Americans Discover Deep Time | The BioLogos Forum

A Westerly View of The Colledges in Cambridge New England, The President and Fellows of Harvard College. When the famous patriot Paul Revere made this engraving in 1767, there were only seven colleges in North America and Massachusetts was still a British colony, but Harvard College (chartered in 1636) was already more than a century old.

In the first two parts of this series, I introduced readers to the “Baconian” approach to reading the two divine “books” in colonial America, with special attention to Increase and Cotton Mather. Both men were alumni of Harvard College, the first college in North America, where Increase took the B.A. in 1656 and his son in 1678. Although they both knew something about astronomy, natural history had not yet arrived in American colleges—that would happen in the latter part of the eighteenth century, a few decades after their deaths. This column focuses on the place of science, especially natural history, in the Antebellum college curriculum.

Science in the Early American Colleges

Various scientific subjects had been taught at Harvard since at least 1640 and at several other American colleges for much of the eighteenth century, especially mathematics and “natural philosophy”–a very old term with a broad meaning that by 1700 was often used more narrowly to mean Newtonian physics. The whole curriculum was designed to promote reflection on morality and the human condition, with the sciences also serving this purpose. For example, the first president of King’s College (now known as Columbia University) announced that the ultimate goal of his college was “to lead [students] from the Study of Nature to the Knowledge of themselves, and of the God of Nature, and their Duty to him, themselves, and one another, and every Thing that can contribute to their true Happiness, both here and hereafter” (quote by Hornberger, cited below, p. 30). At Yale, students not only attended daily chapel services and Sunday public worship, they were “not considered as regular members of the College, till, after a residence of at least six months, they have been admitted to matriculation, on satisfactory evidence of an unblemished moral character” (Catalogue of the Officers and Students in Yale College, 1838-39, p. 26). The situation today, of course, is completely different.

Seniors at Yale in the 1830s had tutorials spread over three terms, as shown in the Catalogue of the Officers and Students in Yale College, 1838-39. Note the presence of the Scottish mathematician and philosopher Dugald Stewart and three books by the great English natural theologian William Paley, including A View of the Evidences of Christianity, which Charles Darwin had studied at Cambridge just a few years earlier. Yale president Jeremiah Day, a Congregationalist minister and mathematician, taught moral philosophy himself—that’s how important it was. In addition to these tutorials, seniors heard lectures on various subjects, including chemistry, mineralogy, and geology from Benjamin Silliman and natural philosophy and astronomy from Denison Olmsted. Photograph by Edward B. Davis.

The Discovery of Deep Time

Chemistry, natural history, botany, and even agriculture began to draw attention at several colleges toward the close of the eighteenth century. That’s precisely when geologists discovered “deep time,” the idea of “a prehuman earth history of inconceivable duration,” to borrow the words of historian Martin Rudwick (“The Shape and Meaning of Earth History,” cited below, p. 308). Increasingly, it became clear that the various strata, linked with specific types of fossils all over the world, could not have been produced in a single flood but must have formed over long periods of time by diverse geological agents.

This stood in stark contrast to the traditional biblical idea that the Earth is only five days older than Adam and Eve. Mainly for this reason, the early history of geology was traditionally interpreted as a purely secular story, in which deep time overturned the Bible. According to Rudwick, however, the biblical view of history with a beginning, followed by a contingent development, heading toward an end, influenced the strongly empirical picture of geohistory held by one of the founders of modern geology, Jean-André de Luc. Rudwick says, “It is no coincidence that de Luc’s system was the most strongly geohistorical, because of all these savants he was the one most explicitly committed to the historical perspective of biblical religion, a perspective he aspired to extend to the whole of geohistory. In effect, his belief in God’s sovereignty translated into a sense of the sheer contingency of geohistory—the sense that at any point events might have taken a different path—which doomed any attempt to deduce geohistory from first principles” (Bursting the Limits of Time, p. 643). In other words, de Luc’s geological philosophy arose from the same “voluntarist” theological attitude that lay behind Robert Boyle’s experimental philosophy.

After establishing a reputation as a first-rate geologist, Martin Rudwick turned himself mid-career into perhaps the greatest historian of geology who has ever lived. A devout Anglican, Rudwick’s Christian faith is not immediately apparent in most of his books, but discerning readers will find evidence of it from time to time.

Prior to the 1850s, when Lord Kelvin began to develop detailed quantitative methods for estimating the ages of the Sun and the Earth, it was impossible to defend any specific numerical value for the Earth’s age, which geologists typically described only as “indefinite” or “vast.” The methods Kelvin developed relied on thermodynamics—brand new, state of the art science at the time—and yielded ages for the Earth up to about 100 million years—the number that many scientists were still giving at the end of the nineteenth century. That’s far too short by modern reckoning, but radioactivity had not yet been discovered, so the effects of the heat it generates in the Earth’s interior could not be considered. Nevertheless, even before Kelvin’s work, by the early nineteenth century it was clear to virtually all geologists and many theologians that a 6,000-year-old Earth was flatly contradicted by abundant evidence.

Perhaps surprisingly, natural history was not yet being taught at Yale in 1800. Yale’s president, the evangelical theologian Timothy Dwight, clearly recognized the importance the subject and recommended that the establishment of a faculty chair for that purpose. At the same time, owing to the challenge it posed to the Bible, he sought to fill the position with a person of solid Christian character, who would view science as an ally of faith, in the Baconian tradition of reading the two books—someone he could trust. We’ll start to unpack that story next time.

Visual illustrations may have been particularly effective at conveying deep time to non-specialists. A pertinent example is the frontispiece to the third American edition of Robert Bakewell, An Introduction to Geology (1839). Drawn by the author’s son, it depicts the Niagara gorge. Referring readers to this image, Bakewell quoted a topographical sketch by Joseph Henry: “it is impossible not to be impressed with the idea, that this great natural raceway has been formed by the continued action of the irresistible current of the Niagara, and that the falls, beginning at Lewiston, have, in the course of ages, worn back the rocky strata to their present site. The deep chasm through which the Niagara passes, below the falls, is nearly a mile wide, with almost perfect mural sides” (p. 260). Subtly, readers would get the same powerful impression of an ancient Earth that the newly emerging community of professional geologists shared. Photograph by Edward B. Davis.

Looking Ahead

Next month, we’ll narrow the focus sharply to Yale College, where Dwight appointed Benjamin Silliman as the first professor of natural history. We’ll take a peek at Bakewell’s textbook, which Silliman literally brought to American readers, and hear the concerns of theologian Samuel Miller, who labelled geology “science falsely so-called,” because (in his opinion) it contradicted the Bible. Silliman was the single most influential science teacher of his era, and his influence continues down to our own day, so I’ll devote quite a bit of attention to him in coming weeks.

References and Suggestions for Further Reading

The exact number of colleges operating in the colonial period is a matter of some debate, because some institutions that later qualified fully as colleges did not really offer college-level courses when they first came into existence. I accept the conclusions of Theodore Hornberger, Scientific Thought in the American Colleges, 1638-1800 (1945), and leave the arguments for others. Timothy Dwight’s attitude toward education at Yale is nicely portrayed by the late John C. Greene, “Protestantism, Science, and American Enterprise: Benjamin Silliman’s Moral Universe,” in Benjamin Silliman and His Circle: Studies in the Influence of Benjamin Silliman on Science in America, edited by Leonard G. Wilson (1979), pp. 11-27. On Christianity and the discovery of deep time, see Martin J.S. Rudwick, “The Shape and Meaning of Earth History,” in God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, edited by David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (1986), pp. 296-321. Kelvin’s ideas are extensively treated in Joe D. Burchfield, Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth (1975).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

actually we dont know what is the real age of the earth. firstly- the claim of old earth isnt scientific, because we cant test it(and it also changed again and again).

secondly- we also have a lot of evidences for a young earth (for example: reverse extrapolation of human populaltion size will give us no more then 10,000 years. we have found a “20my old” DNA and so on). so we have evidences for both young and old earth. so why one option is better then another?

Has the age changed? Or has the human estimate of that age changed? It’s important to differentiate.

Also, if we can use reverse extrapolation when it comes to human populations, the actual historical value of which we cannot test, why cannot we use reverse extrapolation regarding other things, such as the Niagara Gorge discussed in the article?

Part of the problem of estimating ages by natural methods is the assumption that processes have never changed, or have not changed significantly. Thinking that the Niagara was always the same size with the same energy… isn’t that just an assumption? Can we prove it was never ten times as big? or 100 times bigger? Same thing with the Grand Canyon… could the Colorado River really carve that out? Was the Grand Canyon really only as big in the past as it is today? How did the canyon form thru an uplift? etc. I think the real argument for reverse extrapolation of human population is only made because of the uniformitarian arguments made for natural processes… if it works for some, then how do you account for the others which give different results under the same principles?

Ice cores are similar… we find an accumulation of six or seven feet of snow/ice per year on Greenland at the location of the WWII planes which are now under 260 feet of ice. Under a uniformitarian rate, this gives all the ice to be laid down in several thousand years. But alternate methods of assumed annual layers, sediment, O18/O16 ratios, etc. are assumed to be more reliable, but are they? Amount of salt in the ocean does not match up to what would be expected under uniformitarian principles. The moon’s rate of recession from earth is a problem from a uniformitarian approach.

What is the explanation for DNA that survives for millions of years? What is the explanation for stretchy dinosaur tissue still found in dino bones? These should not be there anymore.

The theory of evolution is not just one theory, but rather a general principle that everything evolved and it took millions and billions of years. But there are a whole lot of other theories imbedded within it. The relationship between these theories, or the impact of the evolution theory on these other theories, and vice versa, is interesting.

The reasoning process is also interesting. What will be the dominant driving principle? Stuff is old, so the evidence we see must be mistaken, must be contamination, must be interpreted differently? Or… what is the evidence we see… what does this say about age… should we re-evaluate other methods of determining age?

I want to address your comment on a theological level, instead of a scientific one. Certainly, God can create anything with apparent age, and he is free to create a universe in which natural laws change over time. But he has also created human beings with natural capacities to know and discover, as well as a God-given drive to do so. This leads to some interesting and important questions, which I can illustrate with this (highly hypothetical) example:

Let’s say we come across a very old tree, but we are not sure exactly how old it is. So we cut it down and measure the rings, and it appears to be 500 years old. We also carbon-date it to about 500 years. And let’s say we also use other dating methods that all give us an answer of about 500 years. So we date it confidently at 500 years. But it turns out we were mistaken on all points, because God specially created that tree exactly 50 years ago, and it just appears to be 500 years old because God made it that way. Furthermore, for this particular forest, the rates of tree ring growth as well as atomic decay were 10 times faster for the first ten years of the tree’s life (which the scientists couldn’t possibly have known apart from divine revelation). All of this led to a massively incorrect scientific result, even though the scientists were using appropriate methods.

The age of the Earth/Universe (as I understand it) is a similar example. Multiple independent lines of evidence lead to the same dates for both, with unbelievable accuracy. Now, God could certainly could have designed the universe and Earth to “appear” to be much older than they are, and even created natural laws that fluctuate greatly in order to further this illusion. Theoretically, God could have made the speed of light a billion times faster than normal, in order to make it look like the universe is older than it is. The same is true with all sorts of dating methods.

But if this is true, we are left with a picture of God that (in my opinion) is deeply at odds with the God portrayed in the Bible, who is truth and light and love. In fact, it’s the biblical picture of God which led to modern science in the first place—a God who calls us to discover and create and enjoy his creation. In fact, if God did indeed create the world with apparent age and fluctuating laws, then science itself seems more like a evil temptation than a divine calling (as some young-earth creationists have actually suggested, including assertions that Satan hid the dinosaur fossils to test us). Is this really the approach we want to take to these matters as Christians?

Other commenters will probably be able to address your specific scientific concerns with uniformitarianism, but it seems to me that uniformitarianism is not only good science, but good Christian theology.

Brad, I find this topic fascinating. Uniformitarian thinking, or more specifically, whatever is happening today must have been happening in the past at the same rates and in the same pattern, has pros and cons. It is obviously also subject to our knowledge of or application of present day events to the past.

First I want to dissuade you from thinking that this is about apparent age in which God has created an apparent age contrary to our experiential observation. (Like creating a twenty year old Adam in an instant.) This is not about that. This is also not about changing natural laws, although it might be about discovering new ones. This is about different natural (physical, chemical, biological, geological) principles and observations giving us different ages.

From a theological perspective, we know that things did not always happen in the past the way they are happening today. The story of the flood makes that abundantly clear; it is a one-time event. The type of miracles we see in the old and new testaments do not seem to occur with the same drama and consistency in the present.

I do agree that a knowledge of God helps us to understand various natural laws, or at least to expect that these laws will be there, even if we do not understand them. This natural understanding led to many Christians pursuing science innovation over the centuries. This knowledge of God will also lead us to an understanding that in some way, God’s laws will always (probably) be more than we can grasp. The book of Job illustrates this, but the mere fact that the creator is greater than the creation would lead to this conclusion also, theologically and philosophically.

Your hypothetical example of the tree… the problem is that such an example has not been seen, so I’m not sure it can be used. It might have applied had we been around before the time of Noah, for the first trees that were created, if they were created as semi-mature trees. But it doesn’t apply to anyone who actually does carbon dating today. I would change the example to this, that in comparing two dead trees to each other, certain parts of the tree ring are compared to conclude that the trees must have lived at different times, because the rings are so different. However, other evidence is later discovered that indicates that the trees lived in different micro climates, where one was on a steep slope with not much access to water, while the other was nestled in a small hollow next to a stream, where its roots always had access to water even in dry years. At some point in the life of the tree, the hollow was destroyed, and the ring pattern changed. Whether we can determine where the tree actually grew will determine how we interpret the data of the rings.

From a scientific perspective, we also know conclusively that things were not always the same as today. Dinosaurs once existed; today they do not. Volcanoes once existed in the Canadian Shield; today they do not. Sea levels change. Ice once covered much of the continent. We believe that continents have been in different locations. Research has shown that mountains have not always risen at a consistent rate. We know that volcanos have dramatic and erratic not consistent effects. We know that erosion takes place erratically, not consistently. We have seen fossils of dragonflies with four foot wingspans. We see remnants of frozen mammoths and giant camels in the far north, as well as frozen and buried tropical trees being used for firewood in the Artic.

The point is that what we take as uniformity, is subject to what parameters we choose. We often do not choose to evaluate the fact that the earth itself is more uniformly affected by dramatic changes than by slow consistent events. While a certain amount of uniformity is most reasonable when it comes to applications in life, such as “how long will it take to fly to Europe”, “how fast will a bowling ball accelerate when dropped from the Statue of Liberty”, or “what type of bull should you use to cross with your shorthorn cattle”, on the other hand, you will misinterpret the data if you do not have knowledge of the extreme events. Such as did you know that neighbor has a bull that likes to jump fences when your cows are in heat? If you didn’t know that, you might incorrectly conclude that your bull is different than what you expected (not purebred after all) when you see your calves.

So it is not uniformity or consistency of natural laws that is the problem. The problem is a type of uniformitarianism that says that things could only have happened at the same rate and in the same way as present.

It is fair to question uniformitarianism, but the burden of proof is squarely on those who question it. You have to provide evidence for change of rate, not just assert that there could have been a change. For something like Carbon 14 dating, it was shown that C14 levels vary over time. OK. Now that kind of dating is carefully calibrated by corroborating evidence (like tree rings and varves). So if you’re going to question the speed of light or decay rates or water volume, you’ve got to show the evidence–and not just some anomaly (there are always anomalies)–and how that evidence fits into a complete theory. Of course lots of things today are not the way they’ve always been. But we must produce compelling evidence for those things.

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@johnZ thanks for your thoughts. I’m curious to hear @TedDavis’s thoughts on where the idea of “uniformitarianism” came from—was it a foreign philosophical idea imposed on the science, or did it flow from the Christian beliefs of early geologists?

James, I don’t disagree that evidence for rate of change should be shown, at least it would be more conclusive. However, since evidence in the past is debatable and hard to replicate, even a plausible scenario should be considered. Also, evidence that uniformitarian principles sometimes lead to conflicting results shoud give a bit more skepticism. And the burden is also on uniformitarians to explain conundrums, such as following the moon’s rate of recession from earth to its logical conclusion as to where and when this process started.

C14 levels have varied, but it is also likely that CO2 levels have varied, so there is likely a combined effect. In addition, the effect of a change of the earth’s magnetic field which protects the earth from radiation, also needs to be considered for the rate and amount of C14. Tree rings can corroborate some amount, but not far into the past. Varves take a lot of assumptions, and it is clear that varves, and ice core layers do not need to be correlated as annual data.

As I said before, uniformitarianism uses some present day principles, while sidelining others. The six foot annual snow/ice layer in Greenland seems to be sidelined; it could also be used, but is not. The problem is that we know things were different in the past, but then assume that things were the same, ie. snow fall amounts, rainfall amounts, etc. Again, there is evidence about how much salt is in the ocean, how much enters, and where the salt can leave the water. This leads to a vastly different conclusion than radiometric dating. Yet, one is chosen, the other sidelined.

We have C14 discovered in diamonds which are dated as millions of years old… it should not be there. We have C14 found in coal which is buried in rock in the millions or billions of years… it should not be there. We have brand new volcanic rock dated radiometrically at a few million years old (much bigger than the error bar)… but it is less than 100 years old.

To put all the burden of proof on the questioners is not entirely fair. There are enough idiosyncrasies, that the way the uniformitarian principles are applied must also obtain a burden of proof. I agree that we can assume a uniformitarian assumption for gravity, for light, for electricity, for chemical reactions, but biology and geology and paleontology are flexible and reactive enough that uniformitarianism can be misleading. Ironically, we know that in some cases, uniformitarianism should inform us that things often change in unexpected ways. From a human perspective, centuries and millenia resulted in horse and oxen as main agents and tools, until the industrial revolution. A huge, dramatic change. Those who expected this to be the only change for the next 10,000 years, were quite surprised when only a few hundred years later, you were typing on a computer or I-pad, a completely different type of technology. Nothing consistent or uniform about that whatsoever. Even the so-called Cambrian explosion is not a uniform event; it was a dramatic, unexplainable non-uniform change. Why then is our attachment to thinking that uniformity is the answer? Yes, the present is key to the past, but not in a uniformitarian sense of all things continuing as they have always been.

Brad, the following quote is how I understand uniformitarianism:

“Catastrophism,” as this school of thought came to be known, was attacked in 1830 by a British lawyer-turned-geologist named Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Lyell started his career studying under the catastrophist William Buckland at Oxford. But Lyell became disenchanted with Buckland when Buckland tried to link catastrophism to the Bible, looking for evidence that the most recent catastrophe had actually been Noah’s flood. Lyell wanted to find a way to make geology a true science of its own, built on observation and not susceptible to wild speculations or dependent on the supernatural.
The rock cycle
The ideas of Hutton and Lyell led to an understanding of “the rock cycle” as we know it today.Gradual change
For inspiration, Lyell turned to the fifty-year-old ideas of a Scottish farmer named James Hutton. In the 1790s, Hutton had argued that the Earth was transformed not by unimaginable catastrophes but by imperceptibly slow changes, many of which we can see around us today. Rain erodes mountains, while molten rock pushes up to create new ones. The eroded sediments form into layers of rock, which can later be lifted above sea level, tilted by the force of the uprising rock, and eroded away again. These changes are tiny, but with enough time they could produce vast changes. Hutton therefore argued that the Earth was vastly old — a sort of perpetual-motion machine passing through regular cycles of destruction and rebuilding that made the planet suitable for mankind.
Valley formed by erosion
Lyell found evidence that valleys were formed through the slow process of erosion, not by catastrophic floods.
Lyell traveled through Europe to find more evidence that gradual changes, the same we can see happening today, had produced the features of the Earth’s surface. He found evidence for many rises and falls of sea level, and of giant volcanoes built on top of far older rocks. Processes such as earthquakes and eruptions, which had been witnessed by humans, were enough to produce mountain ranges. Valleys were not the work of giant floods but the slow grinding force of wind and water.

Uniform Processes of Change
Lyell’s version of geology came to be known as uniformitarianism, because of his fierce insistence that the processes that alter the Earth are uniform through time. Like Hutton, Lyell viewed the history of Earth as being vast and directionless. And the history of life was no different.


Let me divide the very general topic of uniformitarianism into a few related topics or subheadings:

(1) The term itself was coined in 1832 by William Whewell (William Whewell - Wikipedia), the same person who coined the words “catastrophism” and “scientist.” The idea was already in existence for more than 40 years at that point. Whewell himself was not sympathetic with it.

(2) Uniformitarian ideas were promoted by James Hutton in the late 18th century, and especially by Charles Lyell in the early 1830s. For Lyell, uniformitarianism meant all of these things:

Actualism—the past must be explained by appealing only to the kinds of geological forces that we presently see in operation, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and erosion. There can be no appeal to ice ages, comets colliding with the earth, or worldwide floods—none of which we see in operation now. No geologist agrees with this today, so when one speaks today of “uniformitarianism” one is not talking about the original idea—unless one is speaking historically.

Gradualism—geological processes operate only gradually, so the rate of change in earth history is always very slow, with very small changes sometimes accumulating over eons to produce larger effects, such as mountain building or river deltas. Modern geologists agree with this for some geological formations, but not for others—so as a general rule it does not apply.

Steady state—Lyell held that the history of life on earth was pretty much the same in all geological periods—except for the sudden, recent creation of humans (here he held a traditional view for most of
his life). In other words, there was never a time when reptiles or birds did not exist, even though different specific types of reptiles and birds might have existed in different geological periods. Evolution (or “transmutation,” as it was called at the time) has not taken place. Darwin obviously rejected this.
Instead, he adopted the view of the “catastrophists” that there have been major overall changes in the kinds of animals and plants that have existed on the earth through time. Fish precede reptiles, which precede birds, etc. In other words, Darwin agreed with the “progressive creation” picture, not Lyell’s
picture; however, he sought to bring Lyellian gradualism and actualism to bear on explaining how biological forms change over time. He wanted to make biology look more like physics and astronomy, neither of which relied on miracles to explain things. This was already evident in the early version (written in 1844) of what became On the Origin of Species many years later, and is still evident in the final paragraph of the published book, where he famously says, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

(3) Today, the relevant sense would be the uniformity of natural laws, not the Lyellian steady state history of the earth. Like the other meanings, this too is a philosophical view imposed on nature, not
something arising directly from observations themselves. (Some other scientific principles are in this category, too, but I will pass over them here.) However, it works so darn well at explaining so many things coherently that anyone who wants to question it needs to provide a very persuasive argument why it should be abandoned. It’s one thing to defend the historicity of a particular miracle for which there might be very strong evidence; it’s another thing entirely to propose that we simply should not assume the uniformity of nature as a general principle.

(4) Finally,when it comes to trusting the conclusions of the historical sciences (such as geology or cosmology) concerning the great age of the earth and the universe—or even the use of radiocarbon dating (which does not apply past a few tens of thousands of years) to date prehistoric artifacts—I unreservedly recommend this book: The Age of Everything: How Science Explores the Past, Hedman.

This book does not apply to the historical period I’m writing about in this series, when none of the main methods used now had been developed, but it does give wonderfully clear explanations of how chronological calculations are done today. If you want to get a copy of the book before raising further questions about such methods, @johnZ, that would be good.

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Thankyou Ted Davis. Your reply seems to agree with the Berkley quote, and expands on it in a very useful way. I do not think the uniformity of natural laws needs to be abandoned, and I don’t believe any or many YEC think they should be abandoned. However, some natural laws are derived from others, and dependant on certain parameters and combination of circumstances to exist. For example, until it was discovered that polarity often reversed or flipped, it was assumed that the natural law of earth’s polarity was constant. So we do discover that natural laws are more complicated than we thought they were. This truth is something that is quite likely also to repeat in the future, although we don’t know when, until we actually know it.

I realize radiocarbon dating is not really valid beyond about 50,000 years. The problem is when something is dated and found to be much less than 50,000 years old (such as 10,000yrs bp) , and still thought to be millions of years old. Carbon dating at a minimum should show it to be 100,000 yrs old or older, not within the normal effective range of carbon dating. It should show material free from C14, when instead it shows this material to contain levels of C14 hundreds of times above the AMS measurement threshold. (Are the RATE Results Caused by Contamination? | Answers in Genesis 2007-2014 responses) Instances of K-AR dating for rocks should have shown new volcanic rock at less than 200,000 yrs bp, but instead shows it to be several million years old. The known decay rate for dna should not permit dna to exist in millions of yrs bp material. There is no explanation for why some dino material should still contain blood cells and be stretchy.

i need to add that c14 (or any other method) method reliability can be from 0% to 100%. so how can we consider it as a scientific method?


When I spoke about the uniformity of laws of nature, I did not mean to imply that this means uniformity in all natural phenomena. That’s something very different. Magnetic polarity is a variable phenomenon that can be understood in terms of invariant laws, not a law in itself. The distinction is crucial.

Now, it might be that a given “law” of nature is not in fact unchanging over time, or that a particular “constant” of nature is not in fact constant over time. Scientists have long entertained this possibility–for example, more than a century ago the great physicist Henri Poincare wrote an essay asking whether the laws of physics change. The problem is for us to be able to tell that they have changed–how would we know? From observations of distant galaxies, for example, we can show definitively that certain laws of physics have not changed very much (if at all) over long time spans. The Haarsmas talk about this briefly in their book, Origins.

I don’t have the competence to put myself into the dispute (which you linked) between Kirk Bertsche (whom I know personally and whose genuine expertise on such things I would be inclined to accept) and John Baumgardner, concerning one specific instance of carbon-14 in diamonds.

Concerning K-AR dating and volcanic rocks, I do not know which specific instance(s) you have in mind. A frequently cited case involves lava exuded from Mt St Helens, where the claim to contradict K-AR dating is wholly specious, according to Ken Wolgemuth ( ), a geologist who earned the Ph.D. in geochemistry from Columbia University–I emphasize that specific credential, b/c geochemistry is the relevant discipline and the various dating methods using radioactivity were either invented or refined at Columbia by people he studied with. In lectures I have heard myself, Wolgemuth shows precisely why the K-AR method simply can’t be used to date lava from Mt St Helens or any other volcano, b/c (if I recall correctly) the liquid state of the rock does not trap Argon gas. It’s more complicated, obviously, but Wolgemuth says more at comment #89 here: Blog Post - Indications of a Young Earth . The comments by Tim Hebble at the same URL are also good.

As for the dino DNA, that’s the work of Mary Schweitzer, a Christian paleontologist who will speak at the BioLogos conference this summer: . She is not a YEC, but her work has caused a bit of a firestorm b/c it does challenge traditional views. Why not come to the meeting to hear what she says?

I appreciate your contributions to the conversation at BL, John, and I’m sure there will be more such. Unfortunately owing to limited time, I must make this my last comment on this set of ideas on this thread.

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Hi again, Brad,

I agree wholeheartedly with your argument that …

Your quote reminds me of Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 1:11-12 in which he observed that the earth failed to meet God’s wish to create “fruit trees making fruit” and instead brought forth “trees making fruit”. You can read more about this here, but one take-away from Rashi’s observation is that God does not violate His own laws even when they produce unexpected or undesired results. I would take this text at least one step further and argue that it supports (but does not prove) the idea that God created a stochastic and therefore indeterminate universe. Random outcomes of physical processes are part of God’s created order. But, more to the point of this thread, these two verses certainly support the arguement that God is loathe to counter His own laws.

From what I understand of the discussion btw Bertsche and Baumgardner, Baumgardner believes that the accuracy of the labs and care in sample selection is greater than Bertsche does, and that sample contamination cannot be used as an excuse for the high values of C14/C12 in the samples submitted.

With K-Ar dating, several known samples were submitted to blind tests. These included samples from Mt. St. Helens 1984 eruption which had whole rock samples and also individual mineral samples tested. While the whole rock dated at 350,000 yr, individual minerals dated at between 340,000 yr to 2.8 my. Samples from Mt. Ngauruhoe, New Zealand were also submitted, and eight samples from three different eruption dates, 1949, 1954, 1975. (Snelling, A.A.) These gave dates which ranged from <270,000 yr to 3.5 my. I think the argument for these incorrect dates is that some Ar must have been trapped in the lava, which throws off the numbers. The problem is that the theory assumptions for this dating method say that no Ar would be trapped, and all would be gassed off at or before the time of cooling and formation. So this assumption has been found not to be correct… and the question is, how do we know the assumption is correct then for samples of which we do not know the correct age. The method is supposed to be accurate to within 200,000 yrs error.

Dr. Jim Mason, PhD in experimental nuclear physics, elaborates also on the problems with the isochron method of radioactive dating as well as the straightforward method. The isochron method gave ages of the Mt. Ngauruhoe rocks, as ranging from .27 to 3.5 my with K-Ar, 133 my for Rb-Sr, 197 my for Sm-Nd, and 3,908 my for Pb-Pb.

The isochron method gave three different dates for three different methods, for the same Grand Canyon rock, which varied from 1.2 Ma, to 1.6 Ma, to 1.8 Ma, depending on method. So his conclusion is that if a 50 yr old rock can be incorrectly dated as 3.9 billion yrs, how can we be certain that other rocks dated at 4 billion yrs are not actually only a few thousand years old?

Another dating method, measuring the radiogenic helium diffusivity in zircons, also seems to give a vastly younger age of earth minerals than the other radioactive dating methods. A study by Humphreys(2005) shows that helium diffusivity method correlates with about a 6000 yr age for the zircons, while the alleged age of the crystals was assumed to be 1.5 by.

Although I will be in the eastern Canada and USA in September, I cannot make it in July to hear Mary Schweitzer (yes, I knew she was the one who found it). It would be nice to hear her on a webinar or recorded video, or to read her speech.

All the best to you.

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