Young Earth Creationism


I’m going to cut to the chase. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Young Earth Creationism is a religious doctrine, and it’s handmaiden, so-called “Creation Science,” is pseudoscience.

Science makes predictions based upon its theories. When the predictions are wrong, the theory is scrapped or modified. [1] Creation Science claims to be science. Let’s put it to the test. YEC doctrine states that the earth is certainly no more than 10 ky old and that Noah’s Flood occurred around 5.5 ky ago. It makes the prediction that we will find no living thing on the earth older that the supposed date of the Flood, and no remains of anything that lived more than 10 ky ago. A 4.7 ky old “Methuselah” bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California is held up as proof of the predictions result from this theory.

First, the age of that pine tree does not prove anything other than that the date of the Flood is earlier than 2700 BC (Now – 4.7 ky).

Second, although the oldest living bristelcone specimen is only 4.7 ky old, there is a continuous tree ring history from older dead trees on the ground around the “Methuselah” tree that goes back 9 ky. [2] This record shows no interruption from a cataclysmic event such as a Flood.

Third, there are even older series of tree ring data that date back over 11 ky from oak and other trees that spread into northern Italy, southern Germany, and the Low Countries at the end of the last ice age. [3]

But finally, there’s the King Clone creosote bush in the Mojave Desert. It’s over 11,000 years old and still alive. [4]

The King Clone Creosote Ring. With the possible exception of some lichen formations in Antarctica, this is the oldest living thing on earth.

The real world data has just falsified a key prediction made by Creation Science. To date, every other prediction made by YEC adherents has similarly failed. Yet, in spite of its record of failure YEC is probably the most influential brand of creationism today.

Young Earth Creationism is for the most part a homegrown phenomenon of American Protestantism. While you can find the occasional nun who would prefer to teach it in her parochial school class or orthodox rabbi who would do the same in his yeshiva, Scientific Creationism is the province of Fundamentalists who, like me, believe that every word of the Bible is true but who, unlike me, believe that every word in Genesis 1 (especially certain English translations) must be taken literally.

The modern version of YEC began when John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris recycled the ideas of Seventh-Day Adventist George McCready Price in their book called The Genesis Flood. [5] This book is noted for its use of quotes taken out of context and for its misquoting of sources. For example, in an attempt to debunk the existence of a particular geological formation by claiming that certain disturbed strata were undisturbed, they cite the work of C. P. Ross and Richard Rezak. The passage below is what Ross and Rezak wrote; the unitalicized portion is what Whitcomb and Morris [6] quoted.

Folds that originated at the time represented by plate 53B but that have been accentuated and locally broken by the later pressures, are visible in ridges, cliffs, and canyon walls both in the mountains south of Glacier National Park and in the part of the Great Plains within some 20 miles of the mountain edge at the eastern border of the park. All the sedimentary rocks that were present were squeezed and folded, but the Belt series, being strong and buried under a blanket of other rocks, was deformed the least. Most visitors, especially those who stay on the roads, get the impression that the Belt of strata are undisturbed and lie almost as flat today as they did when deposited in the sea which vanished so many million years ago. Actually they are folded, and in certain zones they are intensely so. From points on and near the trails in the park it is possible to observe places where the beds of the Belt series, as revealed in outcrops on ridges, cliffs, and canyon walls, are folded and crumpled almost as intricately as the soft younger strata in the mountains south of the park and in the Great Plains adjoining the park to the east. [7]

Clearly, when the unitalicized sentence is viewed in context, it does not support the idea that the formation in question is undisturbed. Also, the word million is deleted without ellipse in The Genesis Flood, perhaps because it violates Whitcomb and Morris’ assumed time frame. Although it has no place in honest discourse, this sort of out-of-context quote mining is common in Creation Science material.

Morris is considered by many to be the father of modern Creation Science. He has certainly been among its most prolific writers. His best known book is probably the one called Science and the Bible. [8] Morris’ Science and the Bible contains YEC claims that are simply wrong. A typical example is found on p. 69:

How, then is the age of rock determined? The remarkable fact is that the geological age of a rock is determined primarily by the fossils it contains, on the basis of the fossil sequences that have been assigned to the different ages by Cuvier, Lyell, and their followers over a century ago. [9]

Here, Morris (who, as a hydrologist with a Ph.D. in civil engineering, should have known better) confuses biostratigraphy with geochronology. As we saw in the previous post, radiometric dating is the primary yardstick in geology. The fossil record is not. One would expect Morris to have known this.

Morris makes many other erroneous assertions, often offered without any sort of proof. His champion paragraph may be this one from a section in his Science and the Bible dealing with the age of the earth.

For example, the rate of decay of the earth’s magnetic field will yield a maximum age for the earth of about ten thousand years. So will the worldwide build-up of radiocarbon in the earth’s atmosphere and biosphere. The net influx of uranium into the world’s oceans, even assuming there was none there to begin with, indicates a maximum possible age of about a million years. The rate at which the sun seems to be shrinking also indicates an age of no more than a million years. The influx of meteoric dust on the earth from space indicates an age to young, even to measure. [10]

Each one of the claims is based on patently untrue pseudoscience. The engineer in me is about to wax all technical for the next several hundred hundred words. They’re full of references to scientific and technical papers. If this stuff gets too deep or if you eyes start to glaze over, just skip ahead to the boldface type to avoid my rant.

First, consider the Earth’s magnetic field. The claim concerning it’s “decay” is based on the work of Barnes [11, 12]. However, Barnes’ work is based on an obsolete model of the Earth’s interior, a spherical conductor undergoing exponential decay of an electric current. The actual data of the Earth’s magnetic field do not show a exponential decay. It is possible to force-fit an exponential curve to the data, but a straight line is a better fit. The real world evidence supports a model in which the field is the result of a dynamo driven by convection of the Earth’s core. The data show that the Earth’s magnetic field has varied in intensity and reversed in polarity many times in the past. See Gee, et al. [13] Moreover, Gubbins, et al. [14], have published measurements of magnetic field direction and intensity that show little or no change between end of the sixteenth-and the middle of the nineteenth-centuries; the variation in the magnetic field is relatively recent, probably indicating that the field’s polarity is reversing again. One cannot readily use rate at which an oscillating function is approaching zero to determine the age of the function.

Second, consider radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating has known limitations. Of course, measurement that exceeds these limitations will most likely be invalid. The technique is useful for ages up to 50 ky. However, test objects can be contaminated with younger or older carbon which can ruin the results. Because of excess 12C has been released into the atmosphere from the Industrial Revolution and excess 14C was produced by atmospheric nuclear tests, materials less than 150 years old cannot be reliably dated with radiocarbon. Still, radiocarbon dating has repeatedly demonstrated its accuracy. It has be cross checked by tree-ring data, which gives a very exact calendar for more than 11 ky. It has also been tested on items for which the age is known through historical records, such as parts of the Dead Sea scrolls. That radiocarbon dating is only good over a limited time span does not set any limits on the age of the Earth.

Third, consider the oceanic uranium claim. This appears to be based on work published by Morris and Parker [15] founded on misinterpretation of the work of Bloch [16]. Using Bloch’s values for the amount of dissolved uranium in the ocean (3.64 × 1012 kg), and the present influx of uranium to the ocean (1.92 × 107 kg/y), Morris and Parker compute 189 ky as the maximum age of the ocean. Morris and Parker’s calculation is made worthless by their assumptions of constant rates of influx and the absence of uranium removal. But when we look at Morris and Parker’s source, we find that Bloch says:

The remainder can most likely be accounted for by the combined uncertainties in the estimates of U sources and sinks. It appears that the steady state of the world ocean with respect to U can still be maintained in spite of the fact that anthropogenic contributions of this element may be significant. [17]

In other words, the uncertainties in the estimates of the rates of influx and removal do not permit Morris and Parker’s conclusion that the uranium in the ocean is not in balance. So far as is known, the amount of uranium in the ocean is in a more or less steady state. Steady-state functions with no rate of decay or increase are not useful in finding the age of anything.

Fourth, consider solar shrinkage. One hundred years ago, before nuclear fusion was understood, and before its existence was proven by Teller with the detonation the first hydrogen bomb, solar shrinkage was perhaps plausible based on Helmholtz’s obsolete model of the sun. The claim of significant solar shrinkage is based on a uniformitarian argument grounded on suspicious data. The current version was put forward by Akridge [18, 19] from data published by Eddy and Boornazian [20]. Among the flaws in Akridge’s work is his claim that Eddy and Boornazian’s data covered 400 years, whereas it is obvious from their paper’s title (Secular decrease in the solar diameter, 1863-1953) that the work covers 90 years. Eddy and Boornazian themselves do not interpret their results as evidence of an ongoing change, but their interpretation of their own data is dismissed out of hand by Akridge. Other measurements, not showing any significant shrinking, were available in the early 1980s. Akridge ignored them. Subsequent measurements, published prior to Morris’s 1986 revision of Science and the Bible, also do not support Akridge’s claim.

The issue of the solar diameter has come to the scientific foreground recently with the arrival of improved helioseismological data [21]. Eddington’s [22] argument (published in 1920) against gravitational contraction from the frequency stability of variable stars is especially applicable to helioseismology. Helioseismology is becoming so precise today that comparison between theoretical calculations and measurements require a better knowledge of the solar radius than is currently available. Since the sun is not a solid body, it does not have a well-defined surface at which to measure the radius. The difference between various definitions amounts to a century’s worth of Akridge’s shrinking, making it likely that the apparent shrinking reported by Eddy and Boornazian might well be caused by systematic errors in comparing different data sets taken over long periods of time by different observers using different instruments and different definitions of solar radius. Indeed, a best fit curve to some recent data [23] shows a slight, but statistically insignificant growth in the the sun’s diameter! How can solar shrinkage be used to compute the age of anything if the sun may even be expanding?

Fifth, consider the meteor dust claim. This is recycled from one of Morris’s earlier books [24] in which he claimed that the rate of cosmic dust influx would leave 55 m (182 ft) of meteor dust on the earth if the planet were 5 Gy old, and that the nickel/iron content of the dust would be easily detected in the Earth’s surface. The observed rates used in Morris’s calculation are based on samples collected in the atmosphere under smoggy conditions; this measurement was contaminated by dust and other particles from the earth. More recent measurements of cosmic dust influx measured from satellites show a rate around 0.01 times Morris’ [25]. This would yield a layer only 66 cm thick over 4.5 Gy. An even more recent study of iridium and platinum from a Greenland ice core shows a rate of only about 14 thousand tonnes per year [26] of meteoric dust during the Holocene [27, 28], compared with the figure of 14 million tons per year used by Morris. Again, the YEC claims are flatly wrong.

Each and every one of Morris’s claims in the referenced paragraph is simply not true. None of them are supported by any real world data. While I have cited recent findings bearing on these claims, there was sufficient data in the literature to refute every one of them when they were first published. This is neither good science nor good scholarship, but it is typical of Young Earth Creationism and Creation Science.

As we saw here and here, nothing in the Hebrew text of Genesis demands a particular time scale for its account of creation, and much of the evidence God has left behind in His creation points to a very long time scale. It seems presumptuous to teach such clearly wrong material as is put forth in support of YEC in order to support an point of view not required by the text of the Scriptures. Certainly, Augustine’s advice which we considered in an earlier post applies.

[A]ll should take notice of such error and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not that the mistaken man is derided, but that some might believe our sacred writers said such things, to the great loss of the salvation to which we call them …

We should remember that the important message of Genesis is not about how God made the universe but that He did, that He created a place within it for mankind, and that He created us as beings to be in fellowship with Him. John Paul II put it this way:

The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven. [29]

All Christians, regardless of our individual understandings about how God created us, have a common belief in Jesus as our Savior. This is vastly more important. This is what we should be talking about when the unbelieving world can overhear us. When Christians stray from teaching the Gospel and get into topics not related to salvation, we may no longer be about our Father’s business—and that can be a recipe for getting in over our heads.

NOTES

[1] On the other hand, those who presume to speak authoritatively for God (and I do not) should be glad that Deuteronomy 18:20 is not enforced: “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” (AV)

[2] Reibeek, Holli, Paleoclimatology: Climate Close-up, http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/Paleoclimatology_CloseUp.

[3] Kuniholm, Peter Ian, “Dendrochronology and Other Applications of Tree-ring Studies in Archaeology” in The Handbook of Archaeological Sciences, D. R. Brothwell and A. M. Pollard, eds., London, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2001.

[4] _____, Creosote Bush, found at http://www.nps.gov/archive/jotr/nature/plants/shrubs/creosote.html (web page no longer active).

[5] Whitcomb (b. 1924) is a theologian. Morris (1918 … 2006) was a hydraulic engineer.

[6] Whitcomb, John C. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1961, p. 187, footnote 1.

[7] Ross, C. P. and Richard Rezak, “The Rocks and Fossils of Glacier National Park: The Story of Their Origin and History,” United States Geological Survey Professional Paper 294-K, p. 420.

[8] Yes, I was inspired to write the series of essays that are the basis for these posts when my son, who is studying for a B. A. in Theology, had use Morris’ Science and the Bible as a textbook in a college course.

[9] Morris, Henry M., Science and the Bible, Revised Ed., Moody Press, Chicago, 1986, p. 69.

[10] Morris, Henry M., op. cit., p. 90.

[11] Barnes is associated with the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) which was founded by Morris.

[12] Barnes, Thomas G., Origins and destiny of the Earth’s magnetic field, ICR Technical Monograph No. 4.

[13] Gee, J. S., et al., “Geomagnetic intensity variations over the past 780 kyr obtained from near-seafloor magnetic anomalies,”, Nature, vol. 408, pp. 827 … 832, 2000.

[14] Gubbins, David, et al., “Fall in Earth’s magnetic field is erratic,” Science, vol. 312, pp. 900 … 902. 2006.

[15] Morris, H. M., and G. E. Parker, What is Creation Science?, Creation-Life Publ., San Diego, 1982.

[16] Bloch, S., “Some factors controlling the concentration of uranium in the world ocean,” Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, vol. 44, pp. 373 … 377, 1980.

[17] Bloch, S., op. cit., p. 376.

[18] Akridge is another of Morris’ ICR colleagues.

[19] Akridge, Russell, “The sun is shrinking,” ICR Impact, vol. 82, 1980, http://www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&action=view&ID=165.

[20] Eddy, J. A., and Boornazian, A. A., “Secular decrease in the solar diameter, 1863-1953,” Bull. Am. Astr. Soc., vol. 11, p. 437, 1979.

[21] _____, Surface Waves and Helioseismology: 5 Minute Oscillations, http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/Helioseismology.shtml, 2006.

[22] Eddington, Arthur Stanley, “The internal constitution of stars,” Nature, vol. 106, pp. 14 … 20, 1920.

[23] Brown, T. M., and Christensen-Dalsgaard, J. “Accurate determination of the solar photospheric radius,” http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/astro-ph/9803131, 1998.

[24] Morris, Henry M., Scientific Creationism, Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas, 1974, pp. 151, 152.

[25] Kyte, F. T., and J. T. Wasson, “Accretion rate of extraterrestrial matter: Iridium deposited 33 to 67 million years ago,”. Science, vol. 232, pp. 1225 … 1229, 1986.

[26] A tonne is 1,000 kilograms.

[27] The Holocene epoch is the current geological period that extends back from the present day to approximately 9500 BC.

[28] Gabrielli, P., et al., “Meteoric smoke fallout over the Holocene epoch revealed by iridium and platinum in Greenland ice,” Nature, vol. 432, pp. 1011 … 1014, 2004.

[29] John Paul II, “Cosmology and Fundamental Physics,” Discourses of the Popes from Pius XI to John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 1936-1986, Pontifica Academia Scientiarum, Vatican City, 1986, sec. 2.

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