Is the Earth Young?

This is a list of ten "evidences for a young earth". They were originally found on a webpage hosted by the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), but the list has evidently been removed from the CARM website. CARM continues to host a collection of discussion boards, which includes one on creation vs evolution. The arguments that I criticize here are not original to CARM, and can be found in many creationist sources. So I will keep this page, as the arguments and my responses remain representative of the creation - evolution contest.

I have prepared a detailed response to each of these items. There is a summary of my response after each item. Fully developed versions are linked from the summaries, as needed. In each case, either the alleged evidence is directly false, or it is weakly presented. And in the case of item 10, the creationist evidence is indeed correct, but irrelevant.

My responses are designed to emphasize the fact that, even though creation scientists are convinced that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, they repeatedly fail whenever they try to support such claims with objective, empirical evidence.

There are far more young-earth arguments out there, than the 10 I chose to criticize here. Most of them are equally flawed or worse. You will find links to other resources on the age of the earth, and suggested reading, at the end of this list.


Evidence 1.
Atomic clocks, which have for the last 22 years measured the earth's spin rate to the nearest billionth of a second, have consistently found that the earth is slowing down at a rate of almost one second a year. If the earth were billions of years old, its initial spin rate would have been fantastically rapid--so rapid that major distortion in the shape of the earth would have occurred. a) Arthur Fisher, "The Riddle of the leap Second," Popular Science, Vol. 202, March, 1973, pp. 110-113, 164-166. b) Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory, Earth Motions and Their Effect on Air Force Systems, November 1975, p. 6. c) Jack Fincher, "And Now, Atomic Clocks," Readers' Digest, Vol. III, November 1977, p. 34.

Response:
As explained on the Leapsecond page of the National Earth Orientation Service, the true spindown rate of the earth is 1.5 to 2 milliseconds per day per century. That means that after 100 years, the length of day has systematically increased (on average) 0.0015 to 0.002 seconds. This is also found, for instance, in Kurt Lambecks's book "The Earth's Variable Rotation" (Cambridge University Press, 1980; currently out of print), page 3. This is a long-term secular variation. As Lambeck and numerous others point out, there are variations on the length of day that range from daily to seasonal in scale, so that the true length of day can vary greatly from day to day, over multi-year time scales.

The author of this argument has failed to realize that one second as defind by the rotation of the earth is slightly longer than one second as defined by atomic clocks. So the earth-rotation time scale runs about 2 milliseconds per day behind the atomic clock scale (because the two use seconds that are not the same length). The leap second is a convenient device for keeping the two timescales always within 0.9 seconds of each other. It is not a result of the earth slowing down by one second per year.


Evidence 2.
Direct measurements of the earths magnetic field over the past 140 years show a steady and rapid decline in its strength. This decay pattern is consistent with the theoretical view that there is an electrical current inside the earth which produces the magnetic field. If this view is correct, then 25,000 years ago the electrical current would have been so vast that the earth's structure could not have survived the heat produced. This would imply that the earth could not be older than 25,000 years. a) Thomas G. Barnes, Origin and Destiny of the Earth's Magnetic Field (San Diego: Institute for Creation Research, 1973).

Response:
The argument in general is very weak. The argument as made by Barnes is directly false. I have already written an extensive critique of Barnes' work, which is found in the talk.origins archive. Barnes' argument is tightly circular and illogical, since it directly assumes the truth of the proposition to be proved. Barnes makes the simplistic mistake of extraplating an empirical fit to a 150 year data set over a 10,000 year range and claims the extrapolation is valid! Barnes wrongly insists that dynamo action is forbidden by Cowling's theorem, ignoring the fact that Cowling himself had already proven that this could not be true, 15 years before Barnes published his book! A very poor argument.


Evidence 3.
The atmosphere has less than 40,000 years worth of helium, based on just the production of helium from the decay of uranium and thorium. There is no known means by which large amounts of helium can escape from the atmosphere. The atmosphere appears to be young. a) Melvin A. Cook, Prehistory and Earth Models (London: Max Parrish, 1966), pp. 10-14.

Response:
Directly false. Current observation & measurement shows that the rate of helium loss from the atmosphere balances the rate of production through radioactive decay in the crust and mantle. Cook was unaware of the loss of ionized helium along polar magnetic field lines, as are more current champions of the same argument. A detailed response is available.


Evidence 4.
There have been no authenticated reports of the discovery of meteorites in sedimentary material. If the sediments, which have an average depth of 1 miles, were laid down over hundreds of millions of years, any of these steadily falling meteorites should have been discovered. Therefore, the sediments appear to have been deposited rapidly; furthermore, since there have been no reports of meteorites beneath the sediments, they appear to have been deposited recently. a) Peter A. Steveson, "Meteoric Evidence or a Young Earth," Creation Research Quarterly, Vol. 12, June, 1975, pp. 23-25.

Response:
Directly false. Meteorites in fossilized sediments are rare, but they do exist. And meteoritic dust and debris are quite common in sediments. There are also a few hundred undeniable impact structures (i.e. craters) on the earth. A detailed response is available.


Evidence 5.
The rate at which meteoritic dust is accumulating on the earth is such that after 5 billion years, the equivalent of 182 feet of this dust should have accumulated. Because this dust is high in nickel, there should be an exceedingly large amount of nickel in the crustal rocks of the earth. No such concentration has been found--on land or in the oceans. Consequently, the earth appears to be young. a) Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974), pp. 151-153. b) Steveson, pp. 23-25. c) Hans Peterson, "Cosmic Spherules and Meteoritic Dust," Scientific American, Vol. 202, February, 1960, p. 132.

Evidence 6.
If the moon were billions of years old, it should have accumulated extensive layers of space dust--possibly a mile in thickness. Before instruments were placed on the moon, NASA was very concerned that our astronauts would sink into a sea of dust. This did not happen; there is very little space dust on the moon. Conclusion: the moon is young.

Response:
Since items 5 & 6 deal with essentially the same thing, that being the accumulation rate of interplanetary dust, on either the earth or the moon, I have taken them together. The short answer is that this argument is diirectly false. The accumulation rate of meteorite dust is now known by way of direct observation. That measured rate is inconsistent with the young-earth argument. Add to this the fact that the citation of Pettersson's work is not correct, and you get an argument that was already weak when it was originally generated, but now stands simply falsified. A more detailed response is available.


Evidence 7.
The sun acts as a giant vacuum cleaner which sweeps up about 100,000 tons of micrometeoriods per day. If the solar system were just 10,000 years old, no micrometeoriods should remain since there is no significant source of replenishment. A large disk shaped cloud of these particles is orbiting the sun. Conclusion: the solar system is less than 10,000 years old. Paul M. Steidl, The Earth, the Stars, and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), pp. 60-61.

Response:
Directly false. While it is true that the dynamic lifetime of dust in the solar system is short compared to the age of the solar system, the statement that there is no significant source of replenishment is known to be false. A detailed response is available.


Evidence 8.
Since 1836, over 100 different observers at the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the U.S. Naval Observatory have made direct visual measurements which show that the diameter of the sun is shrinking at a rate of about .1% each century or about 5 feet per hour! Furthermore, records of solar eclipses infer that this rapid shrinkage has been going on for at least the past 400 yearsa. Several indirect techniques also confirm this gravitational collapse, although these inferred collapse rates are only about 1/7th as much.b-c Using the most conservative data, one must conclude that had the sun existed a million years ago, it would have been so large that it would have heated the earth so much that life could not have survived. Yet, evolutionists say that a million years ago all the present forms of life were essentially as they are now, having completed their evolution that began a thousand million years ago. a)"Analyses of Historical Data Suggest Sun is Shrinking," Physics Today, September, 1979, pp. 17-19. b) David W. Dunham, et. al., "Observations of a Probable Change in the Solar Radius Between 1715 and 1979," Science, Vol. 210, December 12, 1980, pp. 1243-1245. c) Irwin I. Shapiro, "Is the Sun Shrinking?", Science, Vol. 208, April 4, 1980, pp. 51-53.

Response:
Directly false. The original proponents of this argument failed to appreciate the fact that the study cited by Dunham was never published. In fact, it was revoked by the authors prior to publication when they realized that their own data were flawed. Current detailed observations show that the sun is not shrinking in radius, but may pulsate slowly over a solar cycle period of about 11 years. Theory suggests that the sun is slowly expanding over time. A detailed response is available.


Evidence 9.
Short period comets "boil off" some of their mass each time they pass the sun. Nothing should remain of these comets after about 10,000 years. There are no known sources for replenishing comets. If comets came into existence at the same time as the solar system, the solar system must be less than 10,000 years old.

Response:
Directly false. This argument suuffers from the same fatal flaw as the dust arguments: the denial of a significant source of replenishment, when there are strong data to show the opposite. The argument is even more seriously damaged by the detection of the Kuiper belt. A detailed response is available.


Evidence 10.
Jupiter and Saturn are each radiating more than twice the energy they receive from the sun. Calculations show that it is very unlikely that this energy comes from radioactive decay or gravitational contraction. The only other conceivable explanation is that these planets have not existed long enough to cool off. a) H. H. Aumann and C. M. Gillespie, Jr., "The Internal Powers and Effective Temperature of Jupiter and Saturn,: The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 157, Jul, 1969, pp. 169-172. b) "Close Encounter with Saturn," Time, November 10, 1980, p.78. c) Steidl, pp. 51-52, 55.

Response:
True, although some of the details are slightly in error. All of the giant outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune) radiate more energy than they receive from the sun. The worst offender in that way is Neptune. The reason given is also correct, the planets indeed have not had time to cool off. However, the author of this argument naively fails to appreciate that it takes several billion years for masses of these sizes to cool off, and that there are significant sources of internal heat other than heavy isotope radioactive decay (such as internal viscous friction from helium settling out in the mostly hydrogen mantles). So the creationists are right on this one, but it still doesn't help. Is a more detailed response necessary?

Other Sources:

  • How Good Are Those Young Earth Arguments?
    An extensive collection by Dave Matson, who specializes in responding to the myriad of arguments for a young earth raised by Kent Hovind.

  • Age of the Earth FAQS
    A series of 16 FAQ files from the talk.origins archive. Each deals with a different aspect of the young-earth arguments.

    "The Age of the Earth"
    A book by G. Brent Dalrymple. Stanford University Press, 1994. Also available through Amazon.Com. This is the definitive book on the scientific determination of the age of the earth. Written for a nontechnical audience, by one of the leading authorities in the field. A must-read for anyone interested in how one goes about determining the age of the earth, and why the methods work.

    "Science and Earth History - The Evolution/Creation Controversy"
    A book by Arthur Strahler. Prometheus Books, 1987. Also available through Amazon.Com. Strahler is a geologist,and former chairman of the geology department at Columbia University. This is an excellently written treatise, intended for a nontechnical audience. Strahler spends over 500 pages on careful descriptions of mainstream geology, and detailed explanations of how young-earth arguments are flawed. Still in print, and another must-read.

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