it at its beginning, then the true age must be considerably less than 62 million years.
If we used today’s rates, we would get 38 million years. These numbers may sound high, since they are much higher than 6,000 years, but evolutionists and other old-earth supporters believe that the oceans are three billion years old—50 times older than our upper limit estimate. Yet, when we use their starting assumptions, we find that this cannot be true. The old-earth belief is inconsistent with its own assumptions.
Likewise, rivers also carry sediment from the continents into the oceans. This mud accumulates on the ocean floor. The rate at which this occurs is about 20 billion tons per year. The only significant way to remove such mud is thought to be subduction (plate tectonics), but this could only remove a maximum of one billion tons per year at current rates. The rest just accumulates.
How long would it take to get the current amount of mud in the oceans? Assuming uniformitarianism (no worldwide flood), and “worst-case scenario” initial conditions (we assume there was no mud at all to begin with), it would take 12 million years to get the present amount of mud. So even when we intentionally ignore the effects of a global flood (which would deposit a great deal of mud very rapidly) we still find that the oceans cannot be 3 billion years old, as taught by old-earthers.
Many people have heard of carbon dating. Without being overly technical, it is sufficient to say that carbon dating is based on the process of carbon-14 (C-14) changing to nitrogen.
This process happens at a known rate. By measuring the current amount of C-14 in a dead organism and by extrapolating backward, scientists can estimate when it died. As with virtually all age-dating methods, this technique assumes certain initial conditions and it assumes that the rate at which C-14 decays is constant.12
The problem for old earth supporters is that C-14 always gives “young” age estimates (a few thousand years)—even on things like coal beds that are supposedly millions of years old. At its current decay rate, C-14 simply cannot last even one million years. Yet, C-14 has been found in coal that is supposedly millions of years old and even in diamonds that are allegedly more than a billion years old.13 Since diamonds are the hardest known substance, there is essentially no chance of contamination from the outside. So this is very compelling evidence that the earth is only thousands of years old.
Human population growth is another example. Starting with one man and one woman and using today’s growth rate, it would take less than 2,000 years to get all the people on earth. Of course, even the strictest uniformitarian would have to grant that the growth rate was slightly less in the past because of famines, disease, higher infant mortality rate, etc. Even if we use a much lower growth rate, we still find that human beings have only been around for a few thousand years, which is much less than evolutionists and old-earth supporters assume. In order to be compatible with the secular time-line, the growth rate would have to be extremely different from today’s rates, which is certainly incompatible with uniformitarianism. In fact, the growth rate would have to be essentially zero for hundreds of thousands of years. Of course, it is absurd to think that earth’s population remained constant for such a long time.
In the above examples, we have used the same secular assumptions of naturalism and uniformitarianism employed by the old-earthers and have shown how these lead to an inconsistency. In many cases, the evidence is simply inconsistent with an old earth—even when secular assumptions are used. Of course, if we use our own Bible-based starting assumptions, there is no problem. We assume that the universe was supernaturally created. We assume that the world was created fully functional from the beginning and was similar in many respects to the way it is today14 (with some important differences, of course), because the Bible indicates this. We assume that a worldwide flood is responsible for much of earth’s topography today, since this is a logical inference from the Word of God. These starting assumptions are very consistent with scientific observations. Yet when we start with secular, old-earth assumptions, we find that such assumptions lead to inconsistencies.
The scientific case for a young earth is very strong. In the next chapter, we will examine scientific arguments that supposedly support an old earth.