Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wha? Reboot makes a YOUNG earth creationist argument?

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are probably confused by the title. After all, I have made three things clear frequently:
  1. Genesis 1 tells us very little about the age of the universe, but instead is focused on debunking the myth of Egyptian cosmology and showing that YHWH was the Creator of all, in an orderly fashion. When we argue age of the earth, we miss the very point of the passage.
  2. Even if it were meant to tell us of the age of the universe, the numbers are meaningless without a reference frame, due to relativity effects. Clocks run differently from different viewpoints, and the Earth’s viewpoint wasn’t established at the beginning of Genesis 1, so we do not know which clock is doing the timing anyway. (See also Ps 90:4.)
  3. If I am forced to guess the age of the universe, I consistently have stated that I am a cosmic time creationist. That is, we have directly proved relativity to be true, and because of that any two people who measure something will always get slightly different time results, if you have accurate enough clocks (due to differences in gravity and speed). When you talk about astronomical scales, these effects are massive: there are DEFINITELY many places in the universe where a clock would measure Earth's history as exactly six days old, while the Earth's clock would dilate and "tick" 4.5 billion years. So the earth's age the time in which is was created are two different things:  the age of the earth is how much the earth has aged, while the time of creation is how long (from God's perspective, in an undilated clock) it took for God to create. (This effect was known all the way back to the time of David, for the Psalms tell us that a day in God's eyes are thousands of years to humans.)
And yet here I am, about to make a young earth creationist case. Why?
The primary reason is because there are not good cases being made! Someone needs to do it!

I have recently been reading In Six Days, a collection of essays purportedly about young earth creationism. I did this because I was genuinely interested in seeing if there was something I had not thought of here. These essays do contain some fantastic anti-evolutionist arguments…yet almost nothing about the age of the universe. It is just taken as an assumption that “no evolution = young earth” to many of these authors.
Yet the belief in an old earth or cosmic-time-earth for Judeo-Christians long predates any concepts of evolutionary theory. The two are not at all related, in fact. Evolutionary theory arose not in an “old earth” paradigm but in a Steady State paradigm—originally in fact, evolutionists were very against the Big Bang model, which has a clear beginning to time and space. So the age of the universe is a separate issue to evolution. We can deny evolution and still have an old earth; or we can accept evolution and try to fit it in a young earth model.
So typically when young earth creationists try and make their case, they go for one of two approaches:
• Disprove Evolution: As mentioned, this is a non sequitur argument because evolution has nothing to do with the age of the earth. Evolution prefers an old earth to a young one, sure—and an infinitely old one is better still. But if somehow you proved the earth was young, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the evolutionists would have a theory for rapid evolution ready to go within a month. Why? Because evolution and age of the earth are two different things. Attacking evolution doesn’t help you at all with the age of the earth question.
• Attack the Measurements.  The other approach is to try and discredit the measurements. One example might be to try to explain why such and such dating method is unreliable because in one instance it was wrong (due to a corrupt sample). Or try to argue that facts were faked by scientists (or God). Or try to pick one or two very specific examples (like salt accumulation levels in the ocean) and set it up as some sort of ultimate disproof.
The problem with this approach is that it isn’t very effective, because the measurements are overwhelmingly in favor of the old-earth viewpoint. Remember—science has changed its view on age of the earth multiple times in the past. Scientists used to think the earth was infinitely old, and then within a decade bowed to the newer evidence in favor of the Big Bang…even though that made the creationist’s case stronger. I know many scientists, and very few will refuse to follow the evidence where it leads. And the evidence is quite strong, in many fields, that the earth appears to have an ancient age.
 So then, young earth creationist arguments are not convincing when they use these approaches—and about 90% of them do use these approaches. Yet that is not to say that there is no good approach, just because others aren't using them. What should a young earth creationist argue, if they wish to try and convince a scientist?
There is, to me, one very valid YEC approach:
Debate the assumptions underlying the measurements.

As I said, the measurements themselves are repeatable, reliable, and strong. So if you wish to debate for a young earth, your only valid argument, for me, is to argue that the assumptions upon which these measurements are built are incorrect.
About 100 years ago, most scientists would have said the earth was 20-40 million years old and the universe infinitely old. Today, scientists believe that the age of the earth is 4.54 + 0.05 billion years, and the age of the universe is 13.772 + 0.059 billion years. Unlike 100 years ago, when scientists disagreed wildly, most modern scientists are pretty well in very good agreement on the modern measurements.
Let us see where these most modern measurements come from, and which assumptions lay underneath them.
And then we will build our Young Earth case.
The Scientific Method of Dating

We will analyze each of the primary pieces of evidence one at a time.
1. Age of earth rocks: Radiometric dating.
All rocks are made up of a combination of elements from your high school periodic table. Sometimes these occur as isotopes, where the atom has a different number of neutrons than the “typical” version of the element. Many isotopes are inherently unstable, however, and over time they decay. This process creates a new, stable atom and releases the other particles in the process.
From the last hundred years of study, we know that these decays happen at extremely predictable rates, called decay rates. For example, we can demonstrate in the laboratory that Uranium-238, given time, decays into Lead-206. We know exactly the rate at which this decay occurs.
So if a geologist wishes to date a particular rock, he simply looks at the ratio of Uranium-238 in the rock and compares it to the ratio of Lead-206. From this point it is simple math to calculate how long ago this decay process started.
What is useful about radiometric dating is that generally the rocks have multiple such samples within them. For example, in the same sample above (U-238 decay), we also could look for the amount of Uranium-235 and the amount of Lead-207 (the daughter material of U-235). By measuring this number as well we can get a double-check of our numbers.
This can give us very reliable dates for the ages of various rocks. When we have done these tests, no matter where we find the rocks on the earth, the rocks date remarkably consistently:
A. There is an inherent assumption in this process, though—we assume that the sample has not been contaminated. That is, the amount of “daughter” and “parent” material that we measure is assumed to be existing from the original sample. But what if factors like plate tectonics, weathering, and other phenomena contaminated the sample? In that case though our math was correct, the things we are measuring are not representative of that rock’s true history. So if more of the ‘daughter’ material was somehow put into the rock by a process we do not understand, or less of the ‘parent’ material existed to begin with, then these rocks would give misleadingly old ages.
B. Another assumption is that the decay rates we have measured are scalable. Obviously we have not been able to wait around 4.47 billion years to directly measure that the half-life of U-238 is true! Rather, we observe the decay over short periods of observation, several million times in the laboratories and if all of these are consistent (and all have been), then we extrapolate that this atomic decay rate is consistent. As of now we have no explanation which could describe how atoms could decay at an inconsistent rate, and no evidence that they do so. But technically yes, that is an assumption.
2. Age of extraterrestrial rocks
To minimize the risk of Earth’s processes monkeying with rock ages, meteorites are typically dated. Meteorites are not subject to the Earth’s forming process, having fallen here afterward. These meteorites also have been found to be about 4.55 billion years old. What does this have to do with the age of the Earth? Well, the assumption is that the meteorites are made out of the same stuff as the Earth. Every meteorite measured, by any method, comes back with a date of about 4.55-4.56 billion years old.
During the Apollo missions, moon rocks were returned. They underwent the same radiometric dating techniques, and were (like the meteorites) dated at right around 4.5 billion years.
Assumptions (additional to A&B):
C. The moon and meteorites in our solar system were formed about the same time as the Earth. Otherwise, this age would tell us nothing of Earth’s history, only theirs. (Though it would be evidence for the age of the universe.)
3. Glacier ice layers
Like rings on a tree, glaciers have clear ice layers from their annual heating/cooling/refreezing cycles. We can watch those at the poles and see that they form repeatable layers. We have pulled some of our oldest existing ice samples and counted up to 750,000 of these annual rings.

D. The laying down of ice rings has not been more aggressive in the past than during the time that we have observed it.
4. Helioseismology
Wave oscillations (pressure waves) come off of the sun in ways which are measurable. The study of these waves is a very specific branch of physics called helioseismology. It is this method that we use to identify sunspots, among other things. The waves travel differently depending upon the different composition of the material, and thus from the way the sun’s waves are traveling we can deduce the percentage of hydrogen and helium in the sun. Using this percentage we can then calculate the age of the sun—how long has hydrogen been fused into helium in order for the sun to burn and to appear to be the size and color that it is? This calculation gives an age of around 4.6 billion years for the sun’s thermonuclear processes.
E. This assumes that our standard model of stars accurately knows the rate at which helium is produced during nuclear reactions.
5. Age of galaxies from time travel of light
The speed of light has been measured thousands of times and is very consistent, 186,000 miles per second. From relativity, we know that nothing can travel faster than this speed. Relativity has been consistently demonstrated literally millions of times—in fact, if it weren’t true, most of our satellite based systems like GPS’s and clocks in your cell phones would fail to function. It has also been directly demonstrated with atomic clocks and muons and in dozens of other ways. So we have exceptionally high confidence in relativity, and this makes it mathematically impossible for light to travel faster than 186,000 miles per second.
Also, we have observed directly, many times, that every galaxy we see is moving away from us. Therefore the universe is expanding (something we can prove in many other ways as well). So since we know the speed of light is a maximum, and we can see light from other galaxies that move away from us, then if we only knew the distance we could calculate the time directly.
How do we determine distance to stars? Well that is not simple—we must build one technique upon another, called the Cosmic Distance Ladder.
Step 1: Direct Measurement is possible for relatively close objects.
First we look at a distant object today and record its position, and then look at the same object when we are on the opposite side of the sun and record its position. Now we have formed a triangle, with the base being the diameter of our orbit around the sun. (This technique is called Parallax. You could do the same by closing one eye and then the other. When you see the object shift, if you measured the angle at each side and then the distance between your eyes, you would be doing exactly what we do with stars.) From this it is simple trigonometry to calculate its distance. This is good for objects pretty close to us; objects which are further away don’t shift enough to be measured using our current technology.
Using this method we can measure some nearby objects as about 3260 light-years away. Since the speed of light is set, we know that these objects are at least 3260 years old (that is, about the age of the nation of Israel).
However, there are many objects that we cannot measure this way—the majority of the universe, in fact, is behind these “close” objects, and thus don’t move enough for us to notice. So what do we do then?
Step 2: Standard Candles.
Now we look at those nearby stars whose distance we know well, and we classify what types of stars they are. Based on the type of radiation we are getting from them, can we figure out what classification of star they are? We do this and classify all of the stars we can.
When we look at one of those distance stars—too far away to measure by Step 1—and see what class it falls into. By looking at the close stars of that type, we know how bright the star should be. So then we measure how bright it actually is. This difference in brightness is used to tell us how far away these standard candles are. This is good for in-between distances.
 Step 3: Galactic Measures.
There are a whole host of galactic measurement methods, all of which pretty well agree with one another. I’m not going to list them all here as this post is much longer than I expected it to be already! But basically they all come down to this: (a) pick a really big thing that we can see in a distant galaxy, (b) compare it to closer similar objects, and (c) from the difference in radiation that we see, calculate the distance.
Despite the difficulty, these measurements give extremely consistent results, measuring the oldest stars at 13.2 billion years.
F. This method is obviously very strong for the 3000 year old distances and progressively prone to errors the further away you get. If the standard candles we are using are not standard, then we have a problem! Or, if errors are made on a direct measurement then these can propagate to the longer measurements
By the time we get to measuring the furthest distances, we have used this “distance laddering” quite often and have a large number of assumptions piled up by this point. Any failure in any one, and the entire ladder comes crashing back down to a universal age of a few thousand years.
(PS: However…this also means that Big Bang cosmology is not right—make this argument with care! Big Bang is the best pro-creation argument ever, and is well supported by documentation; going back to a steady-state or oscillating history model is much harder to resolve with Scripture than an old earth!)
(PPS: I do not personally consider the speed of light’s constancy as an assumption, though some would. It is directly predicted as a maximum through relativity which has been proved too many times to reasonably doubt this.)
6. Expansion rate of the galaxies
Everywhere we look in the sky, we see galaxies moving away from us—and at faster rates each year. This and many other strange observations led to the creation of the Big Bang Cosmological model by a priest Georges Lemaitre—a model which has gone on to be upheld with every test we can think of. One such test is that it predicted there should be some very cool cosmic background radiation, barely above absolute zero, which should be everywhere in space. This was discovered accidentally in the 1960s, and has been measured to be 3K (about -454 F) in every direction. Very tiny variations in this are measured and based on this and the other pillars of the Big Bang model, we predict an age of the universe of 13.77 billion years.
The assumptions here are the same as F above.
Additional General Assumptions for all methods:
G. All of the above assumes that physics works the same way everywhere in the universe. If this was somehow found not to be true, then obviously everything from science would need to be ignored.
H. All of the above also assumes that there is nothing unique about our place as observers which would invalidate our measurements.

The Underlying Assumptions

These eight key underlying assumptions are the critical ones which a young earth creationist (YEC) debate should be attacking. You won’t win the argument by attacking the measuring methods or pointing out an occasional outlier or contaminated sample. The facts are overwhelming. So if you wish to argue against old earth measurements, your best approach is to attack it at its foundations:
A. The samples of rocks we use for radiometric dating might be contaminated by some natural process that we know (like tectonics) or don’t know.
B. We only measure decay rates for short periods and then extrapolate the values to calculate the half-life; if an unknown factor makes this extrapolation inappropriate, then all dating must be ignored.
C. The age of the moon and meteorites might not be representative of the age of the earth. (Note: this only helps you with the age of the earth problem, not with the age of the universe problem. But presumably a gap theorist could say that the meteorites and moon rocks already existed prior to the start of the Earth’s creation.)
D. Something might have happened in the past which altered the speed at which annual ice layers were formed in glaciers.
E. Maybe we are wrong somehow about the rate at which helium is formed in nuclear reactions.
F. Maybe the standard candles are unreliable and thus they add up to being something different over long distances, so all of those ‘distant’ galaxies are actually just shoved in the 7,000 light years space that is behind the 3,000 light year stars we can measure directly today.
G. Maybe physics simply doesn’t work the same everywhere—the speed of light or physical laws like gravity, maybe they are different in different parts of the universe.
H. Maybe things only look that way from our particular place, God did it as a test or something.
So these are the underlying assumptions of the sciences. None of those assumptions can be directly proved today, so that is where you should attack if you wish to.

The Reboot Argument for YEC:

So if I were to make a case for a young earth, I would say something like this:

“I will start by just granting you the assumption that physics is universal and not local—that physics works the same everywhere else in the universe as it does here. (Although you can’t prove that assumption, I do agree with it.) I also grant you the Parallax measurements of nearby stars, which is firm and consistent. I also agree that the way in which you measure decay rates is acceptable, and ‘weird results’ that other creationists attack are actually just outliers based on contamination.

However, I have two main problems.

First, decay rate calculations are a massive extrapolation. We measure decay rates for a few minutes in the laboratory and then from this we extrapolate billions of years of half-life. This is essentially the same as measuring something in your house for one second and assuming that from this measurement we can draw conclusions about the last 1,300 years of history. In other words, this is a HUGE extrapolation. Furthermore, we have been doing this for only about 100 years…who is to say that as we understand physics more two hundred years from now, we won’t realize that nuclear decay works differently than we currently believe? Or that there is a factor not being taken into account? And if these half-rate extrapolations are unreliable, then the age of the rocks is irrelevant: use a bad method, and your results should be ignored.

Second, the use of standard candles in measuring age of the universe is a major stretch. We have never been close to any other star, so we are making an awful lot of assumptions about how stars work based just upon our at-a-distance measurements of their brightness. Who is to say that our standard model of stellar aging is just flat-out wrong? Then the standard candles are not standard at all…and therefore useless. The cosmic distance ladder falls apart then. So all distant galaxies fall past the area we can measure by parallax (approx. 3000 light-years), and the start of creation some 10,000 years ago."
That is not an argument that a scientist can disprove. If I were a Young Earth Creationist, that is the way I would go about it. So for all my YEC friends out there, pick your battles strategically and put together a plan that is consistent and makes sense. Stop attacking the measurements and ethics of scientists, and instead focus on the assumptions, which cannot be proved definitively.

As I said, I am a cosmic time creationist--for more about this, read Schroeder's Science of God. But the above is something which no scientist can disprove.

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