Stand firm for God’s Word as it is literally read and understood. . . The Seventh-day Adventist Church both teaches and believes in the biblical record of creation which took place recently. -Ted N.C. Wilson, July 3, 2010
For many years I was puzzled as to why the Adventist dating of creation was so at variance with dates coming from science. In earlier days I instinctively tended to give preference to a recent creation narrative over what seemed to be wild scientific dating miscalculations. My own metamorphous in thinking about this subject has been an outgrowth of studying the existing methods of science, their limitations, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. A result of this effort has brought me increasingly to the view that the scientific dating methods are credible and should act as a powerful cautionary flag for any movement to impose upon Genesis a conclusion that creation was recent.
In the next couple of segments of this series, we are going to review some of these scientific methods even if in a rather superficial manner. I proceed with some hesitation recognizing that many readers of this forum are scientifically sophisticated, yet I am operating under the assumption that some readers may not be entirely familiar with age-dating techniques. Among the methods for determination of age are two that we will consider below, and then in the next installment we will reflect on several other methods.
The average person likely does not realize how significant light is to determining the age of the universe, but actually it plays a very important and quite definitive role in the whole dating process. Let’s start with the fact that light travels at a fixed 186,000 miles a second in the interstellar medium. Because of this precise and predictable rate, we are able to use light as a clock-measuring device due to the vast cosmological distances through which it travels. Consequently, we talk in terms of light-years to measure these distances, and this is simply a measure of the time it takes light to travel in the space of one year.
Our Sun’s nearest neighbor is the star Proxima Centauri, a distance of 4.2 light-years away. What that means is that the visible light we see from this star left its surface 4.2 years ago. We see Proxima Centauri as it was 4.2 years ago—not as it is today. This same principle holds true for objects at billions of light years away.
This is one of the best evidences we have that those distant objects actually existed in the distant past. Such objects, if created only a few thousand years ago, might exist, but we would have no way of knowing because the light would not have reached Earth. That is one reason why factually we have little choice but to conclude that the timeframe of Creation week, day-4 occurred several billion years ago. I am unaware of any creationist arguments that can adequately counter this reality.
Radiometric dating is a scientific process for dating material substances—both organic and inorganic in nature—by measuring its radioactive decay. In order to understand how it works, it is necessary to start with atoms—the composition of all matter. Atoms of the same element have the same number of protons, and generally an equal number of neutrons, though the actual number of neutrons can vary. This variance in neutrons is referred to as isotopes.
Most isotopes are stable and do not change. However, a few of them are unstable and over time deteriorate in a process of radioactive decay. This decay process acts like an internal clock because it occurs very precisely at a constant exponential rate, and thus can be used to measure the passage of time. There are currently in excess of 40 different testing methods.
Two of the most common methods include nitrogen-carbon dating (frequently referred to as carbon-14), and potassium-argon dating. Carbon-14 dating is used primarily on biological matter and has a dating range out to 50,000 years, while potassium-argon is used for very old material, with a dating range out to several billion years (1).
One leading Adventist scientist, Leonard Brand, who has a bias towards the traditional Adventist understanding of Genesis, admits that radiometric methods represent one of the biggest challenges to young Earth creationism (2).
In order to properly date material, there are a number of issues that the investigator must be aware of in order to end up with a valid measurement. For example, these would include such things as sample contamination, initial conditions, and whether the sample is part of a closed system such that an accurate reading can be assured. Other issues can also come into play and dating specialists are well aware of all of them, and have strategies in place to assure proper validation. However, best practices would dictate using multiple methods of testing from more than one testing lab. If all the tests are in agreement, there can generally be confidence that the dating has been done properly.
The critics of this dating method—at least the ones that I have uncovered—are all young Earth creationists who spend a great deal of time attempting to discredit radiometric dating, and rather little time developing their own tools, or putting forward any compelling evidence for a young Earth (3) .
Just as the microscope and the telescope have opened to us realities never dreamed possible in an earlier age, this dating method also appear to be communicating something important. While I remain open to evidence of a recent creation, there seems to be a rather straightforward message that these dating methods are delivering. They are communicating clearly and consistently. I believe that we dismiss this information at our peril.
Even if the message is not one we want to hear, recognizing the validity of these tools of science should be the basis for common ground. __ Jan M. Long, J.D., M.H.A., works for the County of Riverside, California.
1. What has been provided here is a barebones description of radiometric-dating. Anyone interested in a more complete description of the methodology, may want to take a look at a paper written in lay language by Roger C. Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and can be found at the following link http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html.
2. See Leonard Brand, Faith, Reason and Earth History, Andrews University Press (1996). Although he is upfront in his objective to argue for a recent creation, he states on p. 250, “the most serious problem faced by the catastrophic theory is radiometric dating with its 570 million years of time for the Phanerozoic; see also p.265 where he notes that “radiometric dating, although not an air-tight methodology, is still the strongest evidence for the great age of the fossil-bearing formations.”
3. See, for example, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, John Woodmorappe, Institute for Creation Research, 1999.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2675