“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? … Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.’” (Job 38:1-2, 4)
How is the age of the
SYNOPSIS: The London Geological Society is established in 1807 on a new philosophy, deism – Charles Lyell presents a new history of the earth – Uniformitarianism or catastrophism? – What is behind the earth’s ever-increasing timescale? – How and when 4.5 billion years was added to the age of the earth? How reliable and factual are scientific dating systems?
It is not my intention, on this website, to write reams about the age of the earth and dating methods. There are many excellent science-based ministries that specialise in this subject and cover every possible question; for example Creation Ministries International and Answers in Genesis (refer to Resources). Here I only skim the surface, to provide a little history and a peek into old earth reasoning, which I hope will motivate the reader to research this fascinating subject and enlightening truth for themselves.
Fact: no scientific method can prove the age of the earth and the universe, because all dating methods and calculations necessarily involve making assumptions about the past – assumptions that cannot be scientifically proven. Thus they are all based on faith – faith on what man tells us, or faith in what the God of the Bible tells us!
For example, the history of the Grand Canyon (pictured above) is cloaked in mystery. Some scientists, who subscribe to slow and continuous geological processes over vast periods of time (called uniformitarianism), believe it to be around six million years old. Other uniformitarian scientists, however, claim it is 65 million years old!
“How could everyone have gotten it so wrong? New research indicates that the Grand Canyon is perhaps 65 million years old, far older than previously thought – and old enough that the last surviving dinosaurs may have stomped along its rim.” (Berardelli, P., ‘Did Dinosaurs Gawk at the Grand Canyon?’, 2008, sciencenow.sciencemag.org)
There are yet other, equally qualified, scientists who take the catastrophists’ perspective. These catastrophist geologists operate from the view that the history of the earth’s geology is a result of discontinuities in the earth history, such as climate change, continental break-up and collision, earthquakes, astronomical influences, magnetic reversal, etc. Some of these catastrophists are secular evolutionists, and some are Bible-believing Christians.
Whether secular or religious, these scientists share the concern (and frustration) that the reigning uniformitarian preconceptions and assumptions within the geological establishment means that no exploration of other aspects of reality can take place within its walls at an academic level.
All of these scientists rely on dating methods – so what is happening?
the new religion of deism steers 18th century science
The philosophising over the earth’s age in continental Europe and England has really only been within the last 300 years. Two of the most dominant philosophers during this time were James Hutton (1726–1797) and Charles Lyell (1797-1875). It was Lyell who gave wide prominence to Hutton’s ideas in the scientific community during his day. Both of these philosophers/scientists were deists. That means they were motivated by a belief in the existence of a supreme being who is detached from His creation and does not intervene in the affairs or workings of the universe.
Hutton also held panentheistic views – i.e. the New Age, pagan, Gaia concept that the earth is a living superorganism, which is a creation story originating from Greek mythology. (Refer GAIA – A New Look At Life On Earth by James Lovelock, 1979, Oxford University Press, pp.xviii-xix.) The interest generated by Hutton’s antibiblical theory of an ancient earth cannot be overstated.
In other words, these men were not working from a neutral, unbiased perspective, which is the case for all people – scientists and non-scientists alike! It is important to realise this when considering philosophical/scientific explanations about the creation and its history, because all facts are interpreted through a person’s belief system.
It is interesting to note that the deistic worldview (and an ancient history of the earth) was born around the time of the French Revolution, a time when scientific thought and literary theories were brought together in a concerted effort to demolish the biblical account of human history. The Enlightenment was “an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the ‘Century of Philosophy’.” (Wikipedia). In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, we read:
“Deism, [is] an unorthodox religious attitude that found expression among a group of English writers beginning with Edward Herbert … in the first half of the 17th century … The high point of Deist thought occurred in England from about 1689 through 1742, during a period when, despite widespread counterattacks from the established Church of England, there was relative freedom of religious expression following upon the Glorious Revolution that ended the rule of James II and brought William III and Mary II to the throne. Deism took deep root in 18th-century Germany after it had ceased to be a vital subject of controversy in England.” (www.britannica.com/EBchecked/ topic/156154/Deism).
Lyell advocates a new theory
Charles Lyell began his career studying the catastrophist school of thought under William Buckland. Buckland was an English geologist and palaeontologist who was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (the world’s oldest scientific academy) in 1818. Catastrophists suspected that the earth’s landscape was shaped by events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods, which had happened on a larger scale in the geologic past than at present.
When Buckland tried to link catastrophism to the Bible, looking for evidence that the most recent catastrophe had actually been Noah’s global flood, Lyell rejected this line of scientific inquiry. That is because he rejected any supernatural event associated with the Bible.
And so Lyell began formulating a new theory, based purely on naturalism – the material world without God’s input.
But anything to do with the history of creation that relies on a deistic god or no god at all can hardly be considered a more natural explanation!
Lyell’s theory was based on the belief that today’s observable geomorphic processes could be projected into the far distant past to explain the features found in geology: (emphases added)
“In 1828 [Lyell] explored the volcanic region of the Auvergne, then went to Mount Etna to gather supporting evidence for a theory of geology he was developing. In brief, this stated that, given sufficient time, millions of years, geological change was slow and gradual and not subject to inexplicable catastrophe such as Noah’s Flood. In 1829, Volume One of his great work Principles Of Geology appeared.” (‘People Of Angus: Charles Lyell’, www.angus.gov.uk/history/features/ people/lyell.htm, 2010)
“[Lyell was] largely responsible for the general acceptance of the view that all features of the earth’s surface are produced by physical, chemical, and biological processes [as currently observed] through long periods of geological time. The concept was called uniformitarianism (initially set forth by James Hutton). Lyell’s achievements laid the foundations for evolutionary biology [common-ancestor evolution].” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/ 352672/Sir-Charles-Lyell-Baronet)
(Great image below, but the animals would not have been hanging over the side of the ark!)
Global flood explanation is replaced with an ancient-earth model
Lyell proposed that the earth’s features did not reveal the aftermath of a worldwide flood 4500 years ago and the biblical history of an earth around 6000 years old. Instead he taught they were a result of its ancient age. He had no proof – just conjecture. The power Lyell wielded in the future establishment of evolutionary theory in the sciences was profound (although he himself did not believe in evolution until Charles Darwin persuaded him much later).
This was also a time when some Christians, who sought to bring the Bible into line with these new geological theories about the ancient age of the earth, formulated the origin models of the gap theory and progressive creation.
Writes Dr Terry Mortenson:
“In the early nineteenth century, many Christians sought to harmonize biblical teaching with old-earth geological theories such as the gap theory and a tranquil or local Noachian flood. However, many evangelicals and High Churchmen still held to the literal view of Genesis 1–11. Two Enlightenment-generated philosophical movements in the eighteenth century, deism and atheism, elevated human reason to a place of supreme authority and took an anti-supernaturalistic view of the Bible, holding it to be just another human book.
“The two movements, with their advocacy of an old-earth and their effect on astronomy and geology, preceded Darwin and supplied him with millions of years needed for his naturalistic theory of the origin of living things.” (T. Mortenson, ‘Philosophical Naturalism And The Age Of The Earth: Are They Related?’, The Master’s Seminary Journal (TMSJ) 15(1):71–92, Spring 2004.)
Mortenson, who has a PhD in the History of Geology, explains that the world’s first scientific society totally devoted to geology was the London Geological Society (LGS), which was founded in 1807 and whose members were mostly deists.
At that time, not only was very little known about the geological features of the earth but there were no university degrees in geology and no professional geologists.
However, the LGS was governed by the assumption that the earth’s history was much older than, and different from, that which was presented in the biblical account. Interestingly, a few of its most powerful members were Anglican clergy (some of whom were being pressured by the deist members). Thus it is hardly surprisingly that the gap theory first entered Protestant theology and the churches around this time – and continued to be popular for the next 150 years.
As for the introduction of scientific degrees in the London Geological Society, none were seen until the 1830s and 1840s, by which time deistic thought dominated the intellectual community.
This was long after the naturalistic idea of an old earth had become firmly entrenched in the minds of those who controlled the geological societies, journals and university geology departments.
Gradual processes or sudden catastrophe?
In ‘Landform Theories Of The 18th And 19th Centuries,’ the Encyclopaedia Britannica lists a number of geologic and geomorphic concepts. Here we read of the different “proposals”, “views”, “concepts”, “theories”, “ideas” and of “the philosophical climate” of scientists at this time.
The two most prominent geological theories were uniformitarianism and catastrophism. Uniformitarianism is a category that falls within the more encompassing belief system of gradualism. The theory of gradualism is the philosophical belief that changes come about via small, gradual steps, rather than abrupt, large changes. This includes political, linguistic, sociological and scientific theories.
Thus uniformitarianism is the belief that geological changes come about via gradual processes, such as we see going on around us today.
James Hutton and Charles Lyell popularised uniformitarianism in the 18th and 19th century respectively.
It was a doctrine that supported the gradualists’ worldview of his day, which was founded on the philosophy of naturalism. And although the uniformitarianism worldview was not necessarily a conscious attempt by all philosophers/scientists to deny the Bible, it was the logical outcome of this theory. However it was certainly Charles Lyell’s goal, as he saw himself as “the spiritual saviour of geology, freeing the science from the old dispensation of Moses”. (Refer Roy S. Porter, July 1976, ‘Charles Lyell And The Principles Of The History Of Geology’, The British Journal For The History of Science 32 (2): 91–103).
Uniformitarianism rises to prominence
Catastrophism, which preceded uniformitarianism, was itself a departure from biblical authority, because it denied that the global flood of Noah’s day was a unique event that shaped the earth’s geology, but instead called for many floods and catastrophic events over a timescale of long ages. Each theory has its proponents and sails or sinks with the philosophical climate of the day. For example, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica under Continental Landform we read:
“Catastrophism: During the late 18th and early 19th century, the leading proponent of this view was the German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner. According to Werner, all of the Earth’s rocks were formed by rapid chemical precipitation from a ‘world ocean’, which he then summarily disposed of in catastrophic fashion. … his catastrophic philosophy of changes of the Earth had two major consequences of geomorphic significance. First, it indirectly led to the formulation of an opposing, less extreme view by the Scottish scientist James Hutton in 1785. Second, it was in some measure correct: catastrophes do occur on the Earth and they do change its landforms. …
“Uniformitarianism: [In contrast] The Huttonian proposal that the earth has largely achieved its present form through the past occurrence of processes still in operation [today] has come to be known as the doctrine of uniformitarianism… Uniformitarianism also became the working principle for a growing number of geologic historians, notably William Smith and Sir Charles Lyell, in the 19th century. This was necessary as Lyell argued increasingly that geologic change was incremental and gradual: “He needed a longer time scale if this approach was to work, and geologic historians were finding it for him.’”
Eventually, uniformitarianism (slow change over long periods of time) became the preferred theory over catastrophism (vast geological changes occurring over short periods of time). (emphases added)
“Sir Charles Lyell was a renowned geologist of the mid-nineteenth century. He was a firm believer in uniformitarianism. This philosophy claims that geological and biological ‘causes’, or forces, have always been working in the same way and with the same intensity.
“Lyell’s work formed the foundation of belief in a universe billions of years old. Though Lyell had trouble accepting some evolutionary theories, his work heavily influenced Charles Darwin.
“In fact, Darwin’s concept of gradual evolution lacked an acceptable time frame until he embraced Lyell’s old-earth theories… Like Darwin’s theories, the work of Sir Charles Lyell provided logical, rational explanations that suited the beliefs of many scientists. Over time, those explanations were considered proofs, and nowadays the scientific community at large accepts Lyell’s explanations for rock layers and other geological effects with little question. (‘How Did Sir Charles Lyell Influence Charles Darwin?”; www.allaboutscience. org/sir-charles-lyell-faq.htm)
And so, when it comes to scientific theories about the age of the earth, geologists today are locked into Lyell’s uniformitarian model based on his deistic and naturalist beliefs, and woe betide anyone who questions it.
Furthermore, few people (scientists included) have the courage or means to step out against peer pressure to pursue other lines of thought.
How the earth’s 5000 years’ history became 4.6 billion years
Research into theories about the age of the earth reveals that philosophers in the Middle East and Asia, from religious and historical documents, calculated the earth to be about 5000 to 6000 years old. However, by the 18th century other methods were being used to estimate the earth’s age.
George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopaedic author. He measured the rate of cooling small metal balls and calculated the earth to be about 75,000 years old. He also wondered if there could be any common ancestry between men and apes, but could not come up with a coherent mechanism. (Neither has Darwinism, to this day.)
(Note: just because things share similarities does not necessarily mean that one came from the other, but rather that they share the same design features and the same designer.)
In 1862, William Thomson, better known as Baron Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907), assumed that the earth was originally molten and, based on cooling by conduction and radiation, calculated that the earth required about 98 million years to cool, although towards the end of his life he revised this to 20-40 million years. He concluded that it was too short to fit with Lyell’s theory of gradual geological change or Charles Darwin’s theory of the evolution of life through natural selection.
In 1898, John Joly measured the amount of salt being carried into the sea and used this theory to calculate the earth was about 80-90 million years old; he later revised this to 100 million years. Another idea was that if the total thickness of the sedimentary record and the average rate of sedimentation could be measured, then the age of the earth could be calculated. This resulted in a wide range of ages, but the maximum age of the earth using this method was about 500 million years.
And by the 1950s, estimations of the earth’s age had leapt to 3.1 billion years old. Today it is said to be 4.6 billion years! And there have been many, many other estimations.
WHY THE EVER-INCREASING TIMESCALE?
So why this sliding timescale, first of thousands, then millions, then billions of years? It certainly highlights the uncertainties involved when developing a dating method, based on a raft of untestable assumptions, to fit an unprovable theory from an individual’s point of view.
One thing they all have in common, however, is a willingness to reject what the Bible teaches about the timing of creation.
And the trend seems to have always been upward, as naturalistic philosophers continue to theorise about how all life could have possibly evolved from one common ancestor.
Moreover, the timeframe was always too short to make it even half-way plausible for all the conjectured and necessary biological changes to have taken place.
Today, fewer than 200 years later, Lyell’s “millions of years” have changed into “billions of years”, as more and more time is deemed necessary by scientists to accommodate Darwin’s improbable path of evolution.
Lyell, together with many of his peers, did not believe in the authority of the Bible – this was not their scientific conclusion, it was their philosophical starting point!
Consequently, it is not surprising that he rejected the Genesis explanation of the earth’s history and the devastating worldwide flood, sent by a grieving God to a world that had lost its way and had become filled with sin. As a result, Lyell’s belief system led him to develop his own view of the world – the doctrine of uniformitarianism.
The unreliability of dating methods
Before closing this chapter, I will present just two examples of the unreliability of modern dating systems – that of carbon-14, and the potassium-argon method. These examples reveal the problems endemic in all scientific testing attempts. All of which are the result of the evolutionary paradigm mandated by the mainstream scientific establishment and the automatic rejection of data that does not fit the accepted worldview. For more information, refer to any of the creation science websites. (See Resources.)
Carbon-14 dating in a nutshell: When a creature dies, its carbon-14 (radiocarbon) atoms are not replaced from the outside so the amount of carbon-14 present in its body reduces with time.
At this point, a radiocarbon clock can be said to be ticking away.
When tests are conducted on the dead creature, the amount of carbon-14 remaining (in proportion to non-radioactive carbon) can be measured and its age can be determined.
However, as with all dating methods, assumptions need to be made. Willard Frank Libby (1908-1980), who was the discoverer of this system, based his dating method on the belief that the earth was billions of years old and that the carbon-14 (C14) levels in the atmosphere have been constant for many hundreds of millions of years into the past.
This assumption was factored into his dating system. (Pictured: geologist with equipment today.)
“The troubles of the radiocarbon [carbon-14] dating method are undeniably deep and serious … It should be no surprise, then, that fully half of the dates are rejected. The wonder is, surely, that the remaining half come to be accepted.” (R. E. Lee, ‘Radiocarbon, Ages In Error’, Anthropological Journal Of Canada, Vol 19, No 3, p9, 1981)
Working with other assumptions, however, (such as a younger earth) will change the dates drastically. In other words, the results of radiocarbon dating will depend on a person’s starting point – where they place their faith – in billions of years or thousands of years. In fact, radiocarbon is not supposed to be found in fossils that are said to be even 100,000 years old, as it would have decayed by that time.
Yet every time tests are conducted on specimens such as coal or oil they contain radiocarbon. (Refer creation.com/carbon-14-dating-explained-in-everyday-terms).
This means that C14 is actually the young earth creationists’ friend, because coal and oil samples claimed to be millions of years old do contain measurable C14 quantities, meaning they cannot be that old!
“The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years. Fossil fuels contain high percentages of carbon and include petroleum, coal, and natural gas.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Fossil_fuel, viewed Dec 2019)
As for young-earth creationist scientists, they work on the assumption that no other scientist will consider, because of the biblical implications: that Noah’s worldwide flood was a reality. This presupposition opens up perfectly feasible and completely different ways in which to interpret the geological features of the earth, resulting in conclusions that clash head on with evolutionary assumptions and yet fit with empirical findings.
The second unreliable dating method example I present here is that of potassium-argon.
failure of Potassium-Argon dating method explained
“In June of 1992, geologist Dr Steven Austin collected a 7-kg (15-lb) block of dacite from high on the lava dome at Mount St Helens [pictured above] . … The ‘whole rock’, rock powder and four mineral concentrates, were submitted for potassium-argon analysis to Geochron Laboratories of Cambridge, MA [in the US] – a high-quality, professional radioisotope-dating laboratory. The only information provided to the laboratory was that the samples came from dacite and that ‘low argon’ should be expected.
“The laboratory was not told that the specimen came from the lava dome at Mount St Helens and was only 10 years old. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 1 [not pictured here]. What do we see? First and foremost that they are wrong. A correct answer would have been ‘zero argon’ indicating that the sample was too young to date by this method. Instead, the results ranged from 340,000 to 2.8 million years! Why? Obviously, the assumptions were wrong, and this invalidates the ‘dating’ method …” (creation.com/radio-dating-in-rubble)
In conclusion, each worldview operates from a combination of faith and presupposition in turning “facts” into “evidence” to support whichever origin theory is being pursued – none of which have been, nor can be, proven empirically. However, one is proclaimed by the biblical creation account and supported by Christian doctrines, while the other (ancient-earth theory) is not – no matter how many invented literary devices those who reject the plain reading of Genesis employ.
Images: Amanda Carden/Shutterstock.com; iStock.com/CrossEyedPhotography; iStock.com/tiny-al; iStock.com/tonda; mpaniti/Shutterstock.com; Pexels; Pixabay; Volodymyr Goinyk/Shutterstock.com; Wikicommons.
“He comes from the north as golden splendour; With God is awesome majesty.” (Job 37:22)