Belief, myth and reality in creationism and evolution theory

Time calculation to the past (continued)

Studies on the growth of the world’s population show that present-day humanity can go back to one parental pair in five to six thousand years. So, if man had already been living on earth for several million years, there would now be as many people as there are bacteria.

-Com: Such “studies” have no scientific value because they contain too many unknowns, such as the effects of wars, disasters, and epidemics. If we were to do a similar “study” on dinosaurs, or Neanderthals, or horses, we could show that these life forms had to fill our earth now, when there are no more dinosaurs or Neanderthals, and the horse was no longer present in America for thousands of years when this continent was discovered by Europeans.

During the formation of igneous rocks, radioactive elements are absorbed, such as uranium or polonium. The decay of these elements causes characteristic spherical circles or “halos” in rock crystals. It is assumed that a rock such as granite, for example, took years to pass from the liquid state to the solid state. Yet halos of polonium are found in the crystals, although polonium after its formation completely decays in a few days. The halos could thus not have been formed in a liquid mass. Dr. Robert Gentry concluded that granites were created immediately in a solid state.

-Com: Here we give the floor to Mrs. Oosterwijck, professor, and specialist in crystallization, who was interviewed in the already cited edition of the Cahiers d’Edifa and whose comments show great understanding. She confirms that the typical granite minerals can be formed in a few days, in contrast to the long solidification time previously assumed. She has a creationist way of thinking and can therefore be considered here as an unsuspected source.

Fossils are formed as a result of rapid burial, before the creatures involved could rot. The large number of fossils in the rocks indicates a single large catastrophic burial.

-Com: Fossils don’t necessarily need to be buried quickly. However, they must undergo a hardening process in one way or another, for example, by dehydration or infiltration of hardening elements. Negative fossils may first have hardened, then be covered with a protective layer, and finally be firmly anchored in the rock by compaction.

Between the rock layers, there are rarely traces of the soil layer that normally forms on the surface of a deposit by the action of the outside world, after its completion. This indicates that all layers of sediment were deposited at the same time (i.e., during the Flood).

-Com: On the marine deposits that remained submerged during their formation, and which constitute a large part of the totality of the rock layers, no layer of soil was formed. However, at the top of many terrestrial deposits, no trace of an upper layer of soil will be found either. If we look more closely, we will understand why: in many cases the dividing line with the overlying layer is not parallel to the direction of the bottom of the underlying layer (this line is then called a discordance). This shows that the top of the underlying layer was eroded in a certain direction, because it was no longer horizontal due to upward forces. The possibly previously formed soil layer thus disappeared. If erosion has made the contact surface irregular, it is called “disconformity”.

Vertical fossilized tree trunks often pass through different coal seams. These cannot therefore represent a long deposit period.

-Com: These trees belong to the layer at their roots and are fossilized standing. Coal seams piled up along their trunks. Pieces of fossilized vertical trees can also be found on the current surface of the earth, among others in Colorado. In other places, such as Yellowstone National Park, several layers of vertical tree stumps can be found one above the other at different heights.

The folds in the rock layers prove that the deformation took place while the rock was still soft, otherwise the layers would not be bent but broken. The rock was therefore deformed while it was still soft, immediately after deposition (during  the Flood).

-Com: The undulations of the hard layers were indeed possible because the deformation was very slow, spread over millions of years. Where the tension rose too high, sharp fractures arose, e.g., forming “horsts”.

Other arguments are put forward, including human footprints near dinosaur traces, etc., but these “spectacular” finds are not approved by the reference to a solid bibliography on this subject and the style of argumentation is rather reminiscent of Erich von Däniken, in his book on the so-called astronaut gods. For example, a clay figure of a seated woman is shown playing with a “little dinosaur”. It is clear that this is an iguana.

An objective absolute calculation of time is much easier to achieve towards the future than towards the past. Moving forward, we can check our calculations and adjust them gradually, but going back, we depend on recorded dates, natural phenomena with a fixed periodicity and hypotheses that are based as best as possible on contemporary observations. Repeatability, which is a fundamental condition of scientificity, can often only be achieved partially, indirectly, or not at all.

A good example of a reproducible calculation towards the past is the determination of the age of wood according to the annual rings it presents (dendrochronology). By connecting the ring patterns of successive generations of trees, we can date the remains of wood to thousands of years ago. The varve method consists of counting the characteristic layers that have been deposited year after year by meltwater from the retreating ice sheet. This allows us to go back more than ten thousand years.

Absolute dates of older phenomena or events can be obtained approximately by estimates based on current historical data. The following example is easy to calculate. We know from measurements that South America and Europe drift two centimeters a year in each direction and it has been convincingly demonstrated that the two continents were once connected. The ocean that separates them now is about three thousand miles wide. If the speed of 2+2 cm/year remained the same, they must have been separated about 125 million years ago. (The current dating is 200 million years).

However, absolute time measurements are mainly based on the known rate of decay of certain radioactive elements. The results of the different methods complement and largely confirm each other. Nevertheless, they are rejected by creationist experts, with objections that are partly correct. There are certainly unknowns who can falsify the dates. No doubt mistakes were made as a result, which in turn introduced other mistakes, since attribution to a certain period often occurs indirectly, especially by comparison with a similar phenomenon (a layer with the same fossils, for example), or by localization in relation to the upper or lower dated layers.

Therefore, absolute dates, which do not agree with the relative age determinations obtained from other data, are regularly rejected by the researchers. This can be a logical and legitimate procedure, if the rejected date is published, indicating why it was not adopted. So, the reliability of absolute dates is not always guaranteed. But this does not mean that such “errors” are intentional, or that they occur systematically in such a way that the scientific value of current dating methods is seriously affected. The degree of probability associated with the measurement methods currently in use is continuously tested, calculated with mathematical formulas, and the margins of error are indicated with the average measurement results. The best results are obtained by applying various measurement methods.  

The scientific importance of dates is so great that they are constantly subject to critical evaluation. In my opinion, Ms. Oosterwijck is wrong when she rejects the entirety of current dating systems since specialists in different fields blindly copy dates to each other and thus create vicious circles of uncontrolled dating. After all, his criticisms are only partially well-founded.

At the end of this overview, we give a concise presentation of an absolute dating method that does not suffer from the main possibilities of error in measurements based on radioactive decay (such as uncertainty about the initial or previous proportions of radioactive elements and the loss or addition of foreign elements). The “Fission Track” dating is based on the fact that uranium-238 not only decays into lead, but also undergoes spontaneous fission. The two resulting nuclei are projected into the surrounding glassy matter, leaving microscopic “craters”. The fission rate is constant, the number of craters can be counted, and the amount of uranium-238 before the formation of the first crater can be calculated with a special technique. With these data, we can calculate the time elapsed since the last solidification of some volcanic rocks. Herewith one can very accurately determine ages from one thousand to more than ten million years. The results of other measurements (especially those with the potassium argon method) can be verified with this, a check that confirms the presumed stability of the radioactive decay rates.  

In the next part, we take a closer look at the Darwinian theory of evolution.

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