the age of the earth

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Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate

bnye-kham-debateToday, Ken Ham, a young earth creationist, debated against Bill Nye an agnostic famous for “The Science Guy” program, on the topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s scientific era?” The debate was watched by over 500,000 people and generated a huge amount of interest. Here, I’ll review the debate section by section. Then, I’ll offer some thoughts on the content as well as a concluding summary. If you watched the debate, you may want to just skip down to the Analysis section. The debate may be watched here for a limited time (skip to 13 minutes in to start debate).

Ken Ham Opening

Ham began by noting that many prominent scientists argue that scientists should not debate creationists. He wondered aloud whether that might be because creationism is indeed a viable model and some don’t want that to be shown. He then showed a video of a creationist who was a specialist in science and an inventor, noting that creationism is not mutually exclusive from science.

The three primary points Ham focused on were 1) the definitions of terms; 2) interpretation of the evidence; and 3) the age of the universe is not observational science. Regarding the first, Ham noted that science means knowledge and so evolutionists cannot claim to be doing science. Regarding the second, he argued that both creationists and evolutionists observe the same evidence; they simply interpret that evidence differently. Regarding the third, Ham observed that “We weren’t there” at the beginning of the Earth and so we can’t know through observational science what happened.

Bill Nye Opening

Nye noted that the primary contention of the topic was to see whether the creation model lined up with the evidence. Thus, we must compare Ken Ham’s creation model to the “mainstream” model of science (his word). There are, he contended, major difficulties with Ham’s model, including the fossils found in layers in the Grand Canyon. He noted that there is “not a single place” where fossils of one type cross over with fossils of a different type or era. Yet, on a creation model, one would expect vast amounts of mixing. Thus, the creation model fails to account for the observational evidence.

Nye also noted that there are “billions of people ” who are religious and do not hold to creation science.

Ham Presentation

Ham again emphasized the importance of defining terms. He then presented a few more videos of creationists who are active scientists in various fields. One, a Stuart Burgess [I think I typed that correctly] claimed that he knew many colleagues who expressed interest in creationism but were afraid for their careers.

Non-Christians, Ham alleged, are borrowing from the Christian worldview in order to do science. The reason for this is because their own worldview cannot account for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, or the laws of nature. He asked Nye to explain how to account for these aspects of reality without God.

The past cannot be observed directly, he said, and concluded that we can’t be certain that the present is like the past. Thus, we must only deal with the observed facts that we can see now. On this point, the disagreements are over the interpretation of the evidence. That is, there is a set of evidence that both people like Nye and Ham approach. According to Ham, it is their worldviews which color their interpretation of the evidence such that they use the same evidence and get entirely contradictory conclusions.

The diversity of species which is observed is only, Ham argued, difference in “kind.” Thus, it cannot be used as evidence for evolution. The word “evolution” has been “hijacked” and used as evidence for unobservable phenomena extrapolated from that which is observed. The various species demonstrate a “creation orchard” as opposed to an “evolutionary tree.” One may observe different creatures, like dogs, each stemming from an a common origin, but none of these are traceable back to common descent, rather they exhibit discontinuity in the fossil record.

There is a major difference, Ham alleged, between “observational sciences” which looks at the things we can see in repeatable events now and “historical sciences” which extrapolates from the evidence gathered what happened in the past. We can never truly have “knowledge” regarding the historical sciences.

Nye Presentation

Nye began his presentation by noting that the debate took place in Kentucky and “here… we’re standing on layer upon layer upon layer of limestone.” The limestone is made of fossils of creatures which lived entire lives (twenty or more years in many cases) and then died, piled up on top of each other, and formed the limestone underneath much of the state. The amount of time needed for this is much longer than just a few thousand years.

Nye also turned to evidence from ice cores, which would require 170 winter/summer cycles per year for at least a thousand years to generate the current amount of ice built up. In California, there are trees which are extremely ancient, and some trees are even older, possibly as old as 9000 or more years old. Apart from the difficulty of the age of these trees, one must also wonder how they survived a catastrophic flood.

When looking at a place like the Grand Canyon, one never finds lower layer animals mixed with higher level animals. One should expect to find these given a flood. Nye challenged Ham to present just one evidence of the mixing of fossils of different eras together; he said it would be a major blow to the majority sciences.

If the flood explains animal life and its survival, one should observe the migration of animals across the earth in the fossil record; thus a Kangaroo should be found not just in Australia but along the way from wherever the Ark rested. However, these finds are not observed. Finally, the Big Bang has multiple lines of evidence which confirm it as the origin of the universe.

Ham Rebuttal

Ham argued that we can’t observe the age of the Earth. No science can measure it through observational evidence; rather it falls under historical sciences. One should add the genealogies in the Genesis account in order to find the age of the Earth. Whenever a scientist talks about the past, “we’ve got a problem” because they are not speaking from observation: they were not there.

Various radiometric dating methods turn up radically divergent ages for artifacts from the same time period and layer of rocks. The only infallible interpreter of the evidence is God, who provided a record in the Bible.

Nye Rebuttal

Rocks are able to slide in such a way as to interpose different dated objects next to each other.

Nye noted that Ham kept saying we “can’t observe the past,” but that is exactly what is done in astronomy: no observation of stars is not observing the past. Indeed, it takes a certain amount of time for the light to get to Earth from these various stars. The notion that lions and the like ate vegetables is, he argued, preposterous. Perhaps, he asserted, the difficulty is with Ham’s interpretation of the biblical text.

Nye then compared the transmission of the text of the Bible to the telephone game.

Ham Counter-Rebuttal

Ham again pressed that natural laws only work within a biblical worldview. There only needed to be about 1000 kinds represented aboard the ark in order to represent all the current species. Bears have sharp teeth yet eat vegetables.

Nye Counter-Rebuttal

Nye asserted that Ham’s view fails to address fundamental questions like the layers of ice. The notion that there were even fewer “kinds” (about 1000) means that the problem for Ham is even greater: the species would have had to evolve at extremely rapid rates, sometimes even several species a day, in order to account for all the differences of species today.


I’ll not cover every single question, instead, I wanted to make note of two major things that came up in the Q+A session.

First, Nye’s answer to any question which challenged him on things like where the matter for the Big Bang came from was to assert that it’s a great mystery and we should find out one day. Second, Ham’s response to any question which (even hypothetically) asked him to consider the possibility that he would be wrong was to assert that such a situation was impossible. In other words, he presupposed he was correct and held to the impossibility that he could be wrong.


Ken Ham

Ken Ham’s position was based upon his presuppositional apologetic. He continued to press that it is one’s worldview which colors the interpretation of evidence. The facts, he argued, remained the same for either side. It was what they brought to the facts that led to the radically different interpretations.

There is something to be said for this; it is surely true that we do have assumptions we bring to the table when interpreting the evidence. However, apart from the problem that Ham’s presuppositional approach with creationism is unjustified, Ham failed to deal with facts which really do shoot major holes in his theory. For example, it simply is true that, as Nye noted, when we observe the stars or distant galaxies, we are observing the past. Ham was just wrong on this regard. Moreover, other observational evidence (though not directly showing the past) does demonstrate that the Earth cannot be so young as Ham supposes. Furthermore, his hard and fast distinction between historical sciences and observational sciences is more of a rhetorical device than anything.

Ham’s position, I would argue, fails to account for the evidence which Nye raised (along with a number of other difficulties). Moreover, he continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism. However, I did appreciate Ham’s focus on the Gospel message. It was refreshing to have him present a call to belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior in front of such a massive audience.

Bill Nye

Nye did an okay job of trying to show that there may be more to the debate than simply creationism-or-bust for Christianity. Indeed, he actually went so far as to say there is “no conflict” between science and faith. Instead, he argued that Ham’s position is the one which generates such a conflict. His rebuttals provided some major reasons to think that Ham’s creationism could not account for the evidence. In particular, the difficulties presented by the proliferation of species after the flood and the fossil record were solid evidences.

However, Nye’s presentations had a couple difficulties. First, he failed to account for polystrate fossils: the very thing he challenged Ham to present. There really are such things as fossils which are found out of sequence (thanks to ElijiahT and SkepticismFirst on Twitter for this). That’s not to say they prove young earth creationism. Far from it. So Nye seems to have been mistaken on this point. Second, he presented the Big Bang theory as though Fred Hoyle somehow came up with the hypothesis, yet Hoyle is well known for denying the Big Bang. Third, the notion that the interpretation, translation, and transmission of the Bible through time is anything like the telephone game is a tiresome and simply mistaken metaphor.


Both men were extremely respectful and I appreciated their candor. Each had several good points; each had some major flaws in their positions. The dialogue as a whole was interesting and helpful.


Readers by now should realize that I have to confess my title is a bit misleading. I was impressed by the tone of both speakers, though I thought they each made major gaffes alongside some decent points. The bottom line is that I find it unfortunate that we were exposed to a false dichotomy: either creationism or naturalism. There is more to the story. As far as “who won” the debate, I would argue that because of this false dichotomy, neither truly won. However, it seemed to me Ham had a more cohesive 30 presentation. That is, his presentation stayed more focused. Nye’s presentation jumped around quite a bit and had less directness to it. So far as “debate tactics” are concerned, one might chalk that up to a win for Ham. However, Nye successfully dismantled Ham’s presentation in the rebuttal periods. Thus, one was left with the impression that Ham’s view was indeed based upon his presupposition of its truth, while Nye was more open to the evidence. Again, I think both are wrong in many areas, but I hope that Nye’s tearing down of Ham’s position will not demonstrate to some that Christianity is false. As Nye noted, it may instead be Ham’s interpretation which is wrong.

There was much more to cover here than I could get to, so please do leave a comment to continue the discussion.


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Naturalis Historia– This site is maintained by a biologist who presents a number of serious difficulties for young earth creationism.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Debate Review: Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse on “The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design”– Theist Fazale Rana debated atheist Michael Ruse on the origin of life. I found this a highly informative and respectful debate.

Reasons to Believe– a science-faith think tank from an old-earth perspective.

Other Reviews of the Debate

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis– The GeoChristian has a brief overview of the debate with a focus on what each got right or wrong.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath– Luke Nix over at Faithful Thinkers has another thoughtful review. His post focuses much more on the topic of the debate as opposed to a broad overview. Highly recommended.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Debate of the Decade?- Interested in what led up to this debate? Check out my previous post on the topic in which I urged Christians to write on this debate and also traced, briefly, the controversy leading up to this debate.

The image used in this post is was retrieved at Christianity Today and I believe it’s origin is with Answers in Genesis. I use it under fair use to critique the views. I make no claims to owning the rights to the image, and I believe the image, as well as “The Creation Museum” are copyright of Answers in Genesis.



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.

Really Recommended Posts 11/8/13- The Emerging Church, Bible translations, and atheism, oh my!

postCreating Atheists: Made, Not Born– Peter Boghossian’s new book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, has caused a stir. Here, Tom Gilson turns his evaluation to the notion that atheists are made as opposed to born, which is implicitly suggested by the title of Boghossian’s book. It is well worth a read, so check it out.

What your preferred Bible translation says about you– Read it all the way to the end… a very powerful piece about Bible translations and our perceptions.

The Emerging Church– There has been a lot of talk about the “Emergent Church” movement, but it is extraordinarily hard to pin down what is meant by this terminology. Moreover, what–if anything–unites this movement’s thought? D.A. Carson provides some helpful background and a number of great talking points regarding the movement. Although he sometimes over-generalizes, I think, this will give you good insight into what to look for and what to discuss with those wondering about or in the “Emerging Church.”

Hugh Ross vs Danny Faulkner- How Old is the Universe? [Video]- An extremely lengthy video debate between the old earth creationist Hugh Ross and a young earth creationist, Danny Faulkner. If you’re interested in this issue, this will be a very thought-provoking video for you. Be aware that it is over 5 hours long, so you may want to watch it in segments!

Sensus Divinitatis– A brief post which surveys the history of Christian thought on the notion that human beings have a built-in sense of the existence or presence of the divine.

The Rocks Cry Out: A visual journey on a lake and its implications for the age of the earth

100_2738I 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.

Mirror-Lake-State-Park-Map.mediumthumbGeologic Time

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.

100_2741Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism?

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.

A Linchpin? 

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).

The Wisconsin Geologic Society.

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.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth

eps-ccI was recently at the Evangelical Philosophical Society conference (see my thoughts on every talk I attended) and one of the sessions was a debate between Gregg Davidson of Solid Rock Lectures and Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis on “Scripture, Geology & the Age of the Earth.” A number of readers requested more information on this talk, and I found it very interesting myself. Here, I’ll touch on the highlights of this dialogue as well as my own thoughts.

Davidson- A Biblical Worldview and an Ancient Earth

Gregg Davidson, a geologist who authored When Faith and Science Collide, and is a lecturer for Solid Rock Lectures, began the dialogue by noting several themes in the young earth/old earth dialogue. First, he noted a tendency to present young earth creationism (YEC) as the only Biblical worldview, while also presenting evidence for a young earth as exceptionally strong in contrast to weak evidence for an old earth. Unfortunately, Davidson pointed out that many people get to schools where they learn geology, astronomy, and more in the sciences and discover that the evidence for the young earth is actually fairly weak, while that for an old earth is quite strong. And, because YECs often link young earth creationism to being the only possible Biblical worldview, they begin to view the Biblical worldview as a whole as extremely weak. If the evidence for YEC was so weak as to falter, then because it is inherently tied to the Biblical worldview, that wolrdview must itself be extremely weak.

Another problem is that YECs fail to recognize that their position itself is an interpretation of Scripture. Their view is not Scripture itself. There is a tendency in debates about theology to view one’s own position as what the Bible teaches, but that fails to take into account the possibility of fallible human interpretation.

Davidson argued for an approach to Scripture that takes note of the fact that God often deigns to make use of “the knowledge of the day to communicate truths about the nature of God.” As an example, he referenced Jesus saying that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all the plants on earth, despite the fact that it is not (Mark 4:30-32). The point was not the size of the seed, but rather the power of faith. Thus,we must be careful not to make Scripture teaching something it does not claim for itself. He pressed that to read into the Genesis text specific dates and time periods is to make the text teach something that it is not claiming.

Turning to the science, Davidson noted that there are any number of evidences for an ancient earth, but that he chose to focus upon just one area from a number of evidences in order to show how interdisciplinary and cross-confirmed the age of the earth is. He focused upon the Hawaiian Islands and their formation and age. There are multiple, independent ways to investigate the age of these islands. The islands were formed by a hot spot–a place where magma shoots up from underneath the crust and bubbles to the surface. This eventually would form islands when enough of the lava cooled and hardened. The islands are on a moving continental plate and so as they move away from the hot spot, the expectation is the islands get progressively older. Thus, in a series of 3 islands arranged thusly: 3-2-1-0 (0 being the hot spot), 3 would be the oldest island.

Davidson first noted the ages that were found by testing the age of the volcanic rock with radiometric dating. These ages yielded millions of years. Now of course most young earth creationists hold that radiometric dating methods are deeply flawed, but Davidson noted that this procedure can be tested for accuracy with independent methods. Before turning to that, he showed a picture of what the estimate for the movement per year of the plate over the hot spot would be based solely upon the radiometric dating. Basically, this works by just taking the distance of 3-2-1 and measuring how far each is from the hot spot, then dividing the radiometric date by that distance to see how far the islands move per year. The estimate yielded movement of 2.6-3.6 inches per year.

Recent technology has allowed us to utilize Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to actually measure the rate that the islands are moving. These measurements yield approximately 3.1 inches per year, which is exactly in the middle of the estimate given by the radiometric dating. Given the measured rate, scientists can extrapolate how many millions of years old the islands are based upon their distance from the hot spot. It’s kind of an inverse way to get the date. They simply divide the measured distance of the islands from the hot spot by the measured rate of movement per year. Of course, this way of measuring is not dependent in any way upon radiometric dating. Thus, there are two independent sources showing the date in millions of years for the Hawaiian Islands.

The coral growth around the Islands was a third confirmation of the ancient age of these formations. This argument was more complex than the first two. Basically, it seemed the argument was that because different corals form closer to the surface, we can look at the coral reefs formed around the islands as they are farther out and see how much the coral has moved up the island as it subducted (moved under the water with the continental plate). Thus, as the islands move farther away, and therefore sink into the water, the coral that can only survive at certain depths is submerged too far for it to get adequate sunlight, and it dies. One can then measure radiometrically the age of rings of corals. When one measures the coral on the islands, they can correlate that with the ages of the corals and the islands themselves. This measurement also lined up with the previous two.

Davidson concluded that the problem with the YEC paradigm is that they will often focus upon rebutting multiple, independent claims. While this may work for each claim individually, the problem is that all of these types of evidence add up to form one cohesive picture. When they are cross-referenced and they all hit on the same age or date range, they all show the same predictions of distance, and the like, it becomes extremely implausible to say that every single way to find the age of the earth is faulty. They form a full picture. Furthermore, Davidson critiqued YECs for often presenting a selective picture of the evidence–only showing the evidence which favors their position.

Snelling- A Biblical and Geological Defense of a Young Earth and the Global Flood

Andrew Snelling is a well-known proponent of YEC, the author of Earth’s Catastrophic Past, and his presentation was perhaps the best defense of his position I have ever seen.

Snelling began by offering the common argument that Jesus taught the global flood and young earth creationism. He argued that the Hebrew word used in Genesis 7:17 is only used for this event, which hints at the incredible devastation.

local-flood-aigFurthermore, the language in Genesis states that the mountains were covered. Snelling’s slideshow had the image shown here on the right, which is becoming pervasive in discussions about the extent of the Flood. The argument is that if the Flood were local, it makes a mockery of the Biblical text. (See a different perspective on this issue with Hugh Ross’ “In the Days of Noah.”)

Snelling outlined several things we should look for if there was a global flood. Among these expectations are:

1) Marine fossils in strata for terrestrial creatures- Snelling named a number of places these could be found. This is an expectation because the Flood covered the whole earth, so the creatures should all be mixed together.

2) Rapid burial of creatures and plants- Snelling noted a number of places where fossils show rapid burial. This is expected because the Flood would have suddenly come upon these creatures.

3) Fossil graveyards- The Flood would have killed huge numbers of animals, so we should expect to find huge fossil graveyards, which we do.

4) Evidence that the ocean flooded the continents- if the Flood were global, we would expect to find its sedimentation upon the continents, and we do.

He argued that these are all evidenced in Earth’s catastrophic past, and he pointed to the Grand Canyon as evidence for a number of these evidences.

Snelling also looked at various geological features he said were evidences for a global flood and a young earth. Among these were several layers of sedimentary rock which are bent. He argued that this can only occur when the rock is liquefied like cement–otherwise it cracks–so this sedimentation had to happen during the Flood.

Discussion- Q+A

Next, there was a dialogue between Snelling and Davidson in the form of them asking each other questions. The highlights were a few specific questions:

Davidson asked Snelling about the Grand Canyon: specifically, he noted that the terrestrial fossils were found in similar strata, but never in the same layers, which instead suggests an ebbing and flowing of the water; not a global flood. Furthermore, he pointed out the lack of any pollinating plants in an entire mile of sediment. He asked how Snelling’s account lines up with this data. Snelling responded by arguing that the fossils are indeed mixed together and that we even find footprints in the wrong layers. He argued that due to “devastating tsunamis” which would have swept the earth, some of this could be undone and/or specific types of creatures/plants might have been swept out of the layers.

Snelling gave a brief outline of problems with radiometric dating giving divergent ages and asked Davidson to comment on the difficulties he pointed out with radiometric dating. He argued that often, old earth proponents and “secularists” simply assume an age for the rock and interpret the tests to get that age. Davidson responded noting that he worked with radiometric labs for quite some time and that there is mixing in the chemicals which can be accounted for. He showed a picture showing how some of this can work and how labs have to account for certain elements contaminating the rocks. However, he pointed out there is a margin of error to account for some of these difficulties.

Rock_StrataDavidson then brought up a slide with images of bent rocks. One was a “bench” at a graveyard in which the middle had sagged despite being made of stone. He argued that with enough pressure/time rock can sag under its own weight or (as the picture showed) even no weight at all. Given this evidence, he asked why bent rocks should count in favor of YEC. Snelling responded by saying that hard rock can be bent by pressure but that if the pressure is sufficient the rock will crack.  He continued to emphasize that in the Grand Canyon one can observe rocks bending without fracture.


I have to say I was struck by how much this interaction turned on the scientific aspects of the debate. I had thought that Snelling would focus more upon an attack of Davidson’s interpretation of Scripture, and while he did some of that, the majority of his responses were related to scientific arguments. Davidson followed suit and kept hammering examples that showed how the YEC interpretations Snelling gave of various natural phenomena failed.

Davidson’s scientific presentation in his paper was extremely strong. It would be very hard to explain away the fact that three completely independent methods for dating the islands lined up so clearly to point towards an ancient earth. If I had been on the border between young earth or old earth going in, I would have come out as convinced of an old earth. I actually did go in as one who holds to an old earth, having been convinced by the evidence a few years ago, and I came away utterly convinced that YEC is false.

Snelling’s talk was a great defense of the YEC position, but it demonstrated the flaws that Davidson was quick to capitalize on. I was really impressed by the fact that Davidson had a number of slides ready to respond to both Snelling’s presentation and his questions. Davidson’s critique of the “bent rocks” was particularly devastating.

Davidson’s critique of YEC: that they focus upon independently repudiating various dating methods, came to fruition in this discussion. He really showed how the YEC paradigm is utterly dependent upon a selective presentation of data at the exclusion of pieces that do not fit.

One thing I would have liked to see was more debate over the Flood and the Bible passages in general. I was surprised by how much the talk focused on the science–though that was extremely interesting.

Let me know your thoughts on the topic. Have you any insights on any of these issues?


I have written on other talks that I attended at the ETS/EPS Conference in 2012. Specifically, check out my post on Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals. I have also written briefly on every talk I attended. See my post on the ETS/EPS Conference 2012.

There are a great many posts on creation issues on my site. You can access them by checking out my page on the Origins Debate.

Naturalis Historia is a site that focuses primarily on the scientific evidence for an old earth. I highly recommend it.

For the theological aspects of the debate (and also more of the scientific discussion), check out The GeoChristian as well as Geocreationism, two fantastic sites.

Finally, for a comprehensive Biblical and scientific old earth view, see Reasons to Believe.



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