Now, I want to look at the evidence of an old earth Vs a young—six-thousand-year-old—earth. I want to do this in a respectful way to the young earth proponents by using what they have identified as proof of a young earth. However, before I move forward, I must deal with the elephant in the room, which is the differing approaches between the two groups. Because I often think in the big-picture, philosophically, I also want to discuss some of those issues as well. Then, going forward, I will stick to the evidence.
Recently, I’ve listened to hours of lectures by young earth proponents, read some of their books, and listened to their podcasts. However, I want to remind the reader that I also spent thirty years as an evangelical, ending in 1990, and during those years—like my associates—I believed in a young earth because it was a requirement. An essential dogma. As a person of science, I was troubled by some of the things I heard from the young earth proponents then because I knew they were not true (for example carbon dating is fake or highly unreliable), however, I otherwise didn’t give it much thought.
The young earth proponents describe the conflict as two scientific theories in competition, with theirs coming out on top. I must disagree with that model. Religious approaches to explaining nature have a very different construct than the scientific approach. They shouldn’t. My personal mantra is, if God exist, he exists in reality. The better we know reality/nature (I’m using “nature” and “reality” interchangeable here), the better we can know God. Both the religious person and the non-religious should look to nature and conclude truth from the observed evidence found there. However, religion and science do not have the same approach.
The scientific method approaches the evidence that exist in nature without a prior bias. The investigator can have a hunch, or hypothesis but must be willing to abandon that hypothesis if the evidence so suggest. This is the fundamental basis of the scientific approach.
If the young earth proponents would lay their religious dogmas (pre-conclusions or biases) on the table and say, “Let’s juxtapose these against what is obvious in reality. If there is a conflict, then we will reassess how we interpret the sacred texts and tradition, and how we interpret the evidence in nature. If they are true, they must be in agreement.” But that is often impossible, emotionally for the religious person. Religious dogmas are the most highly held beliefs within a society and it is extremely difficult to change one’s view on those.
I will assert again, the evidence for an old earth and cosmos is overwhelming. As much so, at least, as the sun being the center of the solar system. But when you deny that evidence, as did the church in the middle ages about the heliocentric model, then you are only left with pseudoscience or start conspiracy theories to support your position. Pseudoscience, that which sounds “scientific” but has no scientific basis, makes no sense to a real scientists but sounds convincing to the layperson. Conspiracy theories suggests that the opposing side, rather than reading the evidence, has an agenda of destroying the religious person’s beliefs and that is their only cause.
With the religious approach, it starts with a “pre-conclusion” and then they search for evidence that supports that conclusion. They do not have the option of changing the pre-conclusion, because it has been elevated to an essential dogma of their personal religious faith. This is the fundamental problem with this whole issue.
The religious person’s pre-conclusion is based on the interpretation of their sacred texts or religious traditions. In this case, it is the conservative Christian’s literal interpretation of the creation story and Noah’s flood. Again, the Bible does not address the age of the earth, nor does it say that all scripture must be taken literally so they are misleading the public when they make them chose between believing the Bible or believing in an old earth. It is church tradition that sets the young dates of creation, based on an interpretation of genealogies. The idea that scripture must be taken literally is purely arbitrary and a late development in church history and among the conservative parts of the protestant church, as the early church fathers did not see it this way. If there was a consistency between a literal interpretation of the literal creation story and Noah’s flood, and what we observe in nature, then there would be no problem. But there is not.
The young earth proponents’ arguments depend mostly on moral positions, suggesting, good people or true believers agree with them and bad people don’t. They use language to suggest this moral pressure. They call the old earth scientists “evolutionists.” As I said at the beginning, I am only discussing the evidence that supports an old earth. The evidence for or against evolution, and there are many forms of evolution, is beyond the time and space here. They refer to themselves as “Creationists.” This gives the psychological pressure that if you believe in an old earth, it means that you are someone who believes that humans are only the result of a long process of evolution without any creative force by a divine being. They also claim that an old earth would not allow for the theological concept of original sin in humans bringing death to the world. An old earth would have death prior to humans. But rather than looking at the abundant evidence of an old earth in nature and then realizing that their literal interpretation of original sin must be wrong, they accuse the old earth believers of rejecting all of Christianity. I see God as big enough to have solved this problem outside human understanding. The true labels, which I’ve tried to stick to, are simply a young-earth Vs an old earth with no other implied connotations. I honestly wish that the evidence of a young earth was overwhelming, so we would not even be having this discussion. My goal is not to threaten anyone’s religious beliefs, but to pursue truth. Once we have given up on truth, we’ve lost everything.
I will mention again, while the Bible says nothing about the age of the earth, it does mention truth, lying being bad, bearing false witness being bad, honestly being good, almost 500 times.
Further Psychological and Sociological Implications
There is a tremendous moral stigma applied to holding fast to your religious dogmas. If you don’t support the dogma, you are inferior to the rest that do. It would be extremely difficult for the holder of the religious dogma to give it up. The consequence is losing respect from their peers, being considered a non-believer, losing their friends, jobs, and in many cases, their entire faith because they, sadly, are not given the option of having a different conclusion and remaining within that faith. I cannot imagine any evidence that would change Ken Ham to believing in an old earth. If he did, he would lose his entire empire built on the notion of a literal flood and young earth. He reached his young earth conclusion early in his career.
I have also heard the young-earth proponents argue that the science community has the same stigma. That if you don’t believe in evolution and an old earth, you will experience the same social loses. That is simply not true. I have worked for years in the scientific community and I will vouch that it is not the same. For most people in the scientific community there is no social stigma, only alliance to the evidence. You can have any point of view and it doesn’t matter how outrageous it is if you have the evidence to support it. A traditional (old earth) scientist could easily write papers and make a case for a young earth, if there was such supporting evidence. However, there is none.
If you want to read more about how scientists deal with disagreements, I’ve written a sidebar article that you can access with this link.
Going forward, I want to focus on the claims of the young-earth proponents, give a response, and then later present some of the evidence of an old earth. I found a convenient article to work from to look at the young-earth proponents’ claims and that is an article published by Ken Ham’s Answer in Genesis called, Six Evidences of a Young Earth. You can click on that title to see the original article. I will list the six evidences here:
1. Carbon dating diamonds
2. Recession of the Moon
3. Earth’s Decaying Magnetic Field
4. Dinosaur Soft Tissue
5. Human Population Growth
6. Tightly Folded Rock Strata
I’m going to do something odd. Certainly not the first time in my life. After spending a couple of hours working on the response to each of the six young earth proponents proofs of a young earth, I stumbled on an article by a student at the University of Notre Dame that addresses these same six “proofs.” I’ve read his article and I don’t think I could do much better. My responses were longer and in more detail, you know, I tend to ramble, but I suspect that the shorter answers that James Applewhite has given are more concise. So, to save me time, I will put a link to Applewhite’s article here.
A Word About Dating The Earth
The young earth proponents appear to think that the achilles heel of the old earth scientists are the dating methods. Many of their attacks are directed at these dating techniques. As I mentioned in a previous article, the day that I was told that I was not a real Christian because I said we should have the option of believing in an old earth, one church member—and with good intentions—came up to me and said, “You know that carbon dating is all fake.” Of course that is not true, but most evangelicals believe it’s true.
There are two basic ways they date the earth, directly and indirectly. The direct way is centered on, but not exclusively, radioisotope decay. I will mention the many other dating techniques later.
Radioisotopes are atoms of a particular element that have additional neutrons than their normal state. These odd atoms are created in high energy states, such as when the element was formed, transformed (think volcanic activity), or radiation bombardment such as from background cosmic radiation . Once these isotopes are created, they decay at uniform rate back to the normal state. While over three hundred isotopes have been identified, roughly six are used in dating materials by archeologists and geologists. These methods have scrutinized for decades and have been found highly reliable. There is a margin of error for each, but it is minimal. In the case of carbon dating, the margin of error is roughly 10-20%. Recently (about two years ago) there has been an effort to make carbon dating more precise by factoring in a higher—human caused—carbon content of the atmosphere because, when cross checked, they found that organic material is actually 10-20% older than carbon-14 dating would indicate, not younger.
Carbon dating is limited to previously living organism that incorporated or breathed in atmospheric carbon, which has a percentage of the isotope Carbon 14, probably created in the higher atmosphere by cosmic radiation. It has the fastest decay rate of all the useful isotopes, rendering it useless as you approach its maximum duration of 65,000 years. After that, the amount of carbon 14 still in the material is so low, it is difficult to measure. Anyone who willing uses carbon 14 to date materials that either do not contain carbon from a living source or that is older than 65,000 years, is doing so with a malicious intent because it will always give a false answer of about 65,000 years old.
In conclusion I want to move back to the philosophical considerations and why I think this whole topic is worthy of discussion. When you create a system that mandates that you believe X is correct, but then all the evidence within reality points to Y as correct, then there is tremendous psychological and sociological pressure to become dishonest. This dishonestly can be represented by the demonization of those who support Y. In this case it is the scientists. As I’ve said before, the agenda of the scientists is to find truth. They are therefore doing God’s work. To wrongly suggest that, despite their expertise, the scientists are wrong, dumb, or worse, have an evil intent (conspiracy theory) to deceive the public or hurt them, then it is a disaster. Science is not longer trusted and people die (as did 350,000 did from COVID, that didn’t have to die). There is a psychological advantage in believing that you and your small group are the only ones that know the mind of God.
This is why religions create dogmas where there is little evidence from their sacred texts or reality that that dogma is true. That is why we have such diverse religious institutions, even within Christianity, each one contending to be the only one that is in God’s camp, on the creator’s good side.
Next time I will try to be laser focused in looking at the indisputable evidence of a very old earth and cosmos.