Over the past five months, I have been examining the claims in the Answers in Genesis series, The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth. This is as good a place to start as any in evaluating YEC claims: since these are what they consider to be their best arguments, we can assume that they are representative of the standards that they maintain in general, and that the other arguments that they are making will not carry any more weight.
Before I started examining these claims, I outlined the Biblical and scientific basis for my review. The age of the earth, and the ages of rock strata, are determined by measuring things, and accordingly, we must meet the demands in Scripture (Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; etc.) that our approach to weights and measurements is honest and accurate.
YECs often respond that measurements still have to be interpreted. This is true, but there are strict rules that such interpretations must follow. It doesn’t take a “secular” or “materialist” worldview to see that your interpretation must be free from arithmetic error, non sequiturs and logical fallacies; that you must neither exaggerate nor downplay the extent and significance of errors and discrepancies; that you must not cherry-pick or fudge the raw data; that you must not quote people in ways that misrepresent them; and that you must not claim that assumptions are not testable when in fact they are. These, and other rules like them, are simply rules of basic honesty and quality control, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with secular materialism, a rejection of miracles, or “compromise.”
This being the case, my question was whether or not they were following the rules.
My findings were as follows:
- Very little sediment on the sea floor
The calculations are invalid: riverine sediment ends up on the continental shelf, while the existing deposits being measured were those on the deep ocean floor.
- Bent rock layers that are not fractured
This claim is blatantly untrue, as can be seen by comparing the example given to higher-quality photographs of the same rock formation both by USGS and by Answers in Genesis themselves. Bent rock layers are fractured.
- Soft tissue in dinosaur fossils
While these findings are surprising, they do not contradict anything that we know about how long soft tissue can last, and in any case they are too rare and too badly degraded to be consistent with a young earth. Furthermore, many YEC accounts exaggerate the state of preservation of what was found.
- The faint young sun paradox
Although it does suggest fine tuning, this says nothing about the age of the earth.
- Earth’s magnetic field is rapidly decaying
This is based on an invalid extrapolation that is contradicted not only by the data, but also by both young-earth and old-earth models of how the Earth’s magnetic field works.
- Too much helium in radioactive rocks
This is a very complex (and therefore error-prone) claim that is compromised by numerous serious errors including sloppy experimental technique, invalid assumptions, fudged data, misidentified rock samples, and a refusal to submit to meaningful peer review.
- Carbon-14 in fossils, coals and diamonds
The measured carbon-14 levels are consistent with known, measured, and well-studied contamination mechanisms.
- Short-lived comets
This denies that the Oort Cloud exists, based on an unrealistic assumption that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It also disregards calculations of the historic orbits of known comets showing them to have been slingshotted closer to the sun by planets such as Jupiter.
- Very little salt in the sea
This is based on outdated and cherry-picked data, poorly known quantities with huge error bars, and a naive extrapolation of rates that can not realistically be expected to have been the same in the past as they are today. The most up to date research indicates that the amount of salt in the sea is approximately in a state of equilibrium, and that it therefore tells us nothing about the age of the earth.
- DNA in ancient bacteria
This is based on a single disputed study. It has not been satisfactorily demonstrated that the salt deposits and the bacteria themselves were the same age, nor that the salt crystals were undisturbed since their original formation.
Not a single one of these claims provides a shred of evidence for a young earth. Every single one of them — and in fact, every other claim of evidence for a young earth that I’ve ever seen — plays fast and loose with the basic rules and principles of how measurement works, some of them even to the extent of completely disregarding the role of measurement in determining the ages of rock strata altogether. Tiny samples with huge error bars are presented as “overwhelming” evidence for absurd new laws of fantasy physics that would have vaporised the earth if they had any basis in reality. The extent and significance of discrepancies in conventional dating methods is repeatedly blown up out of all proportion, with errors of just 20-30%, and results from techniques pushed to breaking point, being touted as evidence that all dating methods are consistently out by factors of up to a million. Isolated claims that were retracted a century ago are cited as evidence of pervasive systematic fraud in hundreds of thousands of peer reviewed studies right up to the present day. Despite their repeated denunciations of “uniformitarianism,” many of them are based on assumptions of constant rates that are totally out of touch with reality. Some of the claims that they come up with are so bad that it’s very difficult to believe that they really were made by the young-earth PhDs themselves, and not by a hacker or rogue sysadmin messing with their site in an attempt to discredit them.
I would like to be charitable and say that they had just misunderstood things, or perhaps that they were getting a bit carried away with themselves. This could possibly be the case with soft tissue in dinosaur fossils, or bacteria in ancient salts, for example. But that only illustrates the dangers of being too hasty. Proverbs 19:2 says, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” A more sensible approach would be to adopt a wait-and-see attitude with findings such as these. The world of science sees papers being published on a regular basis that collapse when subjected to the rigours of peer review and attempts to reproduce them.
Unfortunately, there are other examples where it is difficult to be so charitable. The claim about bent rock layers in particular was one such example. YEC organisations insist that it’s ungracious and divisive to accuse them of lying, but when a PhD geologist presents his case with an out-of-focus and badly exposed photograph of a rock formation with students strategically placed in front of the very parts of the formation that contradict him, if that is not lying, then what on earth is it? If you don’t want to be accused of lying, be careful to get your facts straight.
My biggest cause for concern, however, is the extremely unprofessional and hostile attitude that many young-earth PhDs adopt towards critique. Robust criticism should be standard practice in science, as that is how mistakes such as falsehood, arithmetic errors, fallacious calculations, shortcuts, sloppiness, and failure to adhere to proven best practices are shaken out. In many areas of scientific study, mistakes such as these could kill people. Yet we repeatedly see critiques dismissed out of hand as “rescuing devices”, “minor” or even “nitpicking”; while those who raise these concerns — many of them also Bible believing Christians — are denounced as “brainwashed” or “compromisers” or “anticreationists” or “speaking with the voice of the serpent” or worse.
I’m sorry, but this is not honest science and it is not Biblical Christianity. This is a cult.
Now to be fair, not all young-earth creationists are like that. Most rank and file YECs are honest and sincere people who merely lack the scientific understanding to be able to fact-check their claims properly. And they do have some valid concerns about the state of society, the decline of Christian influence, the widespread lack of knowledge of and trust in the Bible, and the way things are heading in general. Their uncompromising approach to Biblical authority is a much needed counterpoint to a world that would jettison the whole lot as nothing more than antiquated myth, rather than recognising it as a foundation, ahead of its time, on which subsequent generations have built.
But it’s misguided to blame all of society’s ills on evolution and millions of years, and quite frankly reckless to try and fight them with claims that are demonstrably and indisputably false. They complain about how they find it difficult to get published in peer reviewed scientific journals, or how they can’t get creationism taught in schools, presenting it as some kind of systematic discrimination by “the establishment.” It’s certainly true that there is an anti-Christian element at work in academia, but when you see the appalling technical quality of young-earth claims, it’s quite clear that that is not what is happening here. Being discriminated against for being a Christian is one thing; being discriminated against for incompetence, sloppiness and dishonesty is a completely different matter. It would be reckless and irresponsible to allow creationism to be taught in schools before creationists clean up their act, demonstrate a commitment to quality, rigour and factual accuracy that at the very least matches that of mainstream science (and certainly, that far, far exceeds the standards that they portray mainstream science as maintaining), and develop the openness to correction and the teachable spirit that the Bible clearly tells us that we should maintain. By elevating tradition and strict literalism over basic honesty and factual accuracy, they are undermining everything that they stand for. And it makes all of us, as Christians, look bad, whether we are young earth or old.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons