The Age of the Earth
creationists have long pointed out the rock formations themselves testify
unmistakably to water catastrophism on a global scale, evolutionists
generally have ignored this testimony. This is partly due to the legacy
of the doctrine of uniformitarianism passed down from one generation
of geologists to the next since the time of Charles Lyell in the early
With the discovery of radioactivity about a hundred years ago, evolutionists, deeply committed to the uniformitarian outlook, believed they finally had proof of the immense antiquity of the earth. In particular, they quickly discovered the very slow nuclear decay rates of elements like uranium while also observing considerable amounts of the daughter products from such decay. These discoveries were interpreted as vindicating both uniformitarianism and evolution and led to the domination of these beliefs in academic circles around the world throughout the 20th century.
However, modern technology has produced a major fly in that uniformitarian ointment. A key technical advance, which occurred about 25 years ago, involved the ability to measure the ratio of 14C atoms to 12C atoms with extreme precision in very small samples of carbon using an ion beam accelerator to ionize the carbon atoms and a mass spectrometer to count the relative numbers of 14C and 12C atoms. The advent of this accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) method improved the sensitivity of the raw measurement of the 14C/12C ratio for 14C dating from approximately 1% of the modern value to about 0.001%. The expectation was that this improvement in precision would make it possible to extend to dramatically older ages the fossil material that could be measured by this technique.
The big surprise, however, was that no fossil material could be found anywhere that had as little as 0.001% of the modern value! Since most of the scientists involved in applying this new technique took for granted the standard geological time scale was correct, the obvious explanation for the 14C they were detecting in their samples was contamination from some source of modern carbon with its high level of 14C. Therefore a major campaign was mounted to discover and eliminate the source or sources of such contamination. Although a few relatively minor sources of 14C contamination were identified and corrected, there still remained a significant level of 14C -- typically about 100 times the ultimate sensitivity of the instrument -- in samples that should have been utterly '14C-dead', including many from the deeper levels of the fossil-bearing part of the geological record.
This earnest effort to understand this 'contamination problem' therefore has generated scores of peer-reviewed papers in the standard radiocarbon literature during the last 20 years. The majority of these papers acknowledge most of the 14C in the samples studied appears to be intrinsic to the samples themselves, and no explanation for its origin is usually offered. The reality of measurable and reproducible levels of 14C in a wide variety of fossil sources from throughout the geological record has thus been established in the secular scientific literature. Scientists who assume the standard geological time scale is valid and who have no special interest in this result have performed most of this work.1
To provide a more quantitative picture of what the AMS measurements imply, let us review the fact that with a constant rate of transformation of 14C to nitrogen with a measured half-life of 5730 years, the ratio of 14C atoms to 12C atoms decreases by a factor of 1/2 every 5730 years. After 20 half-lives or 114,700 years, the 14C/12C ratio would have decreased by a factor of (1/2)20 = 0.000001. After 40 half-lives or 229,200 years, the ratio would have been diminished by a factor of (1/2)40 = 10-12. In samples truly older than this, 14C should be utterly undetectable. Yet 14C/12C ratios on the order of 0.001-0.005 of the modern level (0.1-0.5 percent modern carbon or pmc) are routinely measured for samples from deep within the fossil-bearing part of the geological record, samples whose conventional radioisotope ages are 30 million or 100 million or 300 million years. This represents a glaring conflict among radioisotope methods. There should be, of course, absolutely no measurable 14C in organic materials this old.
In view of the profound significance of these AMS 14C measurements on fossil materials that, according to the standard geological time scale, should be entirely '14C-dead', the Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth (RATE) team has undertaken its own AMS 14C analyses of such fossil material.1 The first set of samples consisted of ten coals obtained from the U. S. Department of Energy Coal Sample Bank maintained at Penn State University. The ten samples include three coals from the Eocene part of the geological record, three from the Cretaceous, and four from the Pennsylvanian. These samples were analyzed by what we deemed one of the foremost AMS laboratories in the world. Figure 1 below shows in histogram form the results of these analyses.
Figure 1. Histogram representation of AMS 14C analysis of ten coal samples undertaken by RATE 14C research project.
These values fall squarely within the range already established in the peer-reviewed radiocarbon literature. When we average our results over geological interval, we obtain values of 0.26 pmc for Eocene, 0.21 for Cretaceous, and 0.27 for Pennsylvanian that are remarkably similar to one another. Although the number of samples is small, we observe little difference in 14C level as a function of position in the geological record. This is consistent with the young-earth view that the entire fossil record up to somewhere within the upper Cenozoic is the product of the Genesis Flood and therefore such fossils should share a common 14C age.
Applying the uniformitarian approach of extrapolating 14C decay into the indefinite past leads to a translation of the measured 14C/12C ratios into ages that are on the order of 50,000 years (2-50000/5730 = 0.0024 = 0.24 pmc). But uniformitarian assumptions are inappropriate when one considers that the Genesis Flood removed vast amounts of living biomass from exchange with the atmosphere -- organic material that now forms the earth's vast coal, oil, and oil shale deposits as well as the fossil portions of the earth's fossiliferous limestone. A conservative estimate for the pre-Flood biomass is 100 times of that of today (it could well have been higher). If one takes as a rough estimate for the total 14C in the biosphere before the cataclysm as 50% of what exists today (it might well have been lower) and assumes a relative uniform 14C level throughout the pre-Flood atmosphere and biomass, then we might expect a 14C/12C ratio of about 0.005 or 1/200 of today's atmospheric value in the plants and animals at the onset of the Flood. This is because the large absolute amount of 12C would have diluted the smaller total amount of 14C. When we include this more realistic value for the pre-Flood 14C/12C ratio in our calculation of age, we find that a value of 0.24 pmc corresponds to an age of only 6000 years (0.005 x 2-6000/5730 = 0.0024 = 0.24 pmc). Even though our estimates are rough here, they illustrate that accounting for the Flood cataclysm is essential in the step of converting the 14C/12C ratio into a real age for organisms living at the time of the Flood.
Some readers at this point may be asking, how does one then account for the tens of millions and hundreds of millions of years that other radioisotope methods yield for the fossil record? Most of the other RATE projects address this important issue. Equally as persuasive as the 14C data is evidence from RATE measurements of the diffusion rate of helium in zircon crystals that demonstrates the rate of nuclear decay of uranium into lead and helium has been dramatically higher in the past and the uniformitarian assumption of a constant rate of decay is wrong.2 Another RATE project documents the existence of abundant polonium radiohalos in granitic rocks that crystallized during the Flood and further demonstrates the uniformitarian assumption of constant decay rates is incorrect.3 Another RATE project provides clues for why the 14C decay rate apparently was affected so little during episodes of rapid decay of isotopes with long half-life.4 The bottom line of this RATE research is that the case is now extremely compelling that the fossil record was produced just a few thousand years ago by the global Flood cataclysm.
But what conceivable mechanism could have produced such vast geological transformation of the earth in a single year-long Flood event? I have been focusing on this issue for the past 25 years. It is my earnest conviction that the Flood cataclysm was primarily a tectonic catastrophe that involved the rapid subduction of the pre-Flood ocean tectonic plates into the earth's mantle. The energy needed for driving the process was the excess weight of these relatively cold slabs of rock themselves relative to the hotter and less dense mantle rock into which they slid. The fact that this mantle rock can weaken under stress by factors of billions or more is a well-documented observational reality, as decades of laboratory experiments attest. My work on this problem has primarily involved computer experiments that apply the deformation properties of silicate rock as measured in these laboratory experiments to the scale and geometry of the earth's mantle to show that a catastrophic instability can indeed occur in a planet with the size and properties of the earth. My latest calculations are described in a paper presented at the Fifth International Conference on Creationism.5
The purpose of this website is to collect into one place (1) a selection of the massive evidence that supports the reality of the Biblical Flood, (2) a clear description of a tectonic mechanism for this cataclysm as well as current modeling results, and (3) a collection of related materials that provide some of the context of the broader debate in which the issue of the Flood is only one facet.
1. J. R. Baumgardner, D. R. Humphreys, A. A. Snelling, and S. A. Austin, "Measurable 14C in fossilized organic materials: Confirming the young earth creation/Flood model," in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh, Editor, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 2003.
2. D. R. Humphreys, J. R. Baumgardner, S. A. Austin, and A. A., Snelling, "Helium diffusion rates support accelerated nuclear decay," in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh, Editor, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 2003.
3. A. A. Snelling and M. H. Armitage, "Radiohalos - A tale of three granitic plutons," in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh, Editor, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 2003.
4. A. A. Snelling, S. A. Austin, and W. A. Hoesch, "Radioisotopes in the diabase sill (upper Precambrian) at Bass Rapids, Grand Canyon, Arizona: An application and test of the isochron dating method," and in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh, Editor, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 2003.
5. J. R. Baumgardner, "Catastrophic plate tectonics: The physics behind the Genesis Flood," in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh, Editor, Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA, 2003.