Review by Greg Neyman
© Old Earth Ministries
First Published 27 March 2006. Revised 4 April 2010
Young earth creation science ministry Creation Ministries International ran an article in the June 2004 issue of Creation Magazine, in which the apparent problem of the "faint young sun paradox" is considered (the article was the featured article on the Creation Ministries International website on 26 March 2006. It was again featured on 13 April 06, and the link for the 26 March feature was missing (CMI is still working out their problems with the split from Answers in Genesis).1
This article, by Jonathan Sarfati, supposedly shows that the paradox creates difficulty for the old earth position. However, if we examine the article, we find that it does no such thing. This paradox says that according to astronomy, the sun is getting hotter and hotter as it ages. At a point in earth's early history, 4 billion years ago, it would have been too cool for life to grow on earth. Sarfati says that according to long agers, the first life appeared about 3.8 billion years ago. Extrapolating the data for the sun back in time, the sun would be 25 percent brighter today than it was back then. However, most paleontologists believe that the earth was warmer in the past. Thus, the paradox.
Sarfati says that the way evolutionists and long agers fix this problem is through greenhouse gases. He says,
"The only way around this is to make arbitrary and unrealistic assumptions of a far greater greenhouse effect at that time than exists today, with about 1,000 times more CO2 in the atmosphere than there is today."
If taken at face value, this statement appears to condemn the possibility of an old earth. However, instead of putting the numbers in the article itself, Sarfati puts the numbers to back up this claim in the footnote associated with this remark...hoping that most people will not read the footnote!
The footnote says
However, analyses of acritarchs (eukaryotic algal microfossils) ‘dated’ to 1.4 billion years ago, when the sun would have been only 88% as bright as today, provide evidence for only 10–200 times today’s level of CO2. Still, the researchers continue to hope that this would have compensated for the fainter sun.
In the first quote, he says 1,000 times more CO2 is required to fix this problem. This refers to life at the 3.8 billion year old point. However, the analysis he quotes is for only 1.4 billion years ago. At that time it is 10, but possibly as high as 200 times the present level. But Sarfati is off by 2.4 billion years! How high was the CO2 level at 3.8 billion years? If it was 200 times higher at 1.4 billion years ago, a simple multiplication will yield results of 542 times higher at the 3.8 billion year point. However, simple multiplication is probably not the most accurate way to figure this, because there are so many other factors to consider...especially volcanoes.
In the early earth, volcanic activity was very high...much higher than it is today. What is one of the major byproducts of volcanic activity? You guessed it...CO2. With such high levels of CO2 being pumped into the early atmosphere, a level of CO2 of 1,000 times the present level is easily possible.
Although Sarfati would have his followers believe this paradox is a problem for old earth belief, if you look at the numbers, it really presents no problems for an old earth. It's just a 'numbers game' that Sarfati is playing to fool his readers.
UPDATE: In April 2010, a new scientific study announced the solution to the faint young sun paradox. Dr. Minik Rosing, from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and Christian Bjerrum, from the Department of Geography and Geology at University of Copenhagen, together with American scholars at Stanford University, discovered the solution, which was published in the Journal Nature.2
While most previous explanations dealt with greenhouse gases, this explanation is not dependent upon gases. The cloud layer encircling the earth was much thinner than it was today, and the earth's surface was covered with water. This means the sun's rays could warm the oceans unobstructed by a thick atmosphere. How do we know there was a thin cloud layer over 4 billion years ago? Because the process of forming clouds requires chemical substances that are produced by algae and plants, which did not exist at the time. Without the chemical substances, there would have been a very thin cloud covering. The lack of clouds meant that the sun's weakened rays, some 25% less than today, would not be reflected back into space.
As part of the study, they scientifically measured rocks to examine the CO2 content of the early earth. While scientists had previously estimated that it was 30% of the atmosphere back then, the results of this analysis showed that it was only three to four times the amount we have today.
The solving of this paradox provides us with a clear answer that is easily understood, and should eliminate this paradox from being used as evidence of a young earth. Once again, science has prevailed over the claims of young earth creationism. However, these new findings do not contradict old earth creationism. You can be a Christian and have an old earth!
For More Reading:
Faint Young Sun Paradox (Talk Origins)
The Solar FAQ (Talk Origins)
Faint Young Sun Paradox (Wikipedia)
1 Creation Magazine, Volume 26, Issue 3. Published on the web at http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v26/i3/sun.asp and at http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/554/
2 Minik T. Rosing, Dennis K. Bird, Norman H. Sleep, Christian J. Bjerrum. No climate paradox under the faint early Sun. Nature, 2010; 464 (7289): 744 DOI: 10.1038/nature08955. Reported from ScienceDaily.com.
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