Mainstream science holds the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old, with a surface sculpted by geologic processes such as plate tectonics and erosion and sediment deposition operating over many millions of years. In contrast, Young Earth (YE) creationism holds the earth to have been created only about 6,000 years ago, as indicated by a literal interpretation of Genesis. The worldwide Noahic Flood was responsible for laying down most of the earth’s sedimentary rock layers in the span about of one year.
Those who believe the earth to be very old can present observations such as 50,000 annual layers in lake sediments and in glacier ice cores, which appear to be incompatible with a young earth, as we described earlier in “ Some Simple Evidences for an Old Earth “.
Young Earth creationist organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research counter by presenting various evidences for a young earth. These evidences take the form of observations which, it is claimed, cannot be reconciled with long ages.
As an example of these young earth evidences, here is a slide shown by Ken Ham as part of his debate with Bill Nye in February, 2014:
The claim is that the physical evidences for the processes listed in this slide are not consistent with a very old earth. For instance, item #1 in this list refers to the claim that helium is accumulating so fast in the atmosphere that if the earth were really billions of years old, the helium level would be much higher than we see today. Item #26 claims that the amount of uranium in the oceans, given the amount of uranium being washed in by rivers, is so low that the earth cannot be more than a few million years old. We will examine these particular claims below.
Henry Morris’s Lists of “Uniformitarian Estimates” of the Age of the Earth
Where do YE creationists come up with their lists of evidence for a young earth? Henry Morris, co-author of The Genesis Flood (1961), is widely acknowledged as the father of the modern young earth creationist movement. In the 1970’s and 1980’s he published various versions of a table titled “Uniformitarian Estimates – Age of the Earth”. This table had typically 68 to 76 entries, each one purporting to represent a physical “Process” which yielded an “Estimated Age of the Earth”.
Before diving into this list, consider the following: Lake Erie is one of several large lakes lying between the U.S. and Canada. If you divide the volume of the lake by the volumetric flow of all the rivers entering it, you come up with 2.6 years as the average residence time of water in the lake. In other words, if Lake Erie was initially a big empty hole in the ground, and its tributaries suddenly began flowing into it, it would take 2.6 years to fill it to its present size. Does this mean that Lake Erie has only existed for 2.6 years? Of course not: there is an outlet (the Niagara River) that balances the water that is entering Lake Erie, so the lake has existed in its present form for thousands of years with the water at roughly the same level as today. It would be absurd to ignore the outlet from the lake, and to insist that Lake Erie cannot not be more than 2.6 years old since it has not yet overflowed its basin. As we shall see, this type of absurd reasoning underlies many of the items in Morris’s table.
One version of the Henry Morris “Uniformitarian Estimates” table with 76 entries is here, as part of an article by Morris describing his methodology. Another Morris table with 70 entries is here . Here are the first 17 and the last 11 entries from that table (we skip the middle entries for compactness):
Morris claims that these estimates of the maximum age of the earth all are much less than the 4.5 billion years posited by mainstream science, and thus the earth cannot be as old as the scientists say.
Misrepresenting Elements Dissolved in the Ocean
Nearly half of these “Uniformitarian Estimates” deal with influx of elements to the ocean. These “Estimates” are all utterly bogus. The numbers cited here are simply the amount of each element in the ocean divided by the current influx rate of that element, i.e. the residence time. As with the 2.6 year residence time of the water in Lake Erie, this says nothing about the age of the ocean. Morris is assuming that there is no mechanism of removal of these elements from the ocean, so that (for instance) the current level of strontium would build up (starting from zero) in a mere 19 million (not 4.5 billion) years. But this assumption of no removal of the elements is dead wrong. The rates of removal of most of the elements from the ocean water by various types of deposition in the ocean sediments are well-understood, and match the rates of their influx via rivers within experimental accuracy. This can be seen easily with the 100-year residency of aluminum and the 140-year residency of iron (entry 60 in the table excerpt above). Clearly, there are processes by which iron and aluminum are being removed from the water column, since their seawater concentrations are NOT doubling every century. The figure below illustrates what Morris omitted:
The same is true for the other elements. For instance, in the case of uranium, a 2002 study of the Holocene oceans by Dunk, et al. quantified the specific processes involved with removal of uranium from seawater (removal to oxygen-depleted sediments, incorporation into biogenic carbonate, crustal sequestration during hydrothermal alteration and seafloor weathering, etc.), and found that that “the input and output fluxes balance within the calculated errors.”
It is gross deception to present these residency times as estimates of the maximum age of the earth. It is obvious that there are removal processes which largely balance the addition of the elements to the ocean. This has been pointed out to YE creationists for decades, but they persist in referring to these Morris tables when they wish to pad their list of young earth evidences. For instance, if you inspect Ken Ham’s slide (“HUNDREDS OF PHYSICAL PROCESSES SET LIMITS ON THE AGE OF THE UNIVERSE” – shown above) from his 2014 debate with Bill Nye, you will see many known-to-be-bogus items recycled from this old Henry Morris list, including “Uranium in Sea” and “Potassium in Sea”.
In 1990, YE creationists Steven Austin and Russell Humphreys updated the YE case regarding sodium in the oceans by listing processes that both add sodium and remove sodium. They chose their lists such that the sodium additions outpaced removals, allowing them to conclude that the oceans could be no more than 62 million years old.
In 1996 Glenn Morton (who had been a YE creationist until contact with geological data forced him to change his mind) wrote Austin and Humphreys an open letter, pointing out several key sodium removal processes which they had ignored or underestimated; when those processes were included, there was a reasonably close balance between sodium addition and removal, and thus the young earth case fails. In the regular scientific literature over the past two decades, there has been on-going progress in understanding the complex oceanic life-cycle of sodium. For instance, a 2005 study by Holland found no long-term imbalance between sodium input and removal.
Nevertheless, in 2012 Andrew Snelling of Answers in Genesis recycled the 1990 YE claims on sodium in the ocean (“Very Little Salt in the Sea”) as one of the “10 Best Evidences From Science That Confirm a Young Earth”. Snelling declined to correct the known errors in the 1990 article, as the Age of Rocks blog revealed in a series of three articles here, here , and here .
Declining Magnetic Field and Helium in the Atmosphere
There are many other YE claims that the YE creationists continue to press, even after they have been shown to be false. For instance, measurements of the strength of the earth’s magnetic field show that it has been decaying for the last several hundred years. If you assume a constant rate of decline and extrapolate backwards in time, these calculations give impossibly high values by say 10,000 years ago. The claim is therefore made that the earth must be younger than that.
The key, fatal flaw in this argument is the assumption of a constant rate of decline. There is no reason to believe that the rate of change in the magnetic field a thousand years ago or ten thousand years ago was the same as observed in the last two centuries. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that the strength of the earth’s magnetic field fluctuates up and down with time, and even completely reverses after thousands of years.
This is illustrated below, in the form of the symmetric stripes of reversed magnetic polarity which appear on either side of a mid-ocean ridge where liquid magma is injected from the mantle below. As the magma cools and solidifies to form solid sea-floor rock, it locks in the current orientation of the earth’s magnetic field. The newly-formed sea-floor moves away on either side of the ridge like a conveyer belt, showing the matching magnetic stripes on both sides. This all has been known since the 1960’s.
Therefore we would expect the magnetic field to be routinely increasing or decreasing in strength at any given time, and so the recent decline is not evidence for a young earth. Nevertheless, YE creationists erroneously continue to claim that it is (e.g. item 1 in the Morris table above, and item 10 in the Ham slide). In 2012, “Rapidly Decaying Magnetic Field“ was listed by Answers in Genesis as one of the “10 Best Evidences From Science That Confirm a Young Earth”.
“Helium in the atmosphere” is item 1 in the Ham slide and item 4 in the Morris table. A certain amount of helium enters the atmosphere every year as a product of the natural decay of uranium in crustal rocks. If there were no mechanism for removal of helium from the atmosphere, helium would build up to very high levels over 4.5 billion years. Because the actual helium level is low, the YE creationists claim this shows the earth cannot be very old. Again, denial of the facts is involved here. Helium is lost to outer space via ionization near the poles, and this loss balances (within experimental uncertainty) the input from uranium decay and explains the current low concentration of helium. This has been known at least since 1996 and has been forcefully pointed out to YE creationists, yet this item still appeared on Ken Ham’s list in 2014.
Out With the Old and In With the New
Although the majority of proven-to-be false arguments for a young earth are retained by YE creationists, in a few cases they have acknowledged that their arguments were incorrect and should no longer be employed. Starting in the 1950’s, YE creationists claimed that human footprints were found among dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy River valley, thus showing that humans co-existed with dinosaurs. After vigilant skeptics like Glen Kuban in the 1980’s demonstrated this to be incorrect, the Institute for Creation Research acknowledged in 1986 that the footprints there were likely not human.
Also, Answers in Genesis has advised abandoning the YE arguments that shrinkage of the sun, or the thinness of the dust layer on the moon, imply a young universe. (This moon dust claim still resurfaces, however, among internet YE creationists). Creation Ministries International has posted a similar list of “Arguments we think creationists should NOT use“.
As I read these YE creationist retractions, it is clear that they are trying in their own minds to operate with integrity. They carefully sift the most recent evidence, and find that it does not support these particular arguments. Many of these YE authors have some scientific training, and all are devoted believers in a God who commands truthfulness in His followers. It is therefore bizarre that these authors can, in many other instances, promulgate obvious falsehoods. It appears that they are genuinely unable to perceive the vast array of evidence which militates against their young earth worldview. This is an example of the brain’s vigorous effort to avoid cognitive dissonance. This sort of confirmation bias is not a unique failing of YE creationists, but is widely observed in human behavior. As the Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias notes, “The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.”
(I might add that I was a YE creationist for some years, so I can honor their desire to be faithful to the Word of God despite all that the skeptics throw at them, and I sympathize with the anxiety aroused by considering that perhaps the familiar literal interpretation of Genesis is not correct. My own journey as an evangelical Christian towards finding a hermeneutical approach which comprehends the core teachings of the New Testament and also what science reveals about the history of the physical world is described here: Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 2 . )
Even as some YE evidences are formally renounced or just quietly abandoned, new YE arguments are periodically brought forth. As science marches on, there are always some observations at the leading edge of discovery which cannot immediately be accounted for within existing scientific models. YE creationists scan the academic literature and seize on such opportunities to proclaim the failure of old earth science. In most cases, however, it doesn’t take long for scientists to discern how these new discoveries fit seamlessly into the web of natural laws which have been operating for billions of years. Then the YE creationists have the option of deceitfully continuing to claim there is a problem, or abandoning that claim and moving on to some other new, unexplained observation.
Polonium Halos, Folded Rocks, and Soft Dinosaur Tissue
For instance, in the late 1970’s YE creationist Robert Gentry claimed that “polonium halos” were inexplicable within an old earth framework. Polonium halos are tiny concentric spheres of coloration in rocks, which seem to result from the radioactive decay of a bit of polonium which was concentrated in that spot. These halos are often found in granite. The apparent dilemma for an old earth is this: in conventional scientific understanding, it takes granite many thousands of years to crystalize from liquid magma. But polonium decays so rapidly that it is essentially gone in a few years. So if there was some polonium in the magma, it would be gone long before the granite solidified enough to register the effects of the polonium decay in the form of halos. Gentry elaborated his views in his 1986 book Creation’s Tiny Mystery, claiming that these halos proved that solid Precambrian granite was formed instantaneously by God on the first Day of creation, with little bits of polonium which decayed in place in a few days or months.
Polonium halos actually did have scientists flummoxed for a few years, and of course the YE creationists were jubilant. In 1988, however, it was noted that some of the granites in which Gentry found polonium halos were formed from magma intrusions into sedimentary rocks. Sedimentary rocks result from processes of erosion and deposition which could only take place after the original Creation. This means that these intrusive granites which contained the halos could not possibly be “primordial creation rocks”. In YE creationist geology, these particular granites must be younger than the Flood.
More recent studies have explained these halos in terms of conventional science by noting that polonium and other radioactive decay intermediates are continually produced from the slow decay of uranium in granite, and so radioactive precursor elements can migrate along microscopic cracks in solidified rocks, and accumulate in one spot long enough for the decay process to produce a halo. Although Gentry himself has never recanted, this evidence has been conclusive enough that most YE creationists have backed away from Gentry’s claims for polonium halos.
Another one of Answers in Genesis’s “10 Best Evidences From Science That Confirm a Young Earth” are “Bent Rock Layers”. In this article Andrew Snelling shows photos of bent sedimentary rock layers like this:
Snelling states that these layers could only have been thus deformed if they were still in a soft, unconsolidated state immediately following their deposition during the Flood. As Snelling has stated elsewhere, “When solid, hard rock is bent (or folded) it invariably fractures and breaks because it is brittle. Rock will bend only if it is still soft and pliable”.
The uninformed layman may be impressed by this argument, but it is inappropriate for a PhD geologist like Snelling to make this claim. Obviously, solid rocks at atmospheric pressure and temperature will fracture if you try to bend them. But every geologist knows that since the 1960s geophysicists have been able to attain high temperatures and high pressures in the laboratory which mimic conditions several miles deep in the earth, and have demonstrated that at these conditions and with slow deformation, rocks can easily bend without major fracturing. Here is a picture of this sort of laboratory rock-deforming apparatus:
Source: High Pressure Deformation Experiments by Pamela C. Burnley
Sedimentary rocks like sandstone and limestone are not fully-densified ceramics, but retain microscopic porosity (this is why they can serve as petroleum reservoirs). These rocks consist of grains bound by tiny, imperfect crystals of materials like calcite or silica. With time, temperature, and the presence of water in the pores, the weaker cementing material can dissolve at pressure points and recrystallize, allowing the main grains to shift past each other during deformation. The high pressure deep in the earth suppresses the formation of major cracks as the rock deforms.
This type of ductile deformation of sandstones (such as the Tapeats sandstone) and limestones can occur at temperatures low enough that no metamorphosis of the rock takes place. So these bent rock layers are not evidence of a young earth. Age of Rocks has two detailed articles on rock-bending, in 2011 and in 2014, in response to Snelling’s claims. There are plenty of examples of deformed rocks that do exhibit brittle fractures, but these fractures are often so thin that they would not show up in a panoramic photograph of a rock face.
In the particular case of the folded Tapeats sandstone in the Grand Canyon which Snelling claims as evidence for a young earth, he is not being accurate even about obvious observations. Snelling’s caption for the photo of rock formation shown above reads, ”The whole sequence of sedimentary layers through which Grand Canyon cuts has been bent and folded without fracturing. This includes the Tapeats Sandstone, located at the bottom of the sequence. (A 90° fold in the eastern Grand Canyon is pictured here.)”. So he is stating explicitly that there is no fracturing at the right angle fold near the bottom of the photo.
This, however, is simply not true. A higher resolution photo below from HowOldIsTheEarth shows a clear line of fracture at the sharpest bend in the rocks, right where Snelling said there was no fracture. In the snip shown here, I outlined the main fracture in red; this fracture continues in the rocks in the photo up beyond the frame of of this snip.
There is another shorter but very visible fracture or fracture surface outlined in green at this fold. The Answers in Genesis photo (which we showed above; scroll up to see) for their “Best Evidences” article was in a low enough resolution that the main fracture cannot be seen in it, and if you look closely at that photo you will see that a person is seated precisely where he blocks the view of that shorter fracture.
Snelling presumably knows perfectly well that these fractures are there, since he has repeatedly visited this site, and these fractures even show up in a different Answers in Genesis photo of this formation (I added red and green lines):
Soft Tissue Found in Dinosaur Bones
Paleontologist Mary Schweitzer has found soft tissue preserved inside the bones of T. Rex and other dinosaurs believed to be over 65 million years old. YE advocates claim that soft tissue could not possibly survive that long, and therefore these dinosaur fossils, and the rock layers they were found in, must be much, much younger than scientists claim.
The short answer here is that the “soft” tissue in the bones is flexible, but it is considerably crosslinked and otherwise altered chemically from its original state. Furthermore, the rate of biological degradation varies enormously, depending on conditions. There is no actual evidence that altered flexible organic matter cannot endure for tens of millions of years.
All this is described in a few pages here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/soft-tissue-found-in-dinosaur-bones/ and in more detail here: https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/dinosaur-soft-tissue/ .
On-Line Resources To Assess Young Earth Evidences
Hopefully the sampling above suffices to illustrate the quality of the evidence proffered on behalf of the young earth viewpoint. It would be tedious here to grind through all the hundred or so current YE evidences. Although every one of them can be shown to be false, it takes some time in each case to give the necessary background and then to do the debunking. Thus, in a debate format a YE advocate can spew forth dozens of these claims (e.g. with the Ken Ham debate slide above) much faster than a scientist can possibly refute them in the allotted time.
Lists of young earth evidence have been around for many decades. This has given old earth proponents ample time to respond, explaining why these arguments for a young earth are based on incomplete or false information. The TalkOrigins Archive has been present on the internet since 1995, providing detailed answers to most of these young earth claims. You can use the Search facility within that site to locate answers to the majority of YE claims.
New articles on TalkOrigins have tapered off since about 2008, but other web sites have continued providing current critical assessments of YE evidences. These include old-earth evangelical Christian sites such as Old Earth Ministries , Age of Rocks , GodAndScience , the American Scientific Affiliation , and Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe . An assessment of Answers in Genesis’s “The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth” is provided by How Old Is the Earth. The secular RationalWiki site has a section devoted to answering all 101 evidences for a young earth and universe presented by Don Batten of Creation Ministries International.
The reader is encouraged to evaluate the old earth explanations given on these sites, as compared to the original young earth articles to which they refer.