Review by Ruben Baron
First Published 24 Jul 2009
Chapter 8 responds to the scientific arguments presented by OEC’s, but the name of this chapter (Defense — “Scientific” Arguments) already gives the verdict of this book by use of the quotation marks in the title. As is usual in this book, the question is formulated as a question of biblical versus secular assumptions rather than a question of interpretation of the Bible. So the first part of this chapter emphasizes the issue of the assumptions used in interpreting the scientific data.
A major portion of this chapter deals with the issue of radioactive dating of rocks that is used to arrive at the dates used by OEC’s. It is emphasized that the two major assumptions in radiometric dating are the rates of radioactive decay and the initial conditions. And since YEC’s believe that they have “proved” the case for a young earth biblically then any other approach to age or dating is immediately suspect under the guise of “secular assumptions.” That is, any scientific data that points to an old earth age really does not matter or is not relevant, since the matter has been settled through a YEC biblical interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis.
On page 130 near the beginning of this chapter is the oft-repeated condescending attitude towards anyone (especially OEC’s) who do not accept a YEC viewpoint, with comments such as “It is curious that persons professing to believe the Bible would start with assumptions that are the opposite of what the Bible teaches.” Up to now the whole point of this debate has been to determine what the Bible really does teach on the issue of the age of the earth. But it is assumed here that the question has already been settled, even though this review in past chapters has shown the opposite, that the Bible does not at all clearly teach YEC, and if anything, seems to teach OEC. Both OEC’s and YEC’s would agree that in general a conclusion is made on the basis of the assumptions used, but the formulation of the assumptions by YEC’s in this chapter is completely erroneous and misleading.
So the goal of this chapter therefore is to prove that the assumptions of OEC’s in arriving at a specific age are erroneous.
1. Radiometric Dating. The issue of radiometric dating is perhaps the most contentious in this debate. YEC’s completely reject the conclusions of radiometric dating, because if these conclusions are correct, then there is no scientific basis at all for supporting a YEC viewpoint.
On page 132 there is a list of radiometric dates for rocks with known age from history, mainly rocks from volcanoes whose eruption times are recorded in history. Several specific examples are listed, in which dating by potassium-argon dating methods are compared with the actual known historical date of the rocks. It is then concluded that since radiometric dating does not work with these examples, then the entire system is suspect at best, if not entirely wrong.
To go into the technical details of potassium-argon dating is beyond the scope of this review, but a few important points must be made in response to the claims presented here:
History is not the only means to cross-check radiometric dating of rocks. Other methods can also be used, and most of the methods have shown a reasonable consistency between the various dating methods.
As already pointed out in earlier chapters of this review, a few bad data points do not discredit a theory. If another theory is proposed to better explain the bad data points, the theory must also explain the good data points. YEC fails entirely to explain all of the rest of the data that does consistently point to an old age.
Perhaps most seriously of all, YEC’s have mishandled the data used in their own examples given here. Without going into all of the details in this review, the examples given in this book ignore other rock samples in the same study that do give a date consistent with the expected age of the rock. Furthermore some of the values of the quoted data may not even be the correct data from the original paper. For further details in dealing with potassium-argon dating issues, see articles on the Old Earth Ministries web site.
Having dealt with issues of initial conditions present in potassium-argon radiometric dating, the issue of constancy of rate for radiometric dating is reviewed on page 134- 135. It is asserted that the “secular scientist reasons that if radioactive material decays slowly today, then it must always have decayed slowly.” What follows is a discussion of using “biblical” assumptions in approaching the issue of radiometric dating, such as the Curse and the influence of the global Flood. To respond yet again to this kind of reasoning is to repeat much of what has already been stated in this review previously:
The “biblical” assumptions of YEC are simply YEC interpretations of the Bible, as already stated many times in this review.
Even if the YEC biblical assumptions are valid, there is no quantitative connection with the scientific measurements of radiometric dating, other than stating that radiometric dating should be ignored. That is, there is no quantitative way to use any biblical assumptions to modify or adjust the results of radiometric dating to obtain any sort of meaningful scientific result.
The assertion that radioactive decay rates are unreliable is simply an assertion. It is true that it has been shown that radioactive decay rates may change slightly under certain environmental conditions, but this in no way justifies the order of magnitude changes that YEC dating would require.
If indeed radioactive decay rates changed in the past, on the order of magnitude of thousands or even millions needed to justify a YEC date, there would be many other significant measurable side effects, such as extreme heat dissipation that we simply see no sign of whatsoever. In fact it is even suggested in the book that this kind of change may have been a factor that triggered the global Flood, but there is simply no evidence whatsoever of this.
To suggest that God may have supernaturally intervened to change radioactive decay rates sometime in the past now puts this question out of the realm of science entirely. If YEC’s want to discuss the rate of radiometric dating, then saying that it can supernaturally change at any time no longer makes it scientifically meaningful, even if it is agreed that God can do anything in the past.
Finally it is asserted that the amount of helium found in rocks indicates a young age or accelerated decay rate for the rocks sometime in the past, since helium is a radioactive decay byproduct in some radioactive processes. Again without going into the technical details in this review, it can be generally said that YEC’s are also adding their own questionable assumptions, regarding the initial amount of helium, the environment of the rocks, and rate at which helium escapes out of the rocks. And even if it is given that the amount of helium in rocks seems to indicate a young earth, this one type of measurement does not automatically invalidate all of the other types of measurements that indicate an old earth, some of which are reviewed in the rest of this chapter.
Incredibly at the end of this section, it is stated that “radiometric dating is unreliable”, contrary to mass of published data that indicate otherwise. It is furthermore concluded that the belief in old ages is “blind faith”, but one has to wonder which side of this debate really has the “blind faith” in spite of the evidence.
2. Annual Rings. There are many different kinds of age measurements obtained by counting rings or layers, such as on trees, ice deposits, or sedimentary layers. On pages 137-139 all sorts of questions are raised by YEC’s to discredit this simple method of age measurement, so as to totally invalidate it. The pattern in this section is similar to all of the YEC attempts to discredit any sort of dating methods:
Find data that does not exactly correspond to the expected pattern of dating. This could include the occasional multiple tree rings within a year, or assuming multiple layers of ice when there is an “Ice Age”, or having the “right conditions” to produce rapidly alternating sediment layers.
Find data that is valid only under extreme conditions and assume it is the norm. For example, it is pointed out in the book that coral reefs may grow much faster under certain conditions than what is normally observed today. So if this extreme rate is assumed to be the norm, it is concluded that the size of a coral reef that we see today could be accounted for within a YEC scenario.
Ignore that vast majority of data that does not have any indication of deviation from the normal rates of growth described above.
Combine all of the above scenarios to draw the conclusion that the case for YEC is “proved.” This is done by assuming that a theoretical possibility is the norm, whether an occasional deviation of the data or a major change in rates caused by extreme conditions. And indeed this is exactly what is done on page 139, where it is stated that “Clearly, coral reefs do not support an old earth.” Using occasional data deviations and rates under extreme conditions is not a “clear” proof by any stretch of the imagination.
The major question here (as well as with other methods that are discredited later in this chapter) is to ask what is simpler or more reasonable to assume when counting rings or layers. Is it not much simpler to assume that rings or layers do give a reasonable indication of age, even if there is some evidence of occasional deviation from the norm? Just because there are some known deviations of the data, one cannot conclude that the the data is totally unreliable as a method of measuring age. That is, YEC’s are choosing the difficult explanation over the simple explanation of a phenomenon, just to force it to fit their presuppositions.
Finally when it suits their purposes, YEC’s will use this kind of data to support their own viewpoint. For example, it is pointed out on page 140 that the oldest known living trees have about 4,600-4,800 rings, which would give a maximum age of about 4,800 years. OEC’s are then ridiculed for using tree rings to prove an old age of the earth, as in the quote from Dr. Hugh Ross on page 136.
However neither Dr. Ross nor other OEC’s state that tree rings prove an old earth. Dr. Ross simply said that methods of counting rings or other kinds of layers can be used as a means to determine age. Of course he would use each method appropriate to its time span to determine age. Even ice layers and sedimentary layers, which have a longer time span than trees, are not used to indicate the age of the earth itself, since the earth has an even longer age. But the age of ice layers and sedimentary layers can be used to show that YEC 6,000 year age is questionable at best. So this point is actually yet another example of misrepresentation of the OEC viewpoint.
3. Distant Starlight. It is acknowledged even in this book that distant starlight is the most common argument used against a YEC viewpoint. It is also acknowledged that the stars and galaxies really are at the distances that we measure today, and it is acknowledged that the light of distant stars was not created “already on its way,” so as to create a “false reality” of observations. It is also acknowledged that the speed of light has not changed over time, even though some YEC’s have used this to explain distant starlight. Certainly both YEC’s and OEC’s would agree on all of these points.
Given all of these acknowledgments in this book, there is not much left to assume one way or the other to resolve the question of distant starlight. About the only approach left that is used by some YEC’s is to assume that time “flows” at a different rate in the past or in other parts of the universe. Even though the special and general theories of relativity do allow for time to flow at different rates, there are still several problems with this approach:
It is highly speculative in the way that it is presented here by YEC’s. There have to be many “just-so” conditions for this to even have a possibility of explanation. Also it can be questioned as to whether this is a proper application of the general theory of relativity.
There are natural processes that act as “clocks” to measure time in different parts of the universe, and there has been no evidence that time flows differently either in the past or in different parts of the universe, except as predicted by the special and general theories of relativity.
If indeed time “flowed” differently in the past, then how does this resolve the issue of the biblical account of creation from a YEC viewpoint? YEC’s insist that the days at the beginning of creation are the same 24-hour periods that we see today. So if time indeed flowed differently in the past than it does today, then to assert that the creation days are 24-hour days as measured by time today is rather meaningless.
The point is then made that the laws of nature may have been significantly different during creation as compared to today. So it is proposed that maybe there was an unknown law of nature in effect during creation (that is no longer observable today) which brought the distant starlight to earth during the days of creation. But this kind of explanation simply indicates the desperate means that YEC’s will use to hang on to their own assumptions regardless of the data.
Without any clear reasons it is then concluded that naturalistic or “questionable” assumptions, as opposed to biblical assumptions, are used to determine age based upon distant starlight. So with no specific reasons other than vague generalizations about the assumptions used, it is concluded in this section that “distant starlight cannot be considered to be a logical or reliable argument for an old universe.”
This conclusion illustrates once more the inability of this debate to be settled in any meaningful way. YEC’s will insist that their way is the right way, even if it goes against all of the evidence, especially the clear evidence of distance starlight. They will prefer the most speculative and improbable explanations to the obvious explanation of a phenomenon such as distant starlight. And they do all of this just to hang on to their insistence that the Bible must teach a young earth. As stated in earlier chapters of this review, OEC’s also accept the teaching of Genesis, but they do not interpret this teaching in the same way as YEC’s do. So to charge OEC’s with using “naturalistic” and “unbiblical” assumptions on the issue of distant starlight is simply unfair and inconsistent, since YEC’s will also use the same kinds of assumptions when it suits their purpose.
4. Expansion of the Universe. This section deals with what is commonly known as the Big Bang description of the creation of the universe. There are so many unclear assertions made in this section, that it is hard to know how to even respond. In general one gets the impression in this section that the strong opposition to the Big Bang is not because of the reasons stated in the book at this section, but rather because the Big Bang poses such a difficult problem for those with a YEC viewpoint. The irony here is that for OEC’s, the Big Bang provides one of the clearest evidences of God’s creation in many different ways.
At the beginning of this section, it is admitted that YEC’s do accept the expansion of the universe as it is currently observed. But YEC’s do not accept that the expansion rate can be used as a means of determining the age of the universe, because of the allegedly faulty assumptions used. It is even asserted that other OEC’s would not agree with the conclusions of Dr. Hugh Ross because of the “assumptions” that he uses.
A detailed discussion of the Big Bang is beyond the scope of this review, but to charge Dr. Ross with making “naturalistic assumptions” that today’s rate of expansion has always applied is both untrue and far too simplistic. The Big Bang is a far more complex theory than the simplistic description given in this book, and the theory does acknowledge major changes in the rate of expansion of the universe from the past. This theory today is simply a scientific theory that best fits the observations we now see, and is not just a convenient theory based upon “unbiblical naturalistic assumptions.”
This book then states on page 144 that the Big Bang shows that universe started with “no size,” although in other places on the same page it is acknowledged that what is meant is “essentially no size.” It is furthermore asserted that the idea of a singularity “does not originate from Scripture.” It should be added here that neither do many other scientific processes that we accept today originate from Scripture, because the main purpose of Scripture is not to give a scientific description of the world, but to reveal God to mankind.
The description of the Big Bang as “catastrophically expanded” is very ironic in light of YEC’s support of catastrophism and opposition of uniformitarianism. It should be pointed out that the name Big Bang was coined by a major opponent of the theory to ridicule the concept, because he knew the philosophical implications of having a beginning of the universe. Furthermore the name Big Bang does not imply a chaotic explosion as implied by its opponents, but rather the Big Bang, as understood today, is seen as a slow expansion consistent with modern scientific observation. Even if the theory is modified or refined at a future time by new data, this does not discredit the overwhelming evidence supporting it today.
Dr. Ross is criticized for referring to the Big Bang as the “creation event,” followed by a warning not to be fooled by this phrase, because it is a “secular” theory. The reason why Dr. Ross calls the Big Bang a creation event is not because it is secular, but because it fits the current evidence and strongly points to a beginning of space and time as described in the Bible. It is ironic that YEC’s should also oppose something that secular scientists tried to oppose, because the secular scientists understood the implications of a theory that points to a beginning and a Cause of the beginning.
It is then charged that secular scientists assume that the universe started with a singularity because they “want to avoid a supernatural origin at all costs.” This statement and the statements that follow have so many problems that it is hard to know where to begin.
First of all a singularity is not “nothing,” as implied by this and other statements in this paragraph. It is simply an earlier state of the universe with all of mass and other properties needed for the universe.
Secondly, the main focus of the Big Bang is not on the singularity, but on development of the universe after the singularity. Almost all scientists acknowledge that the exact nature of the singularity itself is still mostly speculation.
The reason for starting with a singularity is not to avoid a supernatural origin, but because the scientific data points to this kind of description.
As implied above, many secular scientists would rather avoid the idea of a singularity, because of all of its philosophical, scientific, and even theological problems for a secular viewpoint, and it is the secular scientists who have come up with all sorts of ideas and theories to avoid the idea of a beginning with a singularity.
Later in the same paragraph the phenomenon of quantum “noise” is invoked as a means to avoid the theological implications of the Big Bang by secular scientists. But the reason that secular scientists do this is to avoid the clear implications of the Big Bang theory itself, which does clearly point to a beginning and a first Cause.
It could be asked what YEC’s do use as an alternative to the Big Bang that is biblically based. The most common answer is that God created the universe to be instantly (or in six 24-hour days) in the state that it is in now. If that is the case, then YEC’s have to deal with the issue of apparent age, since the universe clearly appears older than 6,000 years. (The issue of apparent age is dealt with later in this chapter.) But the Big Bang is not an attempt to exclude God as Creator, but is simply an attempt to account for how the universe got to where it is now.
Incredibly this book continues to condemn the Big Bang as an “atheistic theory” that attempts to exclude the supernatural. The Big Bang is the dominant theory of cosmological origins today not because of an atheistic agenda, but because the scientific data points to it despite the philosophical objections of secular scientists.
This section concludes with two charges of “unbiblical assumptions” against those who accept the Big Bang. The first is uniformitarianism in assuming the expansion rate is consistent with what we observed today. The second is “naturalistic initial conditions (that the universe began with no size).” Both of these statements have been shown above to be a misrepresentation of the Big Bang theory, which actually provides one of the most powerful scientific arguments for creation of the universe by an outside Agency.
5. Logical Fallacies. This section reviews some of the alleged errors in logic used by OEC’s to promote their viewpoint. If these errors are committed by OEC’s, then certainly they should be corrected, but also if they are committed by YEC’s, then YEC’s should also correct the same errors. The main logical errors include:
An appeal to the majority to prove a point.
An appeal to authority to prove a point.
Ironically the main example used in this section is from a secular writer, not an OEC, so here both OEC’s and YEC’s could agree on the logical fallacy illustrated here.
6. Circular Reasoning. This section accuses OEC’s of using circular reasoning to prove their point. In general circular reasoning means to assume the result of something as an evidence to prove the very same thing. The premise of this section is that all OEC’s use circular reasoning because they assume naturalism and uniformitarianism to prove results that support naturalism and uniformitarianism.
A quotation from Dr. Hugh Ross is presented as an example of circular reasoning. There are many problems both in logic and science with the book’s analysis of Dr. Ross’ point on radiometric dating. In fact the book seems to take his quotation out of context and miss the main point of what he is trying to say. However the main problem in this section is that it does not really matter what Dr. Ross says about proof of old age in rocks, because the Bible, according to the book, has conclusively shown that the rocks must be young. So therefore whatever Dr. Ross might say is simply circular reasoning, if it disagrees with the YEC interpretation of the Bible.
It is this kind of dogmatic “reasoning” that prevents many from taking the YEC viewpoint very seriously, especially if presented under the guise of “science.”
7. But the Universe Looks Old, Doesn’t it? This section deals with the objection of many OEC’s that even if the universe is really young, it still looks old. So if it looks old, then it is more reasonable to assume that it must really be old.
At this point the book stresses that from a YEC viewpoint, it is assumed that age is not something that can be seen, whether by the human eye, or by instruments. And since age cannot be seen, then it is pointless to conclude that something is old or young by scientific observation. By insisting on this viewpoint, YEC’s have also disqualified any of the scientific evidences for a young earth that they can produce and have already produced thus far in this book. And if all scientific evidence of age is disqualified, then the subject of the age of the earth reverts back and is limited only to a theological or exegetical issue.
In any case this section gives a description of some of the “faulty assumptions” used to support the idea that the universe at least appears old. The main alleged “faulty assumption” is that age can be identified by sight or measurement. Following this is a long discussion on how one might be able to estimate age by sight, such as with the age of a human being, but this is really not a true measurement of age. And even if we can estimate the age of a human being, it is only because we have many samples. But by contrast, to estimate the age of the universe, we only have one sample, namely the universe itself. One could respond to this by saying that the number of samples is not what determines the accuracy of age, but rather the numbers of ways of measuring the age of something. but I doubt if this would make much difference with a YEC viewpoint.
Of course this kind of discussion leads to the obvious question as to the “honesty” of God in creation by making something look old, while it is not really old. But the answer from a YEC viewpoint is that we should not be using the appearance of age to influence us in determining the actual age. If we ignore appearance of age, then God is not being “dishonest.” Following this conclusion is an extensive discussion of how Adam could reasonably “appear” old as a mature adult, while being actually only a day or so old after God created him.
It is admitted that some YEC’s see Adam as having an appearance of age, and also at the end of this section, it is concluded that even if the earth or universe does really appear old, it really does not matter, since age cannot be measured by appearance. But as stated earlier, by completely dismissing any validity to age estimations, the whole issue of age becomes just a metaphysical or theological question with no connection to the natural world.
8. Some Examples for Practice. This section continues the theme of “faulty naturalistic assumptions” already presented many times in this book. A quotation from Dr. Hugh Ross is used to justify this theme as an exercise in discerning the “faulty assumptions” of Dr. Ross. However the alternative of stating that anything not explainable within a YEC framework must be supernatural is simply beyond the scope of science, and hence does not belong to the discussion of scientific arguments for a young or old earth.
Another example given in this section is photon diffusion of the light from the sun described on page 152. This diffusion time is estimated to take about 100,000 years, which is way beyond the 6,000 year time scale of YEC. So what is the solution to the problem for YEC’s? It is the same solution employed throughout this book when there is evidence against YEC, namely that God created the sun to already be hot enough to provide light regardless of the photon diffusion time. This example is promoted as an example of using YEC assumptions rather than “naturalistic” assumptions, but in reality it is much more a case of appearance of age and complete dismissal of any rational scientific approach to this phenomenon.
It simply is not that convincing to an outside reader to tout scientific evidences that seem to support YEC, even with all of the associated flaws in the evidence, but then to dismiss any scientific evidence that does not support YEC, by simply saying that God created an appearance of age, and any other conclusion uses “faulty naturalistic assumptions” about age.
9. The Perpetual Motion Machine. This section uses the example of a perpetual motion machine to illustrate something that may look good in theory, but will never work in practice.
Likewise it is concluded that OEC may look good in theory but will not work in practice. The main reason given here is not because OEC is bad science, but because it “violates the teaching of Scripture.” Following this is a restatement of how the Bible unequivocally supports YEC and nothing else, even though it has been shown in other chapters of this review that this is far from the case. And to say anything else, except that which supports a YEC viewpoint, is like trying to build a perpetual motion machine which can never be built.
All of the arguments in this section are theological and exegetical, and not scientific, even though this chapter was introduced as dealing with the scientific arguments and not theological arguments. It is therefore ironic that this section concludes with a quotation from 1 Peter 3:15, since there are two main points brought out in this verse which advocates of YEC do not seem to follow at all:
“Have an answer to give to others for the hope that is within us.” The context of this verse mainly refers to apologetics in the realm of biblical, not scientific, issues of faith. If the intention of this verse is to apply to scientific issues, then it has been shown many times that YEC does not supply a satisfactory answer to others on matters of science. To the contrary it is easy to see how the YEC viewpoint could provide a hindrance instead of an answer, which keeps many from trusting the Bible on other issues of faith and salvation.
“Give this answer with gentleness and respect.” It has been very obvious throughout this book that the disregard for the OEC viewpoint by YEC’s demonstrates not gentleness and respect, but arrogance, harshness, and contempt. It is simply hypocrisy for YEC’s to suggest otherwise.
10. Concluding Remarks. The last section in this chapter resummarizes many of the arguments used in previous chapters and does not focus on the scientific issues, but rather on the YEC viewpoint being the clear teaching of the Bible. It is pointless here to yet again respond to each of the concluding remarks that mostly repeat what has been dealt with already. It has been shown in previous chapters of this review that none of the conclusions asserted here have been adequately demonstrated from the Bible. It is reasserted again that OEC arguments have been tested and found wanting, while the opposite is true. It is also asserted that all of the OEC arguments in this chapter are circular and prove nothing.
It would be enough to just leave matters where they are and to state that YEC’s simply do not agree with OEC’s. But instead this book has to go further and state categorically that because OEC’s embrace the assumptions of unbelievers, then they have become like unbelievers and refuse to believe the clear teachings of Scripture.
This is yet another very serious charge that again reinforces the impression that YEC’s are guilty of judgmentalism and causing division within the Christian community. I suppose that there is nothing that I can say here that will change any of the opinions of YEC’s, since all of their arguments are based upon a dogma that essentially allows for no possibility of seeing things otherwise.
But after seeing many of the attitudes expressed in this book toward OEC’s, I would conclude with an appeal to those in the YEC community to tone down the divisive and judgmental spirit demonstrated even in this book toward those with whom they may disagree.
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