The folks at Answers in Genesis are crowing about the latest addition to the YabbaDabbaDo Museum staff, geologist Andrew Snelling, “one of the world’s most respected creation scientists (sic).”
Snelling, who holds a doctorate in geology science from the University of Sydney in Australia, used to work for Ken Ham, the AiG head, in the Land Down Under. Snelling has focused on disproving the commonly accepted idea among most geologists that the Earth’s crust has been formed and shaped over millions of years. Like most Young Earth Creationists, he contends that the earth is no older than 6,000 years, and that features like the Grand Canyon were formed by the Great Flood.
Snelling’s work rests on his theory that radioactive dating methods, by which geologists estimate the age of rock, are based on a false assumption: that the rate at which radioisotopes decay has been constant throughout history.
Modern science assumes that all radioisotopes of a certain type are created equal. That is, a sample of carbon-14 from the US is identical to one from Borneo, or a sample of uranium-238 from Earth is the same as one from the Moon. Their nuclear structures, and the laws of quantum mechanics, determine their decay rates and thus their half-lives.
Most geologists also assume that the elements today are identical to those in the past. That is, a sample of U-238 now should behave the same as one from deep inside the Earth (or anywhere else in the universe for that matter). This assumption (and it’s a pretty good one) enables geologists to “date” rocks and the sediments surrounding those rocks. Knowing the age of the sediments enables archaeologists to date fossils and human artifacts.
So, we are pretty sure that the Earth and Moon are about 4.6 billion years old, and that the dinosaurs were pretty much wiped out about 65 million years ago. Meteorites and comet samples have also been dated to be 4 to 5 billion years old.
Corroborating this radioactive evidence is the time it takes for rivers (for example) to cut through the rocky layers of the Earth. We don’t typically see a river cutting through several hundred meters of crust within a person’s lifetime. Tsunamis are exponentially more forceful than river currents, but even they do not cut deep channels in the crust.
Yet Snelling contends that the Grand Canyon is evidence for the Great Flood.
His logic goes something like this. It’s typical of most Young Earthers.
- A literal interpretation of the Bible places the Creation no more than 6,000 years ago.
- Radioisotope dating, however, indicates that the Earth’s rock are billions of years old.
- So, there must be a problem with the dating methods.
- The early (pre-Flood) Earth was substantially different physically than the Earth of today. Radioactive elements must have decayed at a much faster rate then than they do now, throwing off our estimates of geological ages.
- Let’s figure out how that could happen, so we arrive at the predetermined Creation date of approximately 4004 BC.
So, class, where is the logical fallacy? And while we’re at it, is this a model for the scientific method, or something much different?
There is so much wrong with the Young Earth Creationism model that it’s hard to know where to begin. Geologists can do a much better job than I picking apart Snelling’s arguments. I can tackle the physics aspects, though.
For one, YEC assumes, against all logic and evidence, that the laws of physics have changed substantially over time. Thus, Snelling argues that ancient radioisotopes did not act the same as modern samples. YEC cosmologists similarly argue that the speed of light and the value of the Universal Gravitational Constant have changed over time. Otherwise, they would not be able to reconcile observational evidence with a 6,000-year-old universe.
[Scriptural aside: Genesis mentions that God before the Flood allowed humans to live much longer lives than after. YEC types figure that God also doctored the laws of physics at the same time. There is of course no way to test this hypothesis, since Noah failed to write a physics textbook while waiting for dry land to appear.]
If the physical constants were changing over time, we would have noticed by now. The speed of light has been well known since the late 1600s, and the gravitational constant since the early 1700s. Neither has changed markedly since then. Decay rates and half-lives are been studied only since the late 1800s, but again they seem to be consistent over those two centuries.
If the Earth were in fact only 6,000 years old, that timespan of 200 to 400 years would be a sizeable proportion of the Earth’s age. We could assume, then, that the physical constants have not changed at all during those 6,000 years.
But, wait! That means the Earth and the universe cannot be a few thousand years old, since the laws of physics suggest their ages should be measured in billions of years. Therefore, our initial assumption must be wrong. Oops!
The truly faithful YEC believer of course cannot reject the initial assumption, since that would undermine his or her faith in the literal inerrancy of Scripture. So they whip out the “it was different before the Flood” trump card to wave away the uncomfortable evidence.
Snelling, however, does a great job arguing his case. To a non-geologist, his arguments, interpretation of data, and conclusions would seem pretty convincing. Mainstream geologists are not impressed, however, saying his work is sloppy, or at the least unscientific.
And there’s the question of those sediments. If you visit the Grand Canyon, you can’t miss seeing those layers of rock. If you can assume (without having a theological embolism) that the Earth is really frakking old, then it’s easy to accept the Colorado River slowly cut its way down through those rocks. Big holes like that don’t happen in 40 days’ time.
If you assume, however, that the Great Flood carved out the Canyon in a month and a half, how do you reconcile that purported event with the non-geologic effects of tsunamis, which are certainly mini-Floods? Huge ocean waves do not create canyons.
There was only one Flood, as “recorded” in the Bible. Presumably it should have created only one sedimentary layer, not many. The YEC types have a hand-waving argument to explain this contradiction (goddidit), but it’s not convincing.
Mars has sediments, too. So for those sediments to have been laid down, God must have created a Great Flood simultaneously on Earth and Mars, which would imply there were Martians and they were sinful, too. The Flood was a punishment, after all. Why punish a dead world? So, did Adam and Eve populate Mars, too, or did the Creator make a separate pair of progenitors for Mars? The theological implications are staggering.
The problem with creationism is that it is NOT science. It starts with a preconceived notion, and tries to fit the evidence to the notion. Aristotle did this centuries ago, and came up with staggeringly wrong conclusions, too. Science allows the evidence to support or disprove the hypothesis. It does not try to jimmy the evidence to stubbornly hold on to a wrong idea.
So to say the honorable Dr. Snelling is a scientist is pretty charitable. He is not. He and other YEC types are trying to force the laws of the universe to fit their paradigm.