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The Age of the Earth and Historical Geology
by Philip Stott
By far the greatest influence in establishing the current ideas of historical geology, with its vast time scale of many millions of years, is due to the work of Charles Lyell1, who built on the work of James Hutton2. As can be seen from their biographies they were talented and able men troubled by antipathy to the gospel.
The observed facts of geology remain from year to year, but their interpretation changes as they are coloured by the beliefs and the world-view of the geological theorist.
Lyell's most influential work, "Principles of Geology" ran to many editions, the later ones being openly hostile to Christianity and the Bible. In chapters 3 and 4 of Principles of Geology3 (reproduced here with thanks to the Source Book Project) one can see the skill and vigour with which Lyell attacks the Scriptures in general and Noah's flood in particular. "Principles" was accepted as the guiding light and foundation for the whole of geology.
"The Students’ Elements of Geology" 4,(several chapters reproduced here with thanks to the Gutenberg project ) is Lyell's textbook which leaves out most of the historical background and anti-scriptural diatribes of his voluminous "Principles." It is well worth studying, but one should bear in mind that its theorizing is the product of a fallible mind openly opposed to Holy Writ.
One can see in the "Elements" lucid descriptions of rocks and formations which everyone, whether he believes in an old or young age, can accept. The difference between a disciple of Lyell and a believer in the Scriptures is only in his hypotheses concerning the details of how those rocks and formations came about. Lyell championed Hutton’s dictum "the present is the key to the past." He formalized this idea in his famous principle of uniformitarianism :-
"No processes have, from the earliest times to which we can look back, to the present, ever acted but those now acting, and they have never acted with degrees of energy different to which they now exert."
But in this he is seen to be inconsistent from the very first chapter of the Elements. His description of the sedimentary rocks notes the almost invariable presence of fossils. His description of deposition taking place at river estuaries and lakes today gives the impression that the resulting deposits observed today are almost the same. However there are two very striking differences which Lyell fails to emphasize. The first is the vast scale of the deposition of the sedimentary rocks compared to anything observed today, the second is the lack of similar fossils being formed in slowly deposited sediments today (though there are observations of fossils forming following major catastrophe 5 ). These two considerations alone are reason enough to question the whole of historical geology’s theorizing.
Geologists have come to accept that Lyell's "principle" is not true, and have replaced it with a bland "the laws of science have remained constant over time." This is again only an assumption. It is very different to Lyell's. It does not allow an estimate of ages in the way that Lyell's "principle" did. Geologists today broadly accept that major catastrophes caused the features of geology with assumed long, but indeterminate ages between them. However, Lyell's ages are accepted as sacrosanct and indisputable even though their foundation has been washed away..
Lyell, following the lead of Hutton, denied the Biblical flood. Many geologists of the period believed the Bible, and accounted for the observed facts - vast quantities of rock obviously laid down in water, remains of sea creatures on the tops of mountains, etc. in terms of this flood. But the belief of many, if not most, became strained by formations showing evidence of major disturbances, uplift, tilting, erosion etc. within the rock record they had taken to be laid down as a single sequence in the flood. Almost all the geologists of the time seem to have compared the flood described in the Bible with a severe form of present-day flood, primarily caused by 40 days of torrential rain in otherwise relatively peaceful conditions causing the water-level to rise uniformly and continuously over the earth. Observations do not fit with such a flood, and it is perhaps not surprising that many abandoned their belief. Such a flood ignores the statement in Genesis 7:11 that "all the fountains of the great deep were broken up," and that in Amos 9:6 which speaks of "he who calleth for the waters of the sea and poureth them out upon the face of the earth" These statements clearly mark out Noah's flood as being in a class of its own. Lyell’s historical geology appeared to have plausible explanations for features which a tranquil flood did not. They seem to have been unaware of equally telling observations which do not fit at all well with Lyell’s story. Tree trunks 10m or more in length standing vertically in horizontal strata do not fit well with his theory of gradual deposition uniformly and continuously being laid down at presently observed rates, they speak of vast quantities of sediment laid down catastrophically. The same is true of dinosaurs fossilized in upright positions 5.
Today we are perhaps in a better position to appreciate the astounding magnitude and ferocity of the flood. In the early 1980's geologists discovered evidence for a major catastrophe which has been most commonly interpreted as the impact of a meteorite of at least 10 km in diameter6. Calculations for such an impact showed vast quantities of water being thrown up from the ocean at enormous speed, vast quantities of water being turned to steam, waves five kilometres high sweeping over the entire earth in 27 hours moving at about the speed of sound, and earthquakes millions of times more powerful than the most powerful observed today. Subsequent observations have persuaded many that the impacting body was probably about 200 km in diameter- with vastly more drastic consequences. Other observations have persuaded many that a series of major impacts occurred. We have also had the opportunity of studying the rapid unfolding of geological processes once thought to require vast amounts of time following the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, and the emergence of the island of Surtsey near Iceland in the mid 1960's. There are also far better "models" for possible flood mechanisms, as for example, the Hydroplate theory proposed by Walter Brown, John Baumgardner's Runaway Subduction and Arthur Chadwick's Creation Flood model.
After the discovery of radioactivity it was thought that radioactive dating methods would give indisputable ages for rocks. This was not the case. Radiometric dating methods give surprisingly poor consistency and probably tell us nothing about ages at all. The only rocks found to give consistent dates are meteorites and their radiometric ages are very dubious. Melvyn Cook pointed out that a neutron capture mechanism can cause spurious ages. Meteorites are bathed in neutrons from the solar wind. This points up a major problem with all geological radiometric dating. One observes the behaviour of a specimen of radioactive material in carefully controlled conditions inside a lead shield in a laboratory for a short time (a few weeks or a few months), and then assumes that one can extrapolate back millions of years in unknown conditions. Recently it has been discovered that decay rates can be altered by many orders of magnitude in certain conditions. In the future it is certain that new conditions will be found which change decay rates. It is a well known fact of science that extrapolating far from the range of experimental results is invalid. Robert V Gentry's work on radiohaloes demonstrated vividly the fact that normal radiometric dating is totally unreliable.
Besides radiometric dating other things have been put forward as indicating ages greater than the Biblical time scale. Varves were considered indisputable proof of vast ages until Guy Berthault performed experiments which showed that the assumptions underlying their interpretation were wrong. In fact, his experiments showed that all the assumptions of sedimentology were wrong. This underlines the fact that all science is to some extent tentative and its practitioners are liable to make mistakes which can take a long time to correct.
Two striking examples of recent observations discrediting much of the long-held wisdom of historical geology are the formation of the island of Surtsey, and the aftermath of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.
Surtsey was formed in a volcanic eruption ending in 1967. Within months it was transformed into an island with "mature" features. The official Icelandic geologist S. Thorarinsson wrote a book "Surtsey, the new island in the North Atlantic," in which he pointed out that features which take thousands of years to form anywhere else took only a few months to form on Surtsey. What he is saying is that features whose development was not observed and which were assumed to take thousand of years to form can actually form very quickly.
The Mt. St. Helens eruption showed that many more of historical geology's assumptions are utterly wrong. A few examples include the speed of formation of soils, the speed of formation of major erosion features, the speed of deposition of finely layered sediments and the apparent formation of multi-level forests. Details can be found at the Institute for Creation Research web site.
Problems for the conventional ages of geology have proliferated. One recent problem is the finding of unfossilized dinosaur bones containing soft tissue, blood, and even DNA. The known decay rates for these items show the conventional geological dating of dinosaurs to be utterly untenable. See for example "ostrich-osaurus."
A few years ago there were very few scientists (and in particular geologists), who held to the Biblical age of the earth of just a few thousand years. As more and more of the assumptions and hypotheses of historical geology have been shown to be false or doubtful, an ever growing number have come to realize that science has no convincing proof, nor even a convincing method of providing proof, that the Scriptural time scale is not true.
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