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This is the second installment of this series that is looking at the dating methods used by science. In the previous installment, we noted that radiometrics is a tool for seeing the evidence, in much the same way as the microscope or telescope. In this installment, we are going to review a few other dating methods currently in use. They include the following:
Sedimentation analysis can be differentiated from radiometrics in that it is not a tool, but is direct evidence for age. As it turns out sediments that continually empty out of the rivers of the world cover the ocean floor. By measuring the annual sedimentation rate, allowing for the removal of some of it through plate tectonics, and comparing it with the amount found on the ocean floor, it is possible to develop some idea how long this process has been going on. Most oceanographers estimate this process at around 175 millions years—based on multiple methods of testing, including radiometric analysis. This is relatively young by comparison to the estimated age of the Earth, and there is evidence that this age discrepancy is affiliated with plate tectonics, which is continually recycling the sediment.
Some Adventists and other conservative Christian scientists have attempted to explain the amount of sediment in the ocean to factors caused by a great worldwide flood, but most of the scientific community who have studied this hypothesis do not believe the sedimentation pattern is explainable by a flood—this primarily because of distinct regional patterns that cannot be explained by the flood model where the sediment simply washes in (1).
Back around 1908, an amateur American geologist, Frank Bursley, noted that the continents of South America and the African continent had a shape that mirrored the other, suggesting that they could fit together sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. At the time he made this observation, there was really no evidence known that this could have actually been possible, nor any known mechanism for its occurrence. However, this idea was later pick up by others, with this proposed land mass being called Pangaea.
Initially this theory was referred to as continental drift, and we now know that this theory is well founded. As it turns out these landmasses do fit together quite well, particularly if the continental shelf is included. With precision instruments we also know that the American continent and the European and African continents are slowly drifting further apart, and can be measured as centimeters per year. The source of this movement is attributable to plate tectonics occurring in an area of the mid-Atlantic that runs north to south some 12,000 miles (2). Based on this movement the calculations suggest this once super-continent parted ways approximately 200 million years ago.
Other Miscellaneous Clocks
There are several other miscellaneous clocks involving processes that can provide us with some idea of age. Such determinations are made by studying the rate of growth, but also can be confirmed by other techniques such as radiometric dating. Some of these processes include dating of stalagmite formations in caves dated out to 300,000-700,000 years; annual layering created due to seasonal changes that can leave a ring and provide a measure of age. This would include glacier ice cores, which can be dated out to 160,000 years, though the accuracy begins to fall off past 100,000 years; coral reefs, can be dated by annual growth rate times the size of the reef, annual layerings, and by radiometric dating. Some reefs have been dated to 40 million years, and one to more that 400 millions years of age.
The dating methods discussed above, as well as those addressed in the last installment are some of the more common ones in use, and each come with issues that can complicate age analysis. Therefore, as mentioned previously, rules have developed that must be followed in order to achieve accurate dating, including cross testing.
The conclusions for a very ancient creation are all based upon evidence considered sound within the scientific community, and in the case of radiometric dating has been tested against historic materials with a certifiable ages. Interestingly, and perhaps most devastating to young Earth creationists (YEC), is that these methods all generally agree with each other a great majority of the time, and do so over a time span involving millions of years. The collective story these methods all tell is a consistent theme—that the beginning was not recent—it was in fact a very long time ago.
The obvious question, then, is, “how should the Church respond to this evidence?” As suggested previously, perhaps the best way to deal with this evidence, given a predisposition in favor of YEC, is simply to say nothing about age. Taking this approach would act as a hedge against further compelling scientific confirmation of a very old age. To proceed in this way would preserve the Church’s credibility, and would seem to be the only approach to common ground.
Jan M. Long, J.D., M.H.A., works for the County of Riverside, California.
Next installment: Reconciling the Creation to the Sabbath
Read the previous parts of this series, including "The Search for Common Ground on Genesis: Genesis Literalism and the Temple of Doom—I"