Though there are many scientific dating methods, let’s look at a few and consider some of the claims regarding their reliability. But note that my goal is not to prove or disprove either Young or Old Earthers. And please remember what I said early on: This is not a college textbook, nor is it my intention to mimic that approach. Many readers very well may have read other works related to Young or Old Earth with lengthy treatments of the following subjects. I’ve chosen, for the sake of space and time and in the interest of the reader, not to dedicate pages and pages to a debate that’s already been well covered by others in this field of study. On the other hand, some readers may be new to this subject, since materials on this topic have overwhelmingly favored Young Earth in recent history, so I cannot altogether ignore addressing the dating methods.
Therefore, this chapter is a quick, drive-by summary of these methods and an equally concise look at the Young Earther’s most popular refutations of them, followed by a logical review of whether those repudiations hold water. In a conclusion to this chapter, I’ll revisit the possibility that most of these dating methods could be far off base as a result of rapid geological changes during the event of Noah’s Flood—a deduction that, also, has inherent problems (theologically speaking). I believe some level of truth exists in Young Earth, Old Earth, Noah’s-Flood geology, and almost all fields of scientific research and discovery, as my Old Earth theory discussed in upcoming chapters permits.
Within the layers of Earth’s rock lie many small gold mines to be found by the perceptive eye. These layers are called “strata” (the singular form is “stratum”). Strata are formed as the weight of sediment and minerals atop the rock’s surface compresses and hardens over time (called “deposition”), creating additional layers of rock. Many other factors such as weather, glaciers, and erosion contribute to the process before this “cementation” or “lithification” (sediment becoming solid rock) occurs.
Different layers of rock appearing in diverse colors (like the horizontal stripes on a walls of the Grand Canyon) develop within the strata, identifying variations in lithologic properties (related to the study of texture, fine-grained or course-grained composition, carbon, iron, and so on within that stratum). For instance, deep red or rust-colored strata is a result of oxidized (rusted) iron present in the minerals, while a gray rock attests to lower levels of iron, which gives geologists a clue about the air, temperature, vegetation, bacteria, and other environmental factors at the time of formation. Tilted strata indicate a disturbance (such as volcanoes, earthquakes, moving water, etc.) that led to the erosion of the rock at some point, introducing newer sediments from the environment of that time, explaining why there are occasional cross-cutting layers set in divergent directional patterns that “crack through” the earlier strata.
Since rock gradually builds additional rock upon itself in an upward pattern (called “superposition”), the “youngest” strata are at the top: The lower the layer, the older the layer, so a fossil at fifty feet down the strata will be older than a fossil at twenty feet down, and so on. Much strata stretches on for miles, showing the same layering above and below them, so if an object is wedged in a certain stratum, and another object is found wedged in the same (or nearby) layer miles away, geologists can determine that both objects are from around the same era of time.
Tephrochronology is a similar science, using volcanic rock and other materials (tephra) originating from a known historic eruption to identify the age of objects above or below the tephra; if an object is atop the tephra, it’s younger than whatever year the volcano erupted, while an object below the volcanic rock was obviously left there sometime prior to the eruption that buried it.
Strata, as a general rule, take a long time to form; it’s by no means an overnight process. The time necessary for each stratum to succumb to cementation obviously varies according to many contributing elements (wind or water carrying away fresh sediment, for example), but geologists have been able to study these elements and produce a rate of accumulation showing that many strata required millions or billions of years to stack and transform into stone.
But again, I would like to stress that this is a general rule.
Young Earthers believe (and often with convincing support) that many of these layers of rock stacked up quickly during the Flood of Noah’s day. They point to bizarre phenomena, such as a petrified tree “growing through” strata, or a fossilized animal skeleton protruding upwards through several layers (a “polystrate fossil” in Creationist terminology). If strata take millions of years to cement, they say, the tree would have rotted away or the bones of an animal would have been carried off or swept away during that time. If the tree didn’t rot and the bones didn’t disappear—and the skeleton remains intact throughout the layers—it proves rapid sedimentation supporting the biblical narrative of a sudden, worldwide Flood…but not billions of years of rock layers accumulating over an animal who oddly never moved throughout that time.
Scientists frequently agree with Young Earthers that something rapid did happen at one point to cause this, though they see it as the exception in a certain area and not the rule. Depending on the type of rock, scientists say, rapid sedimentation hasn’t been a mystery for going on a century and a half. Explanations often attribute these rarities to other causes, such as water-soluble sediments caused by low-salt density in the minerals—or explosive volcanic events resulting in lahars (mud-flow containing bits of debris) generating loose, discontinuous volcanic deposits like blankets—keeping the fossils in place and eventually deteriorating while the layering slowly continues. Meanwhile, the object (tree, animal skeleton, etc.) fossilizes in place. Actually, such geological phenomena are quite common in marshy or swampy areas where standing trees have died and sediment collects around them, causing the trees to fossilize (and some eventually petrify) upright through additional strata. Floods, tidal waves, harsh weather, volcanic eruptions, and other extreme environmental events can and do bury, and therefore preserve, fossils and objects that were once living organisms, and geologists have offered explanations involving completely natural and organic causes for well more than a hundred years.
Unfortunately, these causes aren’t often taken into fair consideration when Young Earthers teach their beliefs.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
Ocean Reefs: “Tropical Forests of the Ocean”
Why do there appear to be so many comparisons between coral reefs and trees? Why are the coral reefs called “the trees of the ocean” in much contemporary marine biology literature? What is a “tropical forest of the ocean,” since we know such a thing can’t literally exist?
It’s widely known that if we cut down a tree and count the rings that appear across the stump from the middle to the outermost layer, we can determine its age. The bark that develops as a tree grows changes with the seasons: In spring and early summer, when rain and sunshine are plentiful, the wood is a lighter shade, reflecting rapid growth; from late summer through winter, a darker shade develops, representing a temporary cessation of growth. Therefore, each ring of color within the wood indicates one year of a tree’s life, as well as points to the climate around the tree during that year.
Since trees live for a limited time before they die and rot away, we can’t expect them to provide any evidence in support of either a Young or an Old Earth. Ocean reefs can, however—and by a similar dating method.
Like the aforementioned rock layers, organic materials build on the surface of coral. These materials are left behind by small fish, plants, and about a quarter of all other marine species that contribute to the ecosystem of ocean life. As coral’s polyps (the “mouths,” so to speak) intake nutrients, the coral secretes calcium carbonate (limestone), which, over time, develops into a compact structure, merging with other coral and creating a reef.
Coral grows in layers (referred to as “faunal succession”), like rock strata: The uppermost layer of coral is the youngest. The older layers underneath are essentially abandoned until algae, fungus, and small animals from the mollusk family (snails, oysters, mussels, squids, and others) bore into the deep skeleton and nest there, leaving the coral vulnerable to bioerosion and collapse. Just as human bones vary in thickness and density, some corals produce weaker skeletons, while others construct heartier platforms for new growth that are at a lower risk of crumbling.
For coral that produce extremely dense and durable skeletons, the layers keep climbing upwards every year atop a solid structure, changing in color and texture depending on the seasons (as we see with tree rings). Marine scientists can drill into these layered bands and measure not only the number of years the coral has been alive, but also what the salinity (salt content), water temperatures, and anthropogenic impact (human-influenced environmental changes) looked like during each season. Of course, other scientific dating methods (such as radiocarbon and uranium-thorium dating) are also applied when deciphering the age of a reef so we’re not left to rely only on the testimony of the bands.
One reef that gets a lot of attention is the Chazy Reef of Isle La Motte, Vermont. Though no longer living and therefore broken in many areas (most of it is buried beneath the surface of Earth), its remaining towering fossils are said to date back to more than 450 million years.[i]
Another that’s mentioned even more frequently, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is still alive and well—and, according to an article released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, researchers are shocked to discover that it is only between 500,000 and 1.05 million years old. “That estimate is backed up by paleomagnetic data [discussed soon], which show that this portion of the reef must have formed after Earth’s magnetic poles last reversed, some 790,000 years ago.”[ii]
This deduction—based on the findings of seventeen researchers who supervised drilling holes in both the inner and outer shelves of the reef in June of 2001—is compared in the article to “the Pacific atolls [ring-shaped islands with coral rims] of Enewetak and Bikini, which have accumulated over more than 45 million years.”[iii]
If we know how a coral band is developed over the course of a year, and we do—and if we can drill in and count those bands to observe faunal succession that shows present and past environmental factors that coincide with the dating of ancient marine fossils between coral layers, and we can—then it’s difficult to dismiss the legitimacy of their silent testimony to the existence of a very old planet.
Before we move on to paleomagnetism, take everything you’ve read about rock strata, tree rings, and coral reefs and apply those same ideas to lake-bed sediments.
Dried-up lakes are all over the world, and each one that has been largely undisturbed by human civilization shows layers of gathered sediment at the bottom of what used to be a body of water. These layers, too, reveal all sorts of fish fossils and underwater creatures who have lived and died at different times in the past and whose remains are wedged deep in the ground.
The sediment in these lakes was slowly deposited in very thin and fine layers when water was still present. Each is called a “varve,” and each varve reflects four seasons (one year) of accumulated sediment, though the colors are flipped from those of a tree’s rings: Thriving seasons of growth are reflected in dark layers, while the dryer seasons produce lighter shades.
Some of these lakes have had roads built straight through the middle of them—such as the US Route 191 that stretches through Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, which was laid through miles of the Green River Formation. Locals of the area can hop in their cars and drive between the mountainous, looming varve walls and, if they get curious enough, they can pull over and strike the semi-fragile wall, watching as flakes of the varves chip off and fall to the ground. This particular formation’s varves have been counted many times, and they attest to an unbroken chain record of six million years.
Rocks, though inanimate, do “speak” to us about world history. One of the ways they do this is by recording the direction and force of Earth’s geomagnetic field (the magnetic field that extends from the center of the planet and outward into space) during the era of their formation.
Today, a compass points north, but it wouldn’t have pointed to the same place hundreds or thousands of years ago, because Earth’s magnetic field changes, pulling north (normal polarity) or south (reversed polarity) at different times. Throughout history, as polarity has flipped back and forth from north to south while rocks have layered and formed, magnetic crystals embedded in the orientation of certain rocks act as silent witnesses of this shift as their magnetism points a certain direction. This is called “sedimentary magnetization.”
Science shows that Earth’s magnetic polarity (the fluctuation of which is being analyzed at this very moment by magnetometers all over the world) flips between normal and reversed every three hundred thousand years on average. Each time this occurs, our rocks “record” the intensity, speed, and precise direction of this alteration. According to NASA, “Paleomagnetic records tell us Earth’s magnetic poles have reversed 183 times in the last 83 million years, and at least several hundred times in the past 160 million years.”[iv]
But if the Earth is young, as I believe the Bible says, it doesn’t matter to me what scientists say happened millions of years ago. They must be wrong in their analyses.
Perhaps they are…though, if they were, we would have hefty evidence of that today.
For instance, let’s say the scientists are wrong, and all the recorded magnetic shifts that the rocks indicate occurred much closer together over a period of only six thousand years (most Young Earthers’ approximate age-of-Earth calculation). Crunching only the 183 recorded geomagnetic shifts that NASA states occurred in eighty-three million years into a six-thousand-year time frame—with the frequency of that event happening on a calculable average (with an even number of years between them)—we would expect to experience a shift every 32.8 years. This means we would have had approximately sixty-one magnetic, north/south flip-flops since Christ walked the Earth…and we know that’s not the case, since we haven’t been experiencing the incredible fallout that an event like that would cause.
The Earth’s magnetic field is what guards us from extreme space radiation. Many scientific authorities believe a flip or reversal would prompt a brisk spread of cancer throughout humanity, and it would absolutely fry our power grids. Whether or not we can trace cancer back into antiquity, we certainly know modern technology hasn’t been wiped out on a global scale in the last three decades.
More simply put: Since we’re not currently experiencing global catastrophe every thirty or so years—and since layers of rock are not climbing upward rapidly at this moment with paleomagnetic records noting the magnetic shift every thirty years—we know the time span between magnetic-shift events is much longer than thirty years. This much isn’t science; it’s common sense. Therefore, the planet’s magnetic polarity as recorded in stone points to a vast and lengthy history of Earth’s continually developing surface.
I’ve read several articles on the Young Earthers’ response to this information, and though there are good arguments for how scientists may have gotten their readings wrong, so far, I have yet to see a Young Earther explain how humanity would have survived six thousand years of extreme, intermittent radiation poisoning that would be the result of more rapidly occurring geomagnetic shifts. (I’m not saying those explanations don’t exist; I’m saying they’re not readily available.)
Trapped Charge Dating, Electron Spin Resonance, and Thermoluminescence
Microscopic electrons from cosmic rays and sunshine (or radioactivity) are absorbed, trapped, and stored within organic materials that are buried underground or away from sunlight at some point. (In this line of research, rocks and teeth come up a lot.) The amount of electrons can be analyzed and measured, as can the rate at which the electrons were confined within the specimen, resulting in a calculated “dose” or “dose rate”: i.e., how long such material had been exposed to sunlight, how much sunlight it absorbed, and, therefore, the approximate age of the specimen prior to its burial.
If the material is exposed to extreme heat early on (such as an ancient flint tool or ceramic jar placed in the fire by a resident of an earlier civilization), the heat releases the electrons, zeroing out the “age” of the artifact. Though this may sound frustrating for those who work in this field, it’s actually the opposite in many cases, as it helps in determining the date that organic material was formed into a tool (or jar, etc.) and fired (or exposed to sunlight), because the electrons are reabsorbed from that moment forward (“resetting the clock,” to use a phrase many in this field have said). In other words, a tool “reset” by fire or sun five hundred thousand years ago would show five hundred thousand years of electrons trapped within it, and, thus, an approximate age reflecting that timeline.
After an object is unearthed, the electrons display “luminescence signals” that, once subjected to laboratory light waves, emit photons that can further determine how long it’s been since the object was exposed to cosmic rays (how long it’s been underground).
And again, since we’re at this very moment still studying the relationship between organic materials and sunlight, these methods of dating do not require sticking to any previously established cosmological explanation or history of proofs on either side of the argument. It’s quite simple: Electrons get trapped every day, including today, and we are able to measure the rate at which that occurs even now and sharpen our techniques of determining the age of older objects. So, dismissing these methods is not as simple as saying, “Science got that wrong, too.”
UP NEXT: More Evidence—Distance from Earth to the Stars
[i] “Chazy Reef at Isle laMotte,” Department of Environmental Conservation, last accessed May 4, 2023, https://dec.vermont.gov/geological-survey/vermont-geology/Chazy#:~:text=The%20significance%20of%20recognizing%20reefs,Vermont%20460%20million%20years%20ago. The top of the article says this information was “Condensed from text by Dr. Charlotte Mehrtens, Vermont Geological Society Summer Field Trip, 1998.”
[ii] Harder, Ben, “Great Barrier Reef Surprisingly Young: New Geological Data Point to Age of Less Than a Million Years,” June 1, 2001, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), last accessed March 15, 2023, https://www.science.org/content/article/great-barrier-reef-surprisingly-young.
[iv] Buis, Alan, “Flip Flop: Why Variations in Earth’s Magnetic Field Aren’t Causing Today’s Climate Change,” August 3, 2021, Ask NASA Climate, last accessed March 9, 2023, https://climate.nasa.gov/ask-nasa-climate/3104/flip-flop-why-variations-in-earths-magnetic-field-arent-causing-todays-climate-change/.