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Origin of the Earth

An unsuccessful attempt to correct an error
on young-earth creationist website
s. Part 1

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About the age of the earth, and why it is so important:

You may wish to skip this introduction if you are familiar with the differences between old and young earth beliefs.

Many creationists and scientists disagree about the age of the Earth. The most vocal creationists believe in a young earth in a young universe that have been in existence fewer than 10,000 years. All of the scientists that we have heard of, who are not young earth creationists, believe that the earth coalesced over four billion years ago.

bulletOld earth belief:
bullet Over 99.8% of specialists in the biological and geological sciences support the theory of evolution. More details. This implies a very old earth. A near universal estimate, based on radiometric measurements of earth rocks, is that that the earth coalesced into more or less its current shape about 4.5 billion years ago.
 
bullet Many "Old earth creationists" believe that God inspired the authors of the Bible to write text that is inerrant -- free of error. They interpret Genesis 1 and 2 in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) literally and interpret it as implying a very old universe. They generally accept the scientists' estimate of a  universe coming into existence approximately 15 billion years ago and a roughly 4.5 billion year old Earth. They believe that God created both.
 
bulletYoung earth belief: Many, perhaps most, Christian Creationists are "young earth creationists" who view the Earth and the rest of the universe as less than 10,000 years old. Conservative Christians have made many calculations to estimate the date of creation on the basis of the biblical records of generations of ancient Hebrews, from Adam and Eve onwards. They have computed dates ranging from 3641 to 6000 BCE. A common estimate for creation is 4004 BCE; this implies a 6 millennia-old earth.

However, some young earth creationists suspect that some of the generations between Adam and David were simply not reported in the Bible. That is, when the Bible states that A begat B, then A might have been really the grandfather, not the father, of B. This could push the date of creation, according to their interpretation of the Bible, back perhaps to sometime between 4000 and 8000 BCE -- as much as ten millennia before the present time.

The difference between ten thousand years and 4.5 billion years is enormous. It is roughly like comparing the thickness of a piece of 20 pound copy paper to half the length of a football field!

Resolving the age of the Earth has a profound impact on the theory of evolution:

bullet If the earth's age 10,000 years or less, there could not possibly have been sufficient time for animal and plant species to have evolved. In a rare display of unanimity, both the supporters of a young earth and supporters of the theory of evolution agree on this fact. If the earth were in fact that young, then the various life forms on earth could not have evolved. They must have been created (or transported to earth by a more advanced civilization) sometime during the past 10,000 years.
 
bullet The vast majority of biologists, geologists, cosmologists, astronomers, etc. believe that the earth is "old," and that evolution from a primitive cell to the current diversity of life forms is possible. More details. Further, they believe that the fossil record and radiometric analysis prove that much of it actually happened. Unfortunately, very early life forms were incapable of leaving fossils behind, and so the complete history of evolution is not fully documented, and may never be so.

One strong indicator of the earth's age:

Both young earth creationists and old earth scientists believe that their estimates of the Earth's age are consistent with calculations based on the gradual deceleration of the earth's rotational speed. Everyone agrees that the earth is continuously slowing down; the days are gradually getting longer. Unfortunately, people interpret the data in two very different ways:

What some young creationists and almost all scientists agree on:

A combination of many factors "...causes a slowing of the Earth's rotational speed." 1 The main cause of the deceleration, by far are the tides created by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. "...the moon is responsible for 56% of the earth's tidal energy while the sun claims responsibility for 44%." 2 Tides generate friction between the moving water and the base of the oceans. This converts a very small part of the earth's kinetic (rotational) energy into heat. That slows the earth rotational speed, and heats up the ocean by a miniscule amount. The phenomenon functions much as brake pads work in an automobile. The car slows; its kinetic energy is converted to heat. Other possible causes of the deceleration are relatively small, and possibly include:

bulletThe long-term changes in the Earth's oblateness parameter, J3. This is caused by a change in the earth's shape. The surface of the earth is still rebounding after the pressures caused by the glaciers in the last ice age disappeared. Strong earthquakes can change the oblateness as well. The earthquake that created the South Asian tsunami in 2004-DEC-24 is believed to have shortened the length of a day by a few microseconds.

bulletAn effect that scientist call "deep ocean dissipation." 4

In ancient times, the rotation of the earth was sufficiently accurate to measure time. One rotation of the earth's rotation was defined as 24 hours; one second was set at 1/86,400 of a day. But with the increased need for precision, scientists recognized that the earth's rotation could no longer be used as a time standard. The rotational speed is continuously changing. They decided to define the second as an absolute interval of time: exactly 86,400 of our present-day seconds totaled almost exactly the length of one day back in 1820 CE. Almost two centuries have passed since that base year. During that interval, the earth has slowed down slightly. Each of today's days now consists of about 86,400.002 seconds. Two milliseconds may not seem like much, compared to 86,000 seconds. However, they accumulate during the year. Each year has lengthened by 365' x 2 = 730 milliseconds -- almost one second. 1

Leap seconds have traditionally been inserted either at the middle or end of the year in order to keep time in synchronism with the earth's rotation. When a leap second is inserted, in essence, clocks are stopped for a second to let the Earth catch up. This ensures "...that the difference between a uniform time scale defined by atomic clocks does not differ from the Earth's rotational time by more than 0.9 seconds." 5 This was done 22 times in the 30 year period from 1970 to 1999; the process has continued to the present time. 6

What some young earth creation scientists conclude about the leap second:

Many creationist websites observe that scientists make an adjustment of one second during most years and no adjustment during other years. This averages about  0.7 seconds per year or in excess of 2 milliseconds per day.  This may not seem like much. But it amounts to over 20 milliseconds difference in the length of a day per decade, 0.2 seconds per century, 20 seconds per 10,000 years. If this rate were constant, the loss would be over 9 million seconds per day over the 4.5 billion years that scientists believe the earth has existed.  Since there are only 86,400 seconds in the day, that is clearly impossible. Still, If the earth's rate of deceleration has extended throughout the life of the earth at even a fraction of the present rate, then:

bulletIf the earth's rotational speed had started off at a reasonable value 4.5 billion years ago, as supporters of evolution claimed, it would have essentially stopped turning by now. That clearly has not happened.

bulletSince the earth's speed at the equator is currently about 1,609 kph (1,000 mph), its rotational speed would have been extremely high 4.5 billion years ago. The earth would have flattened into the shape of a pancake long ago. That clearly did not happen either.

Thus, they conclude, the age of the earth must be a very small fraction of 4.5 billion years. If this is true, then evolution could not possibly have happened. There simply would not have been sufficient time for the present diversity of life forms on earth to have evolved. The species must have been specially created recently, presumably by God. They are confident that these observations, along with other indicators, points to an earth of less than 10,000 years of age.

Most creation science websites that explain this "proof" of a young earth and the impossibility of evolution seem to use very similar wording. We suspect that many have directly or indirectly derived their beliefs from the same book(s). Still, it makes sense as creation scientists view the data. It makes a powerful proof/indication that an old earth is simply impossible, and that evolution never happened. 3,7

This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Earth Rotation," at: http://www.colorado.edu/
  2. Mat Rosenberg, "The Sun and Moon Affect the Oceans," About, at: http://geography.about.com
  3. Wysong(?), "Age of the Earth," (1981 ?), Page 21. There are many books with titles like this one; most are out of print. It is unclear which one is used by many creation science websites.
  4. R.A. Nelson, et al., "The leap second: Its history and possible future," at: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/ You need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
  5. "Leap seconds," U.S. Navy Observatory, at: http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/
  6. "NIST time scale data archive," National Institute of Standards and Technology," at: http://www.boulder.nist.gov/
  7. Scott Huse, "The Collapse Of Evolution," (1996), Page 25.

Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JAN-3
Latest update: 2011-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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