Review by Ruben Baron
First Published February 2009
Chapter 7 changes the focus of this book from the interpretation and authority of the Bible to the use of science in determining the age of the earth. Even though this chapter is represented as dealing with the scientific side of this issue, most of it actually deals with the relationship of science with the Bible and the philosophy of science, except at the very end of the chapter.
The beginning of this chapter reviews the basic philosophy of science, on which for the most part both OEC’s and YEC’s would agree. Both would agree that the Bible teaches many of the underlying philosophical presuppositions that form the basis of modern science. However at the end of page 108 it is stated that “we must place our confidence in the Bible above all other sources of information.” Immediately following this is the charge that OEC’s put the Bible at the same level or in practice at a lower level than science. The statements of Dr. Hugh Ross are then cited to justify this charge, where he is quoted as saying that the record of nature must also be perfect, reliable, and truthful as the Bible, and that nature may be likened to a 67th book of the Bible.
This point has already been dealt with in the review of Chapter 4, where it was pointed out that Dr. Ross is simply saying that truth is truth, whether in nature or in the Bible. But this chapter makes a major point of saying that the Bible is propositional truth, since it uses statements, while nature is not propositional truth, since it is nonverbal. It is true that nature is not in a written form as the Bible is, but just as the observational evidences in nature need to be interpreted, so does the written word in the Bible need to be interpreted. The means of interpretation are different between the Bible and nature, but both require interpretation.
Interestingly, at the bottom of page 109 it is stated that “the way in which such evidence is interpreted depends largely on what a person already believes about the world.” OEC’s would agree with this statement, but would add that this does not just apply to the realm of science, but also to the realm of interpreting the Bible. As already brought out many times in this review, the issue of the presuppositions in interpreting the Bible, and to a lesser extent in interpreting scientific data, is the crux of this entire debate on the age of the earth. OEC’s acknowledge that there are presuppositions in interpreting the Bible, while YEC’s deny this and insist that there is “plain reading” of the text that denies any other interpretation of the text.
It is then concluded on page 110 that “science is not nearly so objective as many people believe it to be.” Again OEC’s for the most part would agree with this statement, but would add that interpreting the Bible is not so objective as YEC’s portray it, especially on passages related to origins.
Several reasons are given to show why nature should not be put on the same level as Scripture. Many of these reasons were dealt with in previous chapters but will be reviewed again here:
Nature is cursed, whereas the Bible is not. This has already been dealt with in previous chapters. Just because there is sin in the world, this does not mean that observations about nature are unreliable. In fact the main focus of sin in the Bible is not on nature, but on mankind. This is the same mankind that interprets both nature and the Bible. In addition, the beginning of this chapter demonstrated how biblical teaching sets the framework for doing science in a fallen world, with which OEC’s would agree. But if nature were cursed in the way that YEC’s try to represent it, science would not be possible at all.
Scientific theories are not nature. Of course they are not, and no scientist would say that theories are the same as nature. Scientific theories are simply a means of formulating a coherent understanding of natural phenomena. Of course scientific theories can be shown to be wrong, but to say that “they are fallible, while the Bible is not” entirely misses the point. It is even acknowledged here by YEC’s that we can misunderstand both the Bible and scientific theories. So what is the point of bringing all of this out? At least here the YEC’s finally acknowledge that anyone (including themselves) can misunderstand the Bible, which is what OEC’s have been trying to say for a long time.
The way in which we interpret nature is strongly dependent on what we believe about the world. Again OEC’s would have no problem with this statement in itself. But this statement is being presented here to set up the intended conclusions.
According to this book at this point, the obvious conclusion of these statements must be that when there is a conflict between the Bible and science, then the Bible must prevail, since it is infallible. And it is further concluded that since the Bible clearly teaches YEC, then YEC must be the truth, since the Bible is infallible. But this conclusion is not so obvious after consideration of many points already raised throughout this review:
It has been shown already in many places in this review that YEC is not clearly taught in the Bible. YEC’s just assume that it is, and then build an “edifice” entirely based upon this one questionable conclusion.
It is mentioned here again and again that the Bible is infallible, which most OEC’s would agree with. But this does not mean that the YEC interpretation is infallible. YEC’s have continually confused the doctrine of Biblical infallibility with their own fallible interpretations of the Bible.
Following these statements comes the usual condescending criticism of OEC’s with the statement “Sadly, it has been our experience that few professing Christians really believe the Bible in its entirety.” This same kind of condescending attitude has been repeated again and again in this book, even though OEC’s respond again and again that they really do believe the Bible in it’s entirety. It seems as if it is hoped by YEC’s that by repeating this mantra enough times, it will finally be accepted as true.
This type of attitude continues into the next few paragraphs with the conclusion that “reinterpreting” the text (because of the alleged influence of secular science) is the same as not believing the text. At this point there is no need to continue any further critique of the same statements given again and again throughout this book.
Beginning on page 111 several points are presented to support a YEC view of science. OEC’s can agree with many of the points, but would object to the way these points are used to support the YEC conclusion on the age of the earth.
1. The Nature of Science. This section simply describes the meaning of the word “science” as an introduction to the next section.
2. Operational Science and Origins Science. This is terminology used to distinguish two types of scientific observation. “Operational science” deals with the scientific observations of how nature and the universe operate today, and is used to make scientific predictions based upon an understanding of current day phenomena. In contrast to this, “origins science” deals with scientific observations of the results of past phenomena, such as evolution, creation, and the age of the earth. The emphasis of “origins science” is that all scientific observations are indirect at best, since they deal with data from the past rather than data from the present.
This section goes further to show examples of how to distinguish these two types of science, using a fossil as an example. It is concluded that “origins science” is a means of answering a history question, rather than answering a scientific question. Radioactive dating of a rock is used as another example to distinguish these two kinds of science. “Operational” science is used to measure the current properties of the rock and “origins” science is used to deduce the history of the rock. It is emphasized that “origins” science is just an educated guess, with the only way to know for sure about the past is to consult a history book. An example from World War I is used to illustrate this principle.
This example is somewhat absurd because an example of recent history is being used as an analogy to radiometric dating of rocks from the distant past. Then the expected conclusion is made that the Bible is history on the matter of dating and should be used to override any scientific conclusions about the date of the rock. And from this it is then stated that “many Christians do not have any real confidence in the Bible,” because they prefer scientific dating to the recorded history in the Bible.
This is again a very unfair charge that is made simply because some Christians do not accept a YEC interpretation of the Bible, and continues the negative tone characteristic of this entire book. Christians accept the scientific dating of the rock because the interpretation of the data measurements on the rock point to an old date (notwithstanding the philosophical issues of operational versus origins science). Accepting the scientific dating does not mean that they do not have confidence in the Bible, but rather that they understand that the Bible does not clearly address this kind of issue, just as the Bible does not address many other contemporary issues.
3. The Bible as a Starting Point for Science. On page 114 a cartoon is shown that gives a caricature of the relationship of science and the Bible from a YEC viewpoint. This cartoon demonstrates the extreme measures that YEC’s are willing to take to emotionally manipulate the reader to their viewpoint. The implication here is that if a Christian does not accept the YEC viewpoint, then this is equivalent to rejecting the Bible itself.
Following this is a description of the fallacy of debating origins with a nonbeliever, along with quotations from the book of Proverbs. This debate is then applied to OEC’s with the conclusion that "we are really contrasting the young earther’s biblical assumptions with the old earther’s secular assumptions.” This is simply a rehash of the same kind of thinking repeated innumerable times in this book that attempts to formulate the question of the age of the earth as a debate on the Bible’s authority versus man’s authority, rather than as a Bible interpretation question. Earlier in this same chapter the biblical basis of science was described in a way that both YEC’s and OEC’s could agree with. So to accuse OEC’s of rejecting the Bible’s authority in science is completely unfair and unwarranted. OEC’s would agree that the Bible provides the foundational principles for modern science, but they are still condemned by YEC’s because they do not accept certain YEC interpretations of the Bible.
4. The Biblical Axioms of Science. This section begins with basic axioms of science that both OEC’s and YEC’s would agree with, and it is even brought out that secular scientists would also agree with these axioms, even though they might not accept the biblical basis for these axioms.
The next part of this section on page 116 is much more problematic, in that it asserts that there are additional biblical assumptions about science that should be accepted by “the consistent Christian,” namely miracles and a supernatural creation of the world. Several examples of miracles and supernatural intervention are given.
There are several problems with this assertion:
First of all, it is completely inaccurate to call miracles and supernatural creation “biblical assumptions about science.” Science by definition cannot deal with miracles and the supernatural. It can only deal with nature, since science is the study of the natural world. This does not mean that miracles and supernatural phenomena did not occur, but rather that if and when these phenomena occur, they are by definition beyond the scope of scientific investigation, since they are not part of the normal natural world. Perhaps miracles and the supernatural can be investigated by other means, such as historical witness, but they cannot be investigated by scientific means.
There is also the simple problem of how to determine if a phenomenon is indeed a supernatural miracle, or is just something in nature that is not explained by current scientific knowledge, or is only something beyond our everyday experience designed to point us to God.
The use of the word “supernatural” in this context is also problematic even from a biblical viewpoint. This word does not occur in the Bible at all and historically was used as a reaction to the naturalistic philosophy of the Enlightenment that has arisen in the last couple of hundred years or so. The Bible actually does not intend to clearly distinguish “natural” from “supernatural,” but attributes all of God’s works to Him alone, regardless of the means that He used to do them. Certainly there are things described in the Bible completely beyond our ordinary experience, such as “signs” or “wonders” that were used as a means to point people to God. But to judge these signs as “natural” or “scientific” or “supernatural” is to add a philosophical element that is simply not present in the Bible.
On page 117 it is then concluded that “the way that God created the universe is not the same way He maintains the universe today.” However no biblical evidence is cited to support this assertion. And if there is no clear evidence to support this assertion, then to say that OEC’s embrace secular rather than biblical assumptions is questionable at best.
The last biblical axiom presented deals with the impact of the Flood. The extent of the Flood was already dealt with in previous chapters, but it is still asserted here that “we can infer from Scripture that Flood was the most geologically significant event since creation.” It is further asserted that Psalm 104:8 suggests major geological changes during the flood. But this last axiom is valid only if the Flood were indeed global (which this review has already shown is questionable at best), and is valid only if Psalm 104 is describing the Flood rather than describing creation. That is, this last axiom is based upon questionable interpretations of certain biblical passages, not the “clear meaning” of the Bible.
5. Secular Assumptions in Science. This section deals with the issue of naturalism and the assumptions in science that secular scientist use. A detailed description of naturalism is given with which both YEC’s and OEC’s can mostly agree. Following this is a description of uniformitarianism. It is noted here that even YEC’s can agree with uniformitarianism in many cases.
But on page 120 the disagreements of YEC’s with the uniformitarianism of secular science are clearly stated:
Secular scientists have a tendency to arbitrarily assume that such rates are generally constant.
Secular scientists ignore biblical events, such as creation and the Flood, that would most certainly affect the rates of various physical processes.
These disagreements are obviously intended not just to apply to secular scientists, but also to OEC’s, since the issue in this book is the age of the earth. This section concludes with examples related to the age of the earth, and emphasizes that conclusions logically follow from the starting assumptions. Both YEC’s and OEC’s would agree that conclusions are dependent upon the assumptions used. But the problem, of course, is justifying the assumptions. So OEC’s would respond to the disagreements of YEC’s listed above as follows:
Contrary to popular opinion, especially from YEC’s, many assumptions in science are not just ideas that are arbitrarily imposed or assumed. Assumptions can be checked out by observing a phenomenon from different perspectives or by other means of cross checking the observed data. An assumption therefore has reasonable validity if all, or at least most, of the measured data is self consistent with the assumptions used in analyzing the data. For example, the assumptions of age-dating methods (described in more detail in the next section) can be cross checked in many different ways to verify their validity. One bad data point in age-dating, as YEC’s are fond of pointing out, does not invalidate the entire system. If the assumptions are changed, then the good data must also be explained with the new assumptions, since assumptions must apply to all of the observed data. Certainly the assumptions of science will be modified or at least clarified over time, but this does not justify the use of the radically different assumptions of YEC’s, which have little basis in science or the Bible.
So to say that scientists arbitrarily assume that rates are generally constant is simply not true. If they assume that rates are generally constant for a particular phenomenon, it is because this assumption can be checked out by various different means.
It is true that secular scientists ignore biblical events, since they are seen as not relevant to science. But the implication here is that OEC’s also ignore biblical events, which is simply not true at all. In many of the writings of OEC’s, there are serious attempts to harmonize biblical events with modern science. Certainly these attempts to harmonize are not complete, and more work needs to be done, but to imply that OEC’s ignore biblical events is simply unfair and untrue. They just interpret the biblical events differently from YEC’s.
6. The Assumptions of Age-dating Methods. It is asserted immediately in this section that questions of age are not “science” questions, but history questions, based on the earlier sections in this chapter. It is acknowledged that the methods of science are not exactly the same for “origins science” as for “operational science,” but this does not mean that age-dating questions are only “history” questions. Rather it is better to say that age-dating is similar to the methods used in forensic science to establish the truth of a matter. Of course a forensic scientist cannot go back in time to check out the validity of his conclusions, but he can use precise scientific observations of the evidence to draw a very reasonable conclusion as to what did happen in the past. In fact today more and more evidence is gathered forensically and sometimes has a greater weight than eyewitness (that is, “historical”) accounts of an event.
Three main assumptions of age-dating methods are described here, namely, the constancy of rates, the initial conditions of the system, and the fact that the system is closed with no exchange of material from other sources. Both YEC’s and OEC’s, and even secular scientists, would generally agree with these assumptions. But the difference is that OEC’s and secular scientists would maintain that the assumptions are reasonable and valid. An illustration is given on page 121 to illustrate the effects of assumptions on the conclusions, with the intention of casting serious doubt on any of the results of age-dating methods.
7. Secular Assumptions and the Age of the Earth Here the Grand Canyon is used as an illustration of the results of “secular” assumptions on the age of the earth. The conclusion given here is that the Grand Canyon is about 50,000 years old, based upon certain assumptions. It is interesting that this date is too old for a YEC viewpoint, and too young for an OEC viewpoint, but is used anyway to demonstrate how making wrong assumptions about age-dating the Grand Canyon gives unreasonable results for its age. But rather than examining the reasonableness of the assumptions used, especially about the rate of erosion (which admittedly could have greatly varied in the past), the Flood of Genesis is used to justify the age of the Grand Canyon as being very young. But this ignores the fact that using the Flood to justify a young age for the Grand Canyon has many problems of its own, which have been documented in OEC articles.
It is then stated on page 123 that “We know that such things can happen because we have recently observed smaller canyons forming in a matter of days from massive flooding.” But the irony here is that this is also a uniformitarian assumption about the nature of canyon formation and is also a gross extrapolation to assume that the Grand Canyon was formed in the same manner and time as a much smaller canyon. So we see here that YEC’s are willing to use unreasonable assumptions when it suits their position.
But instead it is concluded that a “consistent Christian” must accept that the Grand Canyon was formed from the Flood. At least everyone agrees with the statement made in the same paragraph that “Faulty starting assumptions have resulted in faulty conclusions.” The question, of course, is whose assumptions are faulty!
It is stated that we cannot assume constancy of rates in light of the rapid changes in the world’s topography caused by the Flood. But since it has already been shown in this review that a global Flood capable of changing the world’s topography is not clearly taught in the Bible, then this is just simply another questionable assumption that profoundly affects all of the conclusions of YEC’s regarding the age of the earth.
8. Don’t Answer; Answer. Here the book of Proverbs is used to justify rejection of the assumptions used by OEC’s regarding the age of the earth, because all of the assumptions of OEC’s are called “false philosophy.” The term “false philosophy” is used only because OEC’s disagree with the YEC interpretation of the Bible, and are allegedly influenced by secular science in their interpretation of the Bible. It is very unfortunate that Proverbs is exploited in such an extreme manner against fellow Christian believers. This is yet another reason why YEC’s so strongly come across as divisive and meanspirited toward other Christian believers.
This section is also used as an introduction to the next section in which specific scientific proofs are described that support a YEC viewpoint. It is asserted that these proofs, for the sake of argument, even utilize the same assumptions as OEC’s, but because of the conclusions, will discredit the OEC viewpoint on the age of the earth.
9. Science Confirms a Young Earth. The first “scientific” proof given here is the amount of salt in the ocean. If we assume current rates of erosion and water evaporation compared to the volume of water in the ocean, and also that the ocean was fresh to begin with, then it can be extrapolated how long it would take to make the ocean as salty as it is. Based upon the assumptions and data quoted in this book, the maximum age is calculated to be 62 million years or more likely 38 million years.
Obviously these dates are much older than YEC would predict, but they are also much younger than OEC would predict. So because the dates do not fit OEC predictions, it is concluded that OEC is wrong, and assumptions associated with the Flood must be right.
Furthermore it is stated that the amount of mud on the ocean floor brought by rivers would give an age of about 12 million years, again much older than YEC, but much younger than OEC. So yet again it is asserted that because this is erroneous, it disproves the OEC assumptions.
The problem with all of these calculations, of course, it that this book is imposing assumptions and limitations that OEC’s would find questionable at best. All of the factors that determine the saltiness of the ocean or the amount of mud on the ocean floor are quite complex and not as simplistic as presented here in this book. In fact there is good evidence that on the average there is an equilibrium in the amount of salt in ocean water over time. There are many articles that cover this point in much more detail beyond the scope of this review. And even if the estimates given for the age of the ocean are too young because of the simplistic assumptions used in this book, they are still closer in order of magnitude to an OEC viewpoint than a 6,000 year age assumed by a YEC viewpoint.
Another “scientific” proof presented is Carbon-14 dating. After a brief description of how Carbon-14 dating works, it is stated that C-14 always gives young age dates, even on things that are supposedly millions of years old. Examples would be coal beds, or even diamonds that are supposed to be more than a billion years old. Since diamond is the hardest substance known, it is assumed that there is no outside contamination. Since Carbon-14 dating gives a young date for diamond, then it is concluded that this is scientific proof of a young age.
There are several responses that can be given to this “proof”:
By way of review, Carbon-14 has a half-life of about 5,700 years and dating by C-14 has been shown to be reasonably accurate up to about 60,000 years, especially when calibrated by other independent means. A few bad data points do not discredit the entire system. As mentioned above, it is not enough to just have a few bad data points, but also all of the overwhelming amount of good data needs to be explained, if the basic assumptions are changed.
The “young” dating for coal could possibly be explained as contamination, but what about the “young” dating for diamond, which is harder to explain by simple contamination? First of all, when diamonds are dated by C-14, the dates are not 6,000 years as expected with YEC. A date of 6,000 years can be easily and accurately dated by C-14, but because diamonds have trace amounts of C-14 a date of around 60,000 years is derived, which is at the limits of the range of C-14 dating. This date is already much older than the YEC age of the earth, and since it is already at the limits of C-14 dating methods, it could easily be explained by a different kind of subtle contamination described in the next point.
Even though diamonds are very hard, this does not mean that the diamonds were originally formed in a pristine condition with only carbon and nothing else. All diamonds have trace amounts of other elements, including Nitrogen-14. Nitrogen-14 is the element converted by cosmic rays or other radiation to Carbon-14. So even though diamond may be impervious to normal contamination, it is not impervious to radiation. And also over very long time periods, the hardness of diamonds does not prevent a slight contamination by diffusion from other gases such as nitrogen. If all of this can happen with diamond, it can even more easily happen with other carbon materials such as coal.
So actually the “proof” of C-14 dating points more to an OEC viewpoint rather than a YEC viewpoint, if all of the above points are taken into consideration.
Human population growth is used on page 127 as yet another “proof” of YEC. The idea here is that it would take less than 2,000 years for the earth’s population to reach its current level from one man and woman, assuming today’s population growth rate. It is acknowledged that today’s growth rate is higher than at times past, but not enough to discount this as a proof for YEC. The conclusion is that “it is absurd to think that earth’s population remained constant for such a long time.”
Actually it is not so absurd to think that the earth’s population has remained constant or at least growing at a much slower rate than it is today. There have been periods in human history such as in the medieval Black Death, where the population actually declined. The rate of growth of today’s population is by all measures much faster than in antiquity, because of better diet, medical care, etc. And besides such a “proof” is based upon unreasonable uniformitarian assumptions about current population growth, which is the very thing the YEC’s reject. Any serious study of population growth would recognize that the growth rate has varied dramatically in times past, without making any uniformitarian assumptions.
As expected, at the end of this chapter it is concluded that these “proofs” show the inconsistency of OEC. But it is further stated that “if we use our own Bible-based starting assumptions, there is no problem.” But I would have to ask myself how there is “no problem.” It has not been demonstrated at all that YEC assumptions provide a better fit to the data. In fact all of these “proofs” tended to favor OEC over YEC.
It is further added that “We assume the universe to be supernaturally created” and “We assume that a worldwide flood is responsible for much of the earth’s topography today” and even more incredibly “These starting assumptions are very consistent with scientific observations.” Nothing of the sort has even remotely been demonstrated scientifically in this chapter, even when assuming a YEC interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, as described above, to mix “supernatural” with “scientific observations” is not even science, but rather just distorted speculation biased toward the desired outcome.
So to end this chapter with the statement that “The scientific case for a young earth is very strong” is, as in much of this book, simply YEC self-delusion with absolutely no basis in science or the Bible.
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Old Earth Belief,
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