In a recent two part article titled “Bringing the Real World to Genesis: Ice Cores and Scripture Part I—How Many Years Has Snow Fallen on Greenland?” and “Ice-Cores and Science Part II—Grecian Lead Mining Confirms Ice-Core Chronology” Brian Bull proposes that “It would appear that the scientists are to be believed when they report more than 100,000 annual (doublet) layers in ice cores. The disconnect with the time scale implied in Genesis really does exist.”
I appreciate Bull’s interest in tackling this problem. Below I cite some questions, also raised by others, which present a problem for Bull’s proposal. I don’t pretend to be exhaustive since, like Bull, ice geology is not my métier. These are mostly theological and logical in nature. The evidence is not unambiguous and unequivocal in favor of deep-time in snow cores for one to uncritically accept the conclusions of evolutionary scientists. Attempts such as this to impose a Procrustean solution for the geological/ice age record need to be challenged by Christians who hold to a view of a loving, proactive, Creator God.
First a disclaimer: I have not been in the 6,000-years Young Earth Creationist camp for some time. Although I do not find evidence that the Hebrew author intended something other than to tell us how Creation actually happened (at least in general terms), I do not have any compelling need to stick to a strict 6,000-year age of the earth. I’m comfortable with an age of the earth over 6,000 years, maybe 10,000 or even 15,000 years. My problem with the proposed 135,000 years is that such deep time cannot be accommodated into a Judeo-Christian worldview without the major compromise of a core value of that faith, i.e., that God is proactive in the created universe. So I am not ready to accept Bull’s proposal quite yet.
I have been struggling with these issues since I was about ten, when I found a dilapidated book on dinosaurs in my dad’s library. How I could reconcile such dating of the fossils and the view of a recent creation was puzzling to me. When I had to write my first paper at the seminary in the early 90s, I gravitated towards the flood account. I was then exposed to the opposing interventionist and uniformitarian worldviews and could finally describe in “technical” terms the conflict I had experienced in my childhood. Having learned early about this wildly divergent approaches to the natural world helped me navigate the treacherous waters of evolutionary science and biblical criticism.
With the risk of being repetitious, it is important to stress that the decision on how to read the data in the geological record/ice core data is a question of what presuppositions one brings to the data. On one side of the aisle, evolutionary scientists spouse the uniformitarian model, i.e., that “the present is a key to the past”. This is the naturalist approach. On the assumptions of the naturalist model, Richard Lewontin wrote:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. 
On the other side of the naturalist approach are creationists who propose frequent and sometimes catastrophic divine interventions in the natural world and human affairs. When approaching the natural world, interventionists have always argued that, from the Judeo-Christian standpoint, “today is not the key to the past”. Thus, although deep time ice core dating need not make one question Creationism per se, it does pose serious questions on the reliability of biblical historiography. The biblical chronologies, albeit not exhaustive or exact, do point in the direction of a not-so-old age for the earth. Regardless of one’s views on biblical inspiration, few Christians would doubt that the Hebrew Scriptures assume, rather, require an interventionist/catastrophist view of history. We cannot deny that biblical authors portray a present, proactive God.
A commentator said on one of this blog's threads, “Although God is not on trial in Greenland, fundamentalism is.” But this is a simplistic solution, for the problem is not one of fundamentalism vs. reality. Were we to accept the 135,000 years without question, we must face the inevitable question: What kind of God would allow such long periods of time without intervention? Would a Creator allow human history to extend for such a long period of time without intervening? Not likely. The fact is that deep geological time and a loving, interested God don’t get along very well. A creationist’s “prior commitment” should be with the God of the Hebrew Bible, although at the end of the day, we need to humbly acknowledge that we see “through a glass darkly.”
Attempts to conflate evolutionary science and Judeo-Christian theology such as theistic evolution have left something to be desired. Christians committed to the biblical account of origins must, of necessity, look at the natural world with interventionist lenses, while evolutionary science invariably puts on uniformitarian lenses. These presuppositional lenses simply do not fit each other’s “cameras”, much like trying to fit a telescopic lens onto a disposable Kodak camera will yield an undistinguishable picture, the interventionist and the uniformitarian views of the world are simply incompatible.
Since the interventionist and the catastrophic models are diametrically opposed, it is nearly impossible to correlate their assumptions without falling into circular reasoning and logical fallacies. For example, some commentators argued that the Flood could not have occurred in the last 6,000 years because it would have either melted or floated the ice cap. But this circular reasoning ignores the fact that, according to the Flood model, the ice caps did not exist then! This hardly puts a dent in the Flood account.
Creationists have long proposed that the post-Flood period was marked by the same violent shifts in how the world functioned that brought about the Flood. These changes must have included extensive glaciation with substantial snow precipitation shortly after the Flood, ostensibly in order to resolve the amount of post-Flood water levels. This could point to a large amount of snow being deposited quickly in the poles. This is a sensible corollary of the creationist model because the hostile world of the poles simply does not fit the model of a “very good” climate proposed in Genesis 1-2.
The idea that only a catastrophic event of global scale could have buried and preserved up to 800 billion specimens of animals at once (see the Karoo Supergroup) has been around for some time in the scientific community, the meteor hypothesis being the most prominent one. Only recently have some documentaries on fossils incorporated the inescapable conclusion that floodwaters best explain the features of the fossil record.
Be that as it may, apart from the theological conundrums attendant to deep-time geology, my main point of contention with Bull’s proposal is that we can accept ice core deep time of at least 135,000 years (up to 800,000 years in Antarctica) as “believable” only if we ignore the powerful underlying philosophical paradigm of evolutionary science and its corollaries. On these lines, Bull’s articles can be challenged because they are not in dialogue with the debate between the Christian scientific community and evolutionary science on ice core dating that has been raging for the better part of the last three decades. The inadequacies of the uniformitarian model for the ice core dating have been explored by Michael Oard in three articles in the 1980’s.
Brian Bull unsuspectingly accepts uniformism, which has very clear expectations of what “must have” occurred in the ice cores based on what occurs today. For example, Bull does not sufficiently deal with the possibility of what some scientists call “sub-annual” cycles, i.e., varying frequency and size of snow fall in the same season and other factors such as variable storm temperature, snow drifts etc. This could mean that what scientists interpreted as several annual layers based on the uniformitarian model could in fact represent one year with different degrees and frequency of precipitation.
This is explained by Oard when he says that because geologists “expect” deep time, their count on the layers is far greater, even though the evidence is not absolutely water, or should we say, “snow-tight”. Oard points out that: “Based on their expected annual thickness [from flow models], uniformitarian scientists take enough measurements to resolve what they believe are annual cycles.” He adds that: “Besides sub-annual oscillation, other non-precipitation variables such as snow dunes, can add sub-annual layers.” Oard has also presented evidence that there’s significant discrepancy between the number and composition of layers of the GRIP and GISP2 sites, a mere 28 miles apart. The intermittency of storms in one given year will also yield several sub-annual pollen and dust deposits according to Alley.
There are also variations on the method of counting layers. By applying a wider laser beam to the layers, there has been a discrepancy of 25,000 years! The expectation of uniform natural phenomena also colors the conclusion about the presence of volcanic debris and acid isotopes. But there are many chemical atmospheric processes that could mimic volcanic or acid isotopes in the ice core. Moreover, in order to be able to correlate volcanic debris in the ice core with volcanic eruptions, one would need to know of every single volcanic eruption that ever occurred during the formation of the ice core to be to pinpoint which one is recorded in the ice. Obviously, such precision is impossible. Bull has also discussed evidence of the variation between the levels of O18 and O16 oxygen isotopes in the “annual” layers. However, this reading is not as reliable as it seems as pointed out by several scientists.
More disappointingly, Bull does not discuss the “lost squadron” case which is widely recognized as a problem for the uniformitarian ice core dating. To make a long story short, in 1942, six P-38 and two B-17 US fighter planes crash-landed in Greenland. These planes lay undisturbed for decades until they were recovered in 1992 under an astonishing 268 feet (80 m) of snow! One of the witnesses counted hundreds of snow layers in the 268 ft shaft from the surface to the planes below. 
Despite attempts to explain away this curious case, I believe it poses serious questions for those who are quick to accept the uniformitarian ice core dating mode. Bull has apparently ignored this evidence. The amount of snow above the planes was presented in the comments only to be dismissed because it snows substantially more closer to the coast where the planes were found than at the center of the cap where the ice cores were drilled. But such explanations faces a logical problem, for if “the present is a key to the past”, then at the rate of 268 feet of snow per 50 years, 135,000 years equals 729,000 ft (243 km) of snow! When we factor in compression forces at greater depths, this gigantic glacier would still be several thousand feet deeper than it is now. It is more likely then that at the rate of at least 50 feet of snowfall per year in Greenland, the ice caps at their current depths formed much quicker than 135,000 years, getting closer to the time elapsed since the Flood.
The case of the lost squadron has long being recognized as illustrative of the potential of the interventionist model, for if we accept the possibility of a dramatically higher snow precipitation during the post-Flood period in order to form the ice caps, the thousands of layers now present in the ice cores can be explained as several—if not hundreds—of sub-annual snowfall events, not as years.
(Ironically, it appears then that an “interventionist” approach may also explain why, in 1942, several planes began to be covered with snow, only to be discovered 50 years later, around the same time when the ice cores began to be explored, just to present yet another challenge to evolutionary ice core dating!)
Bull’s second article deals with lead deposits in the ice layers. The evidence is also colored by the uniformitarian assumptions and is plagued by the same difficulties mentioned above, the most serious being the lack of a consistent record on lead exploration in pre-historical times that could be correlated with the lead signature in the ice. At least one scientist has pointed out the problems of lead contamination of ice cores and variation of lead content in the atmosphere in the last 500-1000 years. Here again, uniformitarians find what they are looking for, despite the serious questions attendant to their theory.
There’s no need to belabor the point. For now, I think it has become clear that creationists need worry about deep-time ice core dating only if they fail to categorically reject the atheistic assumptions of the uniformitarian scientists. Admittedly, interventionists may not have all the answers either, while evolutionary scientists may have arcane explications for these discrepancies. But the fact that divergent readings exist should cause us to recoil from dogmatism on deep time ice core dating. Personally, I’m not ready to give up on the explanatory power of the Flood.
Ultimately, the philosophical divide between evolutionary science and biblical historiography has profound implications not only for how we approach the past, but also for how we see the future, for if the uniformitarian sees “the present as a key to the past”, the creationist must see “the past as a key to the future”. The midway proposed by theistic evolution is a flawed attempt to reconcile theology and paleontology and offers next to nothing on how we expect salvation history to play out in the future, at least not in the way of the Christian’s hope. The biblical, interventionist model on the other hand, points us toward a bright future via a definitive catastrophic divine intervention in the world, the Parousia, an event that will encompass all divine interventions, from Creation to the resurrection. For Christians, a final divine intervention is a sine qua non paradigm, one we cannot afford to relinquish to science’s fatalism lest we lose our raison d’être and become the “most miserable of human beings.”
Bull concludes that “it has often seemed possible to ascribe all or most of the multiple geological layers which collectively make up the “geologic column” to deposition by a world-wide, year-long flood. Icy [sic] geology, as evidenced by the almost two miles of ice of the GRIP core, cannot be similarly disposed of.” Notwithstanding Bull’s conviction, at least to this observer, the debate is far from over.
- Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NY Times Book Review, January 9, 1997.
- Michael J. Oard, An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1990).
- See “Dino Death Trap” and “Biopsy of a Dino” in Dinosaurs Unearthed (National Geographic, 2007).
- Michael J. Oard, “Ice ages: the mystery solved? Part I: the Inadequacy of a Uniformitarian Ice Age,” CRSQ 21, n. 2 (1984):66–76; Ibid., “Ice ages: the mystery solved? Part II: the manipulation of deep-sea cores,” CRSQ 21, n. 3 (1984):125–137; Ibid., “Ice ages: the mystery solved? Part III: paleomagnetic stratigraphy and data manipulation,” CRSQ 21, 4 (1985):170–181.
- Michael J. Oard “Are polar ice sheets only 4500 years old? Acts and Facts Impact #361”, ICR (Santee, California), 32(7):i–iv, 2003.)
- Michael J. Oard, “Do Greenland Ice Cores Show over One Hundred Thousand Years of Annual Layers?,” TJ 15(3, 2001):39–42.
- Alley, R.B. and Koci, B.R., “Ice-core analysis at Site A, Greenland: Preliminary results,” Annals of Glaciology 10:1–4, (1988): 26, 378.
- Lorius C., Jouzel J., Ritz C., Merlivat L., Barkov N. I., Korotkevitch Y. S. and Kotlyakov V. M., “A 150,000-year climatic record from Antarctic ice”, Nature 316 (1985): 591-596.
- Zbigniew Jaworowski, “Another Global Warming Fraud Exposed: Ice Core Data Show No Carbon Dioxide Increase,” 21st Century (Spring 1997) says that “in pre-industrial period the total flux of lead into the global atmosphere was higher than in the 20th century, that the atmospheric content of lead is dominated by natural sources, and that the lead level in humans in Medieval Ages was 10 to 100 times higher than in the 20th century.”