- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.)
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.
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?
Let us see where these most modern measurements come from, and which assumptions lay underneath them.
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.
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.
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.
Assumptions (additional to A&B):
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.
E. This assumes that our standard model of stars accurately knows the rate at which helium is produced during nuclear reactions.
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?
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.
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.
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.
The Reboot Argument for YEC:
“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.