What kind of evidence do we have to support the notion that the Earth is truly ancient? It’s a question I often get asked, as someone who came from a young earth background. Young Earth Creationists often posit that the evidence for an “old earth,” if viewed from a different angle, could just as easily (or perhaps better) point to a young earth. However, there are some aspects of evidence for an old earth that seem to defy this argument, particularly because they interlink in such a way that independently points towards an old earth. Here, I take a look at an article by Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth in which they make this very argument. Below is the title and abstract.
Testing and Verifying Old Age Evidence: Lake Suigetsu Varves, Tree Rings, and Carbon-14
Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth
Carbon-14 measurements from layered sediments collected in 2006 from Lake Suigetsu, Japan, together with tree-ring data, offer an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate how competing old- and young-earth hypotheses can be quantifiably tested. Conventional observation of radioactive decay rates, atmospheric carbon-14 production, tree-ring growth, cross-dating, and varve formation yields a narrow range of expected values for the carbon-14 content of samples over the last 50,000 years. Young-earth challenges to each observation should result in specific and predictable departures from conventional expectations. This article documents a sequence of tests to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that carbon-14 decay rates have remained unchanged, estimates of past atmospheric production rates are accurate, cross-dating of tree rings is reliable, the sampled trees have grown one ring per year going back more than 14,000 years, and finely layered sediments from Lake Suigetsu were deposited annually going back more than 50,000 years.
Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, in this paper, analyze three independent lines of evidence that interlink to confirm each other. Specifically, by looking at tree rings, varve formation, and carbon-14 dating, they yield a range of possible dates that matches across these independent variables. This gives a strong confirmation of the age of the earth, along with demonstrating that the decay rate of carbon-14 does not seem to have changed and remain accurate for more than 50,000 years.
The importance of this paper, and arguments like it, is that these are independent lines of evidence that all interlink to show the same conclusion. This needs to be emphasized, because young earth creationists will often call into question these pieces of evidence individually, shooting them down with objections that they then conclude shows they are individually faulty. Rarely, if ever, do young earth creationists acknowledge or deal with the fact that these evidences, while being independent, yield results that all add up to the same ages. Again, the importance of this cannot be understated, because it would mean that, for whatever reason, the young earth creationist must then assert that their independent objections to each individual dating method also can somehow explain why those dating methods to which they are objecting yield the same results.
Trees record the years they’ve been growing through rings that show how quickly their cells grew during different seasons. A record of years can be traced by comparing tree rings to show wet/dry seasons that form something similar to a bar code type pattern allowing for identifications across years. The oldest living trees have 5000 years recorded, and fossilized trees can be compared to living trees to extend that record back further, with the oldest reliable comparison yielding 14,000 years. Young earth objections to tree rings typically center around the notion that multiple rings form in single years.
Wolgemuth and Davidson write that, in regards to Carbon-14 dating:
The primary requirements for determining age are (1) a constant radioactive decay rate, (2) knowledge of the original carbon-14 content, and (3) quantification of any old carbon that may have been incorporated into the specimen.
Standard young earth objections are leveled at each of these three requirements. However, it is rarely (if ever–though I’m sure someone does, somewhere) disputed that certain dates are yielded when Carbon-14 testing is done. Thus, it is the young earth objections to the three requirements where they rest their case. These objections are often that we cannot know whether the radioactive decay rate changed in the past; (less typically) that the original carbon-14 content is in question; and that the samples are somehow contaminated. Now, Wolgemuth and Davidson do clearly state that scientists must account for some known factors that can vary how quickly Carbon-14 is formed. But these can be accounted for and allow scientists to get fairly accurate data on dating samples.
Probably the least familiar of these dating methods to anyone with a passing interest in the age of the earth is varves. These are sets of alternating layers formed by sediment on the floor of bodies of water due to a number of factors. With Lake Suigetsu in mind, the method of dating involved is a measurement of algae blooms via examination of the varves. At this lake, cores have yielded dependable rates that allow dates traced back to around 150,000 years.
Independent Methods, Same Results
Where this gets interesting, and where young earth creationists ought to take note, is that while it is somewhat easy to discount individual pieces of evidence based on independent objections, it is much more difficult to do so when these allegedly faulty dating systems yield the same dates.
Carbon-14 dating methods allow scientists to make predictions for how much Carbon-14 ought to be present in a sample before testing the sample. Thus, scientists can use these predictions to chart what the expected Carbon-14 content of tree rings or varves will be. The article has just such a chart, yielding a very narrow range of expectations regarding Carbon-14 content with the age of the sample. They can then take tree rings, going with the conventional assumption that the rings indicate years, and sample them for Carbon-14 to see if they match the expectations of carbon dating. What is remarkable (visually, especially, again, see the article) is that these expected ranges correspond exactly to the samples taken of tree rings. This means that a tree ring yielding an age of 14,000 years due to the number of rings also yields an age of 14,000 years when sampled for Carbon-14. But these dating methods are completely independent. The Carbon-14 date doesn’t rely at all on the number of rings in a tree, nor is reverse true.
Wolgemuth and Davidson then show the expectations from a young earth model with explanations of tree rings. For example, the expectation of multiple rings per year is tested and falls well outside the predictions of the Carbon-14 dating. This is important, because it means that the conventional assumptions about testing dates align together independent dating systems while young earth predictions yield wildly dissimilar results. These results are presented in the paper.
Scientists go further, though, and can line these evidences up with varves of Lake Suigetsu. Here, there is some technical data about how scientists can determine when significant events happened in the lake, such as extreme algae blooms or additional brackish water, but the core of the point is that when these factors are accounted for, a predictive range for Carbon-14 can again be made and set alongside the age estimate based upon the varve samples. Once again, when aligned, there is remarkable correspondence between Carbon-14 expectations and the actual measurements set alongside the varve-counting method of dating. Additionally, note Wolgemuth and Davidson, there is a steady decline backwards in the amount of Carbon-14 present, showing not a wildly erratic decay rate but rather a steady and predictable rate as one goes deeper into the sediment of Lake Suigetsu. These predictions falsify a young earth account, in part, because the young earth model “expects… massive sediment deposits during the flood year…” in addition to other expectations of many flood models for a young earth.
Next, Wolgemuth and Davidson turn to combining all of these lines of evidence together, demonstrating that the period of overlap where we can measure tree rings, varves, and Carbon-14 yields a graph just as predicted by conventional expectations, and that varves and Carbon-14 can be plotted much farther (due to their availability and the lack of reliable tree ring data older than 14,000 years), showing a constant alignment of these independent forms of evidence.
The authors state the decisiveness of this data and its implications for models of the age of the earth quite well:
we have two options. Option 1 is that God gave us amazing tools to test and verify that carbon-14 decay rates have not changed and sediments in Lake Suigetsu have been accumulating for more than 50,000 years. Option 2 is that God precisely manipulated multiple independent phenomena—tree ring growth, atmospheric carbon-14 production, and sediment couplet formation—to mimic conventional expectations.
More Methods of Dating
Wolgemuth and Davidson don’t leave the evidence there, however, because more methods of dating can converge on Lake Suigetsu, allowing for additional independent dating. Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash in the Lake yields a radiometric test that corresponds to Carbon-14 dating and tree ring data.
They note that most young earth creationists don’t object when Carbon-14 dating is used on things that corroborate biblical materials, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet when one puts the data point for the Dead Sea Scrolls alongside the tree ring carbon data, we find that there is, again, alignment between the Carbon-14 dating for the tree rings, the actual counting of the tree rings, and the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would mean that some form of manipulation of dating systems would have to yield the correct date for the Dead Sea Scrolls but incorrect dates by counting tree rings and Carbon-14 despite the fact that these align perfectly with the data for the Dead Sea Scrolls. And with this latter data, again, Argon-Argon dating with radiometric dating can be incorporated to show yet another independent method of dating.
Young earth creationists have not dealt with the fact that it is not just independent methods of dating that yield similar dates but rather that these independent methods correspond with each other and back each other up. On a young earth reading of the evidence, there is no explanation for why the allegedly mistaken methods of counting tree rings, varves, measuring Carbon-14 dating, and Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash should all correspond with the same dates. After all, each of these is taken to be independently mistaken for different reasons and at different rates. But if that’s true, then the observed data should be completely different from what it actually is. Additionally, the alleged accuracy for dating things in biblical archaeology is generally conceded by young earth creationists, and this dating for biblical artifacts also corresponds to other dating methods. Thus, the accurate date of the Dead Sea Scrolls corresponds with the allegedly inaccurate methods of tree ring counting, varve counting, and radiometric dating. What possible reason could there be for this to be the case? Going back to the words of Wolgemuth and Davidson, the most reasonable explanation is that God has given us the tools to study creation, and that these tools give us an accurate record of earth’s history.
What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.
What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Another round of links for you to read, dear readers! Thanks for stopping by. Let me know what you thought of the reads here, and be sure to let those authors know also! We have a snowy owl edition today because it’s 10 degrees and snowy here.
100 Reasons the Earth is Old– The position that the Earth is 6-10,000 years old is untenable. Here are 100 reasons why this is the case.
14 Ways I Teach Apologetics to my 5-Year Olds– How might we introduce apologetics to children and build a foundation for the future? Here Natasha Crain shares several ideas on her excellent web site, Christian Mom Thoughts. I very much recommend you follow her blog.
Your Character is Just As Imporant to Your Apologetics As Your Logic– From a presuppositional perspective, we have a great post about how the way we approach others is just as important as our logic or arguments.
Merchandise to Modify one of Modern Man’s Mightiest Misapprehensions (Comic)– Is disagreement possible without hate? Check out this fun apologetics comic.
Here we have another round of links for your perusal, dear readers. The topics include the age of the Earth (you really must read this), interpreting the Bible, YA Literature, apologetics, and profanity in the Bible. Oh yeah, you read that last one correctly. Check the posts out, and if you liked them be sure to let the authors know. Let me know what you think in the comments here!
Smoking Gun Evidence of an Ancient Earth: GPS Data Confirms Radiometric Dating– People who deny that the Earth really is billions of years old often do so by trying to undercut radiometric dating. But what if we were able to independently confirm radiometric dating? That’s actually what scientists have been able to do, thus confirming the ancient age of the Earth. Check out this post to see the evidence.
What the Bleep does the Bible say about Profanity?– I found this to be a very thought-provoking post on how Christians should think about profanity. I don’t agree with everything here, but it certainly got my brain working. What are your thoughts on this issue? Be sure to read the post, as it gives some great insights.
Uglies, Pretties, and Specials: Scott Westerfield’s Brave New YA World– Young Adult Literature is one way to get our fingers on the pulse of the culture. Here, Anthony Weber (whose awesome site you should follow!) looks at Scott Westerfield’s look into a future in which physical beauty is even more important than it is now.
Are We “Standing Over” Scripture When We Interpret It?– Sometimes, people express concern with the need to read the Bible in its context and work with interpreting a passage. Shouldn’t it all just be clear? Are we placing ourselves over Scripture? Check out this brief post on this concern.
Christian apologetics: Is there, besides current popular approaches, another way to “take every thought captive”?– I have often thought of the need for an integrative approach to apologetics, which looks at the various methods holistically instead of atomistically. Here, someone who seems to favor the presuppositional method looks for the possibility of reconciling various apologetic methods.
The Need for Psychological Apologetics– It is important to realize that psychological issues impact people from all backgrounds. Here, Pastor Matt Rawlings argues that we need to awaken to the need for psychological apologetics.
I recently visited Mirror Lake in Wisconsin and had the opportunity to canoe along the lake. Looking up from rowing the canoe, one is able to see exposed rock formations on either side as one goes from one major part of the lake to the other. How did this lake get here? How did the rocks erode as they show?
Two Primary Paradigms
There are two primary paradigms for interpreting the formation of the Earth. These are naturalistic or supernaturalistic. A naturalistic paradigm excludes God from the outset. A supernaturalistic paradigm may have any number of gods or spiritual forces. The reason I make the split here is because it is important to note that, regarding the ultimate origins of the universe and the Earth Christians are in agreement. God is the ultimate cause of reality.
Although we occupy the same paradigm with regards to the origin of all things, Christians are divided along a spectrum of possibilities (other paradigms) about the origin and diversity of life and species. Moreover, Christians are divided on the age of the Earth itself. Is the Earth a few thousand years old or a few billion years old? It is around this question that I shall focus here. Which subdivision of the supernaturalist paradigm better accounts for the evidence? Is the Earth “young” or “old”?
The Rocks, the Flood, and the Questions
Take a look at the photo above. The stone you see there is largely sandstone, layered upon itself. One can go up to the wall and crumble some of the rock between one’s fingers. The layers are extensive, going several dozen feet above the water level before diving below the surface. Where did all this sand come from? Why is it now here, above the ground and exposed?
Global Flood and a Young Earth
There are a number of ways to answer this question, but there is a stark difference between how the answers are given. Young Earth Creationists (hereafter YEC will refer to Young Earth Creationists, Young Earth Creationism, etc.) largely hold to the position that this sand was deposited during the Noahic Flood found in the Bible. That is, these layers of sand were deposited all at once during the great deluge which covered the surface of the earth. Other YECs hold that after the flood, some additional depositions were made by other catastrophic events, including the Ice Age.
What of the notion that nearly all this sediment was placed there by the Noahic Flood? There are immediate problems with this explanation. How is it that the layers are clearly distinct types of rock? For example, I canoed up to the rock shown in the picture and observed the fact that the rock was almost uniformly sandstone. But if the explanation for this is that the sediment was mired together in the Flood, how is it that the types of stone were so neatly parsed out? Should we not instead observe all types of different sediments congealed together? Now, a YEC might counter by pointing out that perhaps the granules were deposited according to their specific gravity, but this would be to appeal to a notion which has been proven wrong via direct observation since John Arbuthnot wrote An Examination of Dr. Woodward’s Account of the Deluge in 1697 (Montgomery, 72-73, cited below).
But there are even more problems with this explanation. If the sediments were all stirred up during a violent Flood, then how did marine animals survive? How did fossilization occur when such violent activity was taking place? What of unconformities in the rock? The issues multiply the more one considers the explanation proffered.
The alternative YEC interpretation–that some of the sediment was placed only later, during the Ice Age, runs into its own share of major difficulties.
Other explanations come forth via inference from principles of geology. It should be noted that the foundations of geology were largely laid down by Christians like Hugh Miller and Steno who had themselves reflected upon the Flood and its implications for geology, while also looking at the natural world.
The geology of the Mirror Lake area in Wisconsin, according to this position, was shaped over the course of very long periods of time. The sandstone was cut across during a period of glaciation about 10-20 thousand years ago, and it rests on top of millions of years of geologic processes which created other rock formations, which each have their own explanations of how they came to rest under the sandstone. The lakes themselves were formed by Dell Creek, which takes a right angle. The reason for this angle is explained by “glacial outwash” which blocked the flow of the Creek and forced it to proceed at an angle. The Creek then proceeded to flow into the area it now occupies, shaping the landscape as it moved. It is amazing to consider the time which one can observe as one travels through this area, which was carved by a Creek! For a detailed summary of the formation of the geology of this area, check out the Wisconsin Geological Survey’s report on this region.
Another Challenge for the Flood Explanation
As I canoed through the two major portions of Mirror Lake with several friends, it was interesting to consider how all the winding we experienced as we traversed could have been formed. If this area were formed by the Noahic Flood, then how could it have occurred? After all, the sediment through which it cuts is supposed to have been formed during this flood. But how did the rock get hard enough to be carved through even as it was settling? Why would not the Flood waters have simply caused a mixing of materials?
Plus, one must consider the angle that the occurs in the Mirror Lake area. Why, given fresh layers of sediment deposited by the Flood, did the waters carve out an angle? There seems to be no physical explanation for this phenomenon, granting a YEC paradigm. If the Flood accounts for Earth’s geologic past, then how does it actually explain the physical world?
YECs have sometimes contended that the great amount of pressure put on the sediments by the Flood waters would have allowed for these rocks to form quickly enough to then be carved by the Flood. But if this were the case, how did any marine life survive this extreme pressure? How did delicate fossils get preserved when so much pressure and turbulent water came crashing upon them? Again, we see the difficulties continue to multiply.
Very often, YECs will make a distinction between their own view as catastrophism and other views as uniformitarianism. I have discussed this distinction elsewhere, but it is highly relevant for the observations I was able to make around Mirror Lake.
Generally speaking, catastrophism is the notion that catastrophes (such as a flood, earthquake, etc.) form Earth’s geologic past. WIthin the parlance of YEC, this is generally tightened to mean something more akin to the notion that catastrophes can account for the vast majority of the geologic record. Uniformitarianism is the notion that the processes we observe today were the processes which formed Earth’s geologic past.
It absolutely must be noted that this notion of either catastrophism or uniformitarianism is a false dichotomy. Note that standard geology describes the formation of the Mirror Lake region as both a series of lengthy events taking place over fairly uniform time periods (the formation of the rocks and layers of sediment themselves) and a series of catastrophic events (wherein the Wisconsin Glaciation both scoured the surface and left new deposits and later flooding from the glaciers melting helped carve a path through the area to help form much of the region). That is, there is no either/or question. It is a matter of both/and within standard geology. Catastrophes are part of Earth’s past, but they do not destroy completely the record of the uniformities which have shaped the planet.
We have already noted briefly many problems for a YEC paradigm. Perhaps there is an even greater difficulty to be found. YECs wish to offer an explanation for the geologic past and they hold that their reading of the Bible is the most literal. But after looking into YEC explanations of how specific geological formations are formed, is it really the case that YECs are reading the Bible literally? Where does it, in the text, suggest extremely high pressures from the water, the destruction of Earth’s crust or at least its extensive modification, the formation of lakes and rivers due to the activity of the Flood, the deposition of sediments, the formation of fossils, or any number of other specific things that YECs tend to argue are results of the Flood?
It should become clear that these suggestions made by YECs are merely attempts to match their interpretation of the text with the geologic record. It is a guiding presupposition which determines all interpretation of the Bible and natural history. And, as I have argued extensively, it is a presupposition which is misguided.
My journey along the Mirror Lake watershed was enlightening. It was as though I could observe geologic time simply by looking at the rock formations around me. Moreover, it presented me with ample opportunity for reflecting upon the varied explanations given for how all these things were formed and shaped. It seems clear to me that the YEC paradigm suffers from impossible difficulties.
Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.
Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– This debate was between two Christians about the age of the Earth. I found it highly informative. Check out this post, which surveys the arguments.
Answering Common Young Earth Creationist Arguments– I survey a number of theological, Biblical, and scientific arguments put forth for YEC and find them wanting.
Young Earth Creationism and Presuppositionalism– I argue that YEC is tied directly to a specific use of presuppositionalism, but that it provides an epistemological quandary by doing so.
Check out my other posts on the Origins Debate.
David Montgomery, The Rocks Don’t Lie (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).
Wisconsin DNR: Mirror Lake Geology.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
The debate over the age of the universe is a hot issue for some Christians, and this unfortunately leads to a number of faulty arguments and even some name-calling. This post is not going to argue against young earth creationism specifically. Rather, I hope that it can be a resource for both young earth and old earth proponents in order to avoid faulty reasoning. Each argument’s topic will be in bold with the problem outlined and a response. [Image at head of post credit here.]
Please see the end of the post for a response to an article linking back to this one.
Perspicuity of Scripture–
Some young earth creationists (hereafter YEC or YECs) argue that old earth positions undermine the perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity of Scripture is the notion that the central teachings of Scripture can be understood by any who come to the Gospel. The charge YECs make is that because it seems, on a surface level reading of the text, that Genesis 1 implies creation over the period of 6 literal 24 hour days, those who deny this undermine the Perspicuity/Clarity of Scripture.
The Perspicuity of Scripture does not apply to all areas of Biblical doctrine. Rather, it is the notion that anyone can understand the plan of salvation as laid out in Scripture and come to right knowledge for faith.
Think of it this way: read the book of Revelation. Do you understand everything in this book, or is the apocalyptic literature hard to discern? Throughout much of Christian history, there has been debate over the meaning of Revelation. There are a number of views, like preterism, idealism, dispensationalism, etc. But this doesn’t mean that what Scripture teaches in general is unclear. The clarity of Scripture in regards to salvific issues is absolute. Any reader can read and understand God’s plan for salvation.
If the argument is pressed, again ask the YEC whether they are claiming they understand every single doctrine that the Bible teaches. Do you understand perfectly the Trinity, the atonement, the incarnation, the Lord’s Supper, the proper relation of Law and Gospel, etc.? If someone claims they do, they are essentially equating their understanding to God, rather than adhering to Scriptural teaching (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The Meaning of Day
The Hebrew word used in Genesis one, yom, means day. It literally means a 24 hour period.
Often this argument is presented in a fairly demeaning and/or ad hominem way to the opponent: “Why do you insist on reading man’s fallible ideas into the text? It says day, it means day. I trust the Bible.”
Actually, the Hebrew word yom has several different literal meanings. For example, according to Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Lexicon, yom can mean “day, time, or year”; day as opposed to night; a 24 hour day; a time or period of time; a year; an age. Thus, if someone reads the text and argues that in Genesis 1 the days mean “ages”, they are still reading the text literally.
Evening and Morning
When the Genesis 1 text refers to the days, it applies the terms “evening and morning” to each one of days 1-6, which means that each day is indeed a 24 hour period. That’s what evening and morning means.
The delineation of time periods for days was not possible until the fourth day. As it is written, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth” (Genesis 1:14-15, I italicized “days”). Thus, the text itself tells us that the sun did not serve as a specific indicator of the length of days until the fourth “day.”
The repetition of evening and morning is an indication of the metaphor for the work week used throughout Genesis 1. Notice that evening and morning are reversed from the order in which they occur in a 24 hour day.
Day is not a long period of time
Sure, there are other literal meanings of “yom” and in poetic literature it says that a day is like a thousand years for the LORD, but Genesis is a narrative and so the days mean literal 24 hour periods.
Actually, in the very same account the word day is used in order to refer to the whole time of creation. As it is written, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (Genesis 2:4). I used the ESV translation here because the NIV translation translates yom as “when” here. In this text, the word “day” refers to the entirety of God’s creative work. Thus, the text itself utilizes the same word, yom, to mean a longer period of time than a 24 hour period in the same context of creation. And because this is “narrative” it can’t be dismissed as “mere poetry.” Speaking of which…
That’s Just Poetry
Many of the verses that old earth proponents use are from places like the Psalms. For example, the verse about a day being like a thousand years is from Psalm 90:4. These verses are poetry and therefore not relevant to the actual age of the earth.
Poetic literature still makes truth claims. Are you suggesting that nothing in the Psalms is true? To dismiss a text that is brought up in order to counter your position by saying “that’s just poetry” is tantamount to throwing God’s word out the window. One might wonder why it is that the YEC interpretation of Genesis 1 trumps every other passage in the Bible.
Appearance of Age
Sure, some scientific evidence may make it seem as though the earth is old, but it is not actually old. Instead, God made it in such a way that it would support life, and in order to do so, it had to look old. He created light already on its way to earth and the Flood explains sedimentation.
Nature tells us about reality, though we cannot infallibly search it (Psalm 19); God does not lie; therefore, God would not make something which by all appearances would look old, but is not in fact old.
But Adam looked old. He was created about 30 years [or some adult age] old! Similarly, the plants in the garden, etc. would have looked old, but been new.
The text doesn’t actually say how old Adam was when he was created. But that’s a side issue. More importantly, we would be able to tell how old Adam was by looking at evidences like his teeth, his bones, and the like. All of these would show signs of age.
Regarding the plants, this argument really just begs the question for YEC. As it is written, “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…” (Genesis 2:8-9a).
The text clearly says that God planted a garden. While it says that God made plants spring up, it is prefaced by the notion of planting. The notion of planting implies growth over time.
And suppose this is wrong; suppose the plants were grown instantly: we’d still be able to test them and see how old they actually were by looking at things like cell division and tree rings.
Your response assumes uniformitarianism.
See section on uniformitarianism.
This one is extremely common when one listens to/watches debates between YEC and old earth proponents. Essentially, the argument goes like this: “You are presupposing naturalism in order to come up with an old earth. I presuppose the Bible is true instead. The difference is I [the YEC] am aware of my presupposition.”
Strictly speaking this argument is actually completely false. Naturalism is the philosophical position that only the natural world exists. The debates in which this argument is often brought up are very often between Christians of opposing views. Therefore, because they are both Christians, neither one is operating under the presupposition of naturalism.
The YEC may press this objection, however, and say what they mean is that one is presupposing a naturalistic methodology as opposed to the entire worldview.
Define “naturalistic methodology.”
1) If you mean assuming “uniformitarianism”: see the argument and response below.
2) If by “naturalistic methodology” you mean something else, show how that is the case.
The only way to come up with an old earth is by assuming that everything has been uniform forever; in other words, the processes in place now are operating at the same speed they always have.
Let’s apply this argument to one field: geology. Geology does come up with ages around 4.5 billion years old for the age of the earth. Now, the problem is that this is not due to uniformitarianism. Rather, geologists must take into account the fact that catastrophes do happen. For example, a huge meteor hitting the earth would change the geological landscape. Modern geology is neither catastrophist nor uniformitarian; rather, it must take both into account. And it still comes up with an “ancient” earth. The problem is that YECs go to the opposite extreme and actually assume that a catastrophe (or numerous catastrophes) can account for all geologic evidence. By citing specific examples of catastrophism, they then apply a catastrophic geology to the rest of the earth. It’s exactly the methodology YECs critique, but then they do it themselves. This is simply naive.
Furthermore, the burden of proof here is upon the YEC to show that the rates could increase at such a monumental rate on such a monumental scale that everything we observe that looks ancient is, in fact, ‘young.’ They must make the argument.
You’re just starting with man’s fallible ideas. I just use the text for my guide.
See “Look, it’s what the Bible says” and “Man’s Fallible Ideas” sections below.
Look, it’s what the Bible says
I just read the Bible and agree with it. It says days, I say days; it gives genealogies, I add them together. All I do is take Genesis literally. You use man’s fallible ideas to distort the text.
It has already been shown that the word “day” has several literal meanings. It has already been shown that “day” is used for a longer period than a “day” in the context of creation in Genesis. Thus, one could respond by saying “I just read the text literally too. On the first ‘age’, God created…. on the second age, God created…., etc.”
Furthermore, the genealogies are incomplete. It can be demonstrated that a number of genealogies in the Bible skip people or operate in an inexact fashion. By assuming the genealogies are linear, one has read anachronistically a 21st century notion of a genealogy back onto the text. That would be one of man’s fallible ideas.
Furthermore, the notion of an old earth proponent importing ‘man’s fallible ideas’ into the text can be equally applied to YEC. Who says that YECs are infallible? Would you claim you read the Bible perfectly and discern everything correctly?
You weren’t there!
You weren’t there at creation. Neither were these “scientists” you cite in your “evidence.” How do you know what happened?
You weren’t there either, my friend. However, when we look at the stars, we are looking at the past. Furthermore, we can measure things like cosmic background radiation, sedimentation rates, volcanic activity, and the like in order to discern how old the earth is. Again, God tells us that nature gives us a record (Psalm 19), so one wonders why we are being told to doubt that record.
God says that his creation was “very good”; how could there then be animal death, thorns, cancer, and the like. The world would have been beautiful, without death, and without any kind of evils. Think about it, you’re saying that God was calling cancer eating away at dinosaurs and the like a “very good” thing! [Image credit here.]
First, it seems very often that when YECs use the phrase “very good” what they mean is “perfect” in their own eyes. Why think that animal death is necessarily bad? If animals didn’t die, ecosystems would collapse: all the plant-eaters would starve, insects would take over and eat all plant life, and any number of other “bad” things would happen. Animal death is part of a beautiful system of maintaining order in the world.
Using the cancer example to try to argue that it couldn’t be “very good” is importing human emotions into creatures which are not moral agents. Simply put, an animal is not a moral agent. This doesn’t mean it is good to kill them, but it isn’t bad either. The harm comes when a moral agent intentionally brings unnecessary harm to an animal.
I would like to see an argument for what “very good” means to YECs. Why should it mean absolute perfection?
Finally, one must wonder about the fact that God planted the garden in Eden and it is that creation which is “very good”. God planted this Garden, and it was the localized area in which Adam and Eve were placed. That’s what the text says. Nowhere does it say the whole earth was like the Garden.
Unfortunately, this is one of the less subtle ad hominem types of arguments YECs employ. It basically goes like this: use a scare word like “evolution,” put in in context with an old earth proponent, and then call them compromisers. For example, “Wartick, who believes in a form of old earth creationism–really just a variety of theistic evolutionism–chooses to compromise the text to fit secular science.”
Unfortunately, this very type of argument is used to discredit many fellow Christians. Rather than focusing on the issues at hand, it is indeed easier to just bash the opposition. For the record, I am not a theistic evolutionist. The point is that others who hold views similar to my own suffer from arguments like this against them. It’s dishonest.
The most unfortunate thing to take from this type of argument is that the average Christian on the street is very affected by it. Recently, I recommended an article from an extremely prominent Christian philosopher to another Christian. Their response was that if this other believer thought evolution might be true, they were too biased and they would not read the article.
That’s right, the effect of this type of argument is that it brings about a situation in which people won’t even read what other believers have to say about a topic. One must wonder, at least a little bit, about a position which discourages adherents to read the works of the opposition. Why not read and consider other viewpoints and take what is true?
Plain and Obvious Meaning- or “I don’t need to twist the text.”
Basically, the way this one goes is as follows:
I just read the text for what it says. You have to do all kinds of things to interpret it. Why do you twist the text to fit your views?
Actually, YEC is also an interpretation of the Biblical text. It is an inference from the textual data. You are also interpreting the text, and need to justify your hermeneutic. Given the mounting evidence against it in books like The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton, the evidence in your interpretation’s favor needs to be pretty hefty.
You’re Using Science to Change the Meaning of Scripture
Old earth proponents may have a viable exegetical position, but why on earth would they pick old earth over young earth? It seems the only reason is because they are caving in to science.
Science can give us a record of reality. When the church lines itself up with views that do not accord with reality, it is discredited. Consider the controversy over heliocentrism vs. geocentrism. This controversy resulted because the church lined itself up with a philosophical position that it thought was taught by the text of the Bible. Similarly, the young earth position is an interpretation of Scripture and its advocates must contend with the scientific evidence.
Augustine issued a strong warning related to this objection [Literal Meaning of Genesis, Chapter 19, Volume 1]:
“If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”
The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it
This argument has a few varieties:
1) The Bible says the earth is not millions or billions of years. Why do you insist on changing God’s word for man’s fallible ideas?
2)The Biblical text entails a young earth. Why do you read it as a long period of time?
1) Where in the Bible does it say “the earth is not millions or billions of years old”? Where in the Bible does it tell me the date of creation?
2) Please show me: where in the Bible does it tell me the date of creation? Where does in the Bible does it specifically say YEC is true? If you can’t, then you’re using an inference. See “Plain and Obvious Meaning” above.
Man’s Fallible Ideas
Perhaps the most frequently used argument is of this variety. Too often, when threatened by exegetical or extra-biblical evidence that contradicts their position, YECs will fall back to this type of argument:
“That’s just using man’s fallible ideas to interpret the text.”
“That’s using man’s fallible [geology, astronomy, physics, insert discipline] to alter the meaning of God’s word.”
The Young Earth position is an interpretation of the text as much as any other. Thus, the argument could just as easily be turned around:
“You’re just using man’s fallible interpretation to read a young earth onto the text.”
But, to be honest, this argument just amounts to a subtle ad hominem, even if the one using the argument doesn’t realize it. Why? Because it suggests that the other side is a) wrong; and b) not thinking Biblically.
A better response, therefore, would be to simply point out that the YEC position is also interpreting the text and that old earth proponents are looking at the whole body of evidence God has provided instead of just trusting what others tell them about the text.
Response to article against this one:
Over at “fortress maximus” the author offered a response to this article. I’ll not go point by point, but rather I listed a few areas of major contention. The most contentious point for me is that the author says I reject inerrancy, which is false. When I say “you” after this, I’m referencing his article. As of this point in time (January, 2013), he has not amended his article to remove the false claims made about me therein. Anyway, response:
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I have a few comments, but I won’t be too lengthy because I don’t have time.
1) You wrote “the author fails his own claims by only outing the YEC arguments as faulty and then offering the OEC arguments as an unchallenged substitute.”
The title of the post is “answering common YEC arguments.” I think that pretty much makes my intention clear. The stated purpose is that I’m not arguing specifically against the YEC position, which I don’t. I only answer many arguments. It’s a bit disingenuous to claim I’m doing otherwise.
2) You wrote, “Poetry in the Bible certainly is relevant, but only in revealing spiritual truths, not historic ones.”
No historic truths in the Psalms, eh? I guess the Psalms by David when he was fleeing from his enemies don’t tell us anything about his situation? I would like to see an argument for this claim.
3) Regarding appearance of age, you wrote “I’ve never heard any serious YECer use these arguments. Old appearance has nothing to do with God’s creation and how it may appear. This stance is also unsupported scripturally, hence it is blatantly flawed. So, if you are a YECer and you used this argument, stop it!”
I was once YEC and unfortunately used this argument myself, because almost every other YEC I knew used it as well. Thus, it’s an argument used by YECs, and I answered it. I agree, though: stop it!
4) You wrote “We’re finally getting to the greatest point of contention – this argument states that the Bible is inaccurate and as such flawed (“the genealogies are incomplete”). This goes against the premise that the Bible is the holy, inspired, infallible, written Word of God.”
Wrong, absolutely wrong. Unfortunately, YECs tend to do this to me all the time: put words in my mouth. Please show me in a quote where I said the Bible is inaccurate and flawed. Show me. You literally say it right there: “this argument states that the Bible is inaccurate and as such flawed”
But wait, the quote is actually: “the genealogies are incomplete” which we can demonstrate from the Bible. It’s not that they are inaccurate; it is that the modern notion of a genealogy stating one generation after another with no gaps is just that: a modern notion. I never stated the Bible is inaccurate, nor do I state it is flawed. I have been a staunch defender of inerrancy. Your statement here is extremely ad hominem; it is, in fact, so wrong and unsubstantiated by my blog that if I weren’t giving you the benefit of the doubt I’d think you’re just lying about me. I therefore ask you to retract it.
5) regarding dating methods: I hate to say it but anyone who reads non-YEC literature on this topic will not be convinced by these arguments. Yes, there are aberrations in the dating which are not covered up by secular or other scientists whatsoever: they state them in their works; no, they do not undermine the whole system.
Here is a list of resources for old earth perspectives. I will annotate it at some point. For now it’s just a list of amazon links.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.