The age of the earth is an important point in the creation-evolution debate. The answer might surprise you.
Why is the age of the earth so important?
Because if the earth is young, then evolution could never take place as Darwin, Haeckel, and others have described it. But if the earth is old (make that old enough), then God is Unnecessary.
Evolutionist know it. That’s why they go all-out in defending the old-earth position—and sometimes they aren’t very polite about it.
How can one measure the age of the earth?
To measure the age of anything, one looks at the thing as it now stands and asks himself:
- What changes might have brought it to that state?
- How long did they take?
This page lists a few of the conventional ways that men try to answer these questions—at least for the whole universe.
The problem lies mainly with No. 2 above. “How long did they take” is hard to answer for anyone wasn’t standing nearby and watching the whole time. How do you know that the same changes taking place today, have always taken place since the world began, and never sped up or slowed down in the meantime? That is what the uniformitarians assume: that certain changes that they observe today never changed and will never change. They include radioactive decay, soil erosion, the salt in the ocean, and the movement of the plates that the continents rest on. (In fact, NASA just launched a robot ship, named Aquarius, to measure the salt in the oceans.) They use those assumptions to get a huge number for the age of the earth.
We know how fast these changes take place today. We do not know that they have always taken place exactly as fast, or as slowly, as they do today.
Where does it all add up today?
The uniformitarians insist that all their methods add up to one age of the earth: 4.5 billion years. But they have a problem already: the ocean is not salty enough for that. If, as they assume, the oceans have always taken in salt as fast as they do today, the oceans ought to be as dead, and as salty, as Israel’s Dead Sea by now. (And that’s very salty indeed; one swallow can kill you.) In fact, the amount of salt in the oceans today suggests that the earth can be no older than 10,000 years.
How do the evolutionists respond? By saying that “ocean salinity is a failed clock.” In short, they cop out. They will tell you that the other three methods agree with them, and so by the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, those three methods override the ocean-salt method. And so, by a vote of three to one, the age of the earth is great. But: the very objections they raise to the ocean-salt clock, apply to their clocks as well.
Does radioactive decay actually change?
Actually, it does. In fact, it changes with the seasons. Scientists at Purdue University have known this for decades. At first they didn’t want to admit it. Now they must—and must also admit that they don’t know why. Obviously the sun sends out particles that make radioactive elements decay faster. So all radioactive elements decay faster in the wintertime than in the summertime. (If you’re in Argentina, reverse that.) The reason: the wintertime (in the Northern Hemisphere) is when the earth is closest to the sun.
Now that alone wouldn’t speed up radioactive decay enough to say that the uniformitarians have guessed the age of the earth wrong. But until now, they said that radioactive decay never changed at all, for any reason.
Then came the game-changer. In 1996, Steven A. Austin and colleagues sent five samples of cooled lava, laid down ten years earlier at Mount Saint Helens, to a laboratory for “dating.” The laboratory told them that the five samples were of different ages, and the differences were larger than the margins of error. Worse than that, they reported ages from half a million to 2.8 million years—for rocks that were only ten years old.
Now your editor once helped run the laboratories in a 250-bed community hospital. A mistake like that in our laboratory would be an epic fail. How epic? The College of American Pathologists would have shut us down if we had been that far off, and for a good reason: if the lab is off by that much, a patient could get the wrong treatment, and die.
Well, you can imagine how the evolutionists took that result. “FOUL!” they cried. How did Austin play foul? By asking for the age of a rock that he knew to be young, using a method that one usually used on very old rocks. So why did the laboratory not say, “Your rocks are all too young to date?” In fact, they did not say that they had any problem dating the sample, until Austin published his paper.
Geochron Laboratories does not use that dating method anymore. Are they now too embarrassed to offer that method?
A year later, this paper appeared in Creation. Miners in the Crinum Coal Mine discovered a tree buried in basalt, another type of igneous (“fire-born”) rock. Andrew A. Snelling and his colleagues took samples of the wood, and samples of the surrounding rock. They sent those samples to different laboratories to see what ages they would get back. The answers: about 35,000 years for the wood, but over forty million years for the rock.
What does this mean?
The scientists who made these discoveries knew what they meant. Every guess about the age of the earth needs a second look. So they decided to take that second look. They formed a project called Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth, or RATE for short. They wanted to find out whether radioactive decay might have run faster in the past, and fast enough to explain an apparent age of the earth of 4.5 billion years.
They discovered several other things that suggest strongly that radioactive elements did decay much faster in the past. Some rocks holding radioactive elements also hold “haloes” around them, halos that suggest a non-uniform rate of decay. Certain minerals called zircons hold far too much helium (a common decay product) that had not had time to leak out in the supposed billions of years.
Though they concluded that radioactive elements did once decay faster than they do today, they could not figure out when. But an engineer named Walt Brown (who, in case anyone’s interested, once taught at the United States Air Force Academy) found the answer. About 4400 years ago, a truly cataclysmic event occurred, with magnitude-10-to-12 earthquakes shaking the earth’s crust everywhere. The quartz buried in the crust produced electricity from these earthquakes, with voltages that one normally sees in a lightning bolt. Voltages like that are high enough to smash atoms together to make new elements. Which is exactly what happened. All the radioactive elements on the earth today, formed in that event. And when they formed, many of the atoms decayed rapidly. That explains the halos, the helium in the zircons, and the deceptive guesses for the age of the earth today.
Mankind has had evidence for this event since it happened. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and all the mountain chains of the world, testify to it. How fast radioactive elements decay in a high-voltage setting, like a lightning strike, is well known. That the radioactive decay slowed down to today’s rate after the event was all over, is probably safe enough to guess. So even without any firm dates, one can make a rough guess for the age of the earth: not much older than a few thousand years.
A commenter recently asked your editor what methods one would use to guess the age of the earth if he didn’t have the line from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5) to work with. This should answer that question. But in case anyone doubts that, here’s a question for them: How would you find out when Mount Vesuvius erupted, and destroyed Pompeii, if you did not have Pliny the Younger’s history to work with? The answer is: you couldn’t. The youngest rock ever found, according to conventional methods and assumptions, is 70,000 years old. Mount Vesuvius erupted 1,942 years ago.
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But we have dates. When one “clock” agreed with those dates, the scientists threw it out. That’s a cowardly “dry-lab” practice that would get any science student thrown out of college. The other clocks all fail for the same reason: people assumed, incorrectly, that certain processes never change.
Furthermore: the only reason that anyone said that the solar system was 4.6 billion years old, was that someone put the age of the earth 4.5 billion years. We now see that the age of the earth is not that great. Neither is the age of the solar system.
Jonathan Sarfati has a few more thoughts here, along these same lines.
Featured image: the earth, as Apollo 17 Mission Commander Eugene Cernan and his buddies saw it from space. Photo: NASA.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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