Answers in Genesis, Radiometric Dating, and the Denial of Science (I’ll Take David Hume Behind Door Number 3!)

After a while, there’s only so much you can say about the claims of young earth creationist groups like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis. As I wrote in my book, The Heresy of Ham, the entire “gospel” of Answers in Genesis (which really is no gospel at all) can be boiled down to five basic talking points that they continually recycle, over and over again:

  1. There are two kinds of science: observational and historical
  2. Evolution is the anti-God religion of atheism
  3. Christians who accept that the universe is older than 6,000 years are “compromised” Christians
  4. All geological, biological, and genetic evidence we see today can all be traced back to Noah’s flood, 4,000 years ago.
  5. When Genesis talks about “kinds,” those are God’s own scientific classification of original animals that came on to Noah’s Ark, and from which all modern species have developed within the past 4,000 years.

Yes, AiG no doubt addresses other things as well, but I’m willing to bet that even those other “things” are somehow connected to these five talking points. That’s why my writing on AiG has gone down over the past month or so—what else can be said? Sure, every now and then Ken Ham takes to Twitter, unleashes 6-7 tweets within the span of two hours, bemoaning about how evolution is a “fairytale,” with no evidence, and that’s because atheists have a blind faith in millions of years, etc. etc.—but after a while, like I said, you just roll your eyes and move on.

Today, though, a friend of mine shared this youtube video from AiG about radiometric dating, and why it is (supposedly) unreliable for determining the age of rocks. Now, I am not a scientist, and most scientific discussion makes my eyes glaze over. My brain is wired for literature, poetry, and Biblical Studies. As I watched this short video, though, a few thoughts popped into my head that I just have to share. First, take 3:18 minutes and watch for yourself.

AiG Explains Radiometric Dating…Fairly Accurately?
As you can tell, for about the first 1:40, the AiG narrator (I’m assuming) fairly accurately explains what radiometric dating is, what “half-life” is, and how scientists come up with the age of rocks. Up to that 1:40 mark, I was somewhat surprised: AiG gave a straightforward explanation regarding radiometric dating and half-life. It actually admitted that this was “observable science” and therefore reliable. And it (by omission) admitted that the motivating factor scientists use radiometric dating isn’t “to deny God,” or “to come up with some justification for evolution.” No, the video pretty much admitted that scientists take what they observe with half-life, then calculated backwards to try to find out how old the rock in question is.

Wow! There’s no sinister atheistic agenda! Thanks AiG, for admitting that and for giving scientists a certain amount of credit and respect.

…but oh, it just couldn’t last. You knew it was coming. Somehow, someway, AiG was going to smuggle in at least one of their talking points. Sure enough…historical science.

Is That All There Is to It?
Oh of course not…if that was all there was to it, AiG would have to issue a retraction to everything it has ever said ever, and then shut the whole organization down. And that just won’t do. There has to be a way to discredit the whole radiometric dating thing of (by their own admission) observational science.

And sure enough, a mere 11 seconds later, AiG’s “historical science” makes its appearance. And how AiG introduces it is breathtaking:

  1. “It is true that we can measure a decay rate using observational science” (Got that? It’s TRUE!)
  2. “But there’s another kind of science that’s required to accurately calculate dates for rocks, and that is what we call historical science. Historical science deals with things in the past, and therefore cannot be repeated and tested.”

checkthisoutAnd right there, AiG’s untestable “historical science” takes center stage. And, as I have said elsewhere, their definition of “historical science” is self-refuting—if it can’t be tested or observed in the natural world, then it’s not science. Think about it, if “historical science” “deals with the past” yet cannot be tested or observed, then how can it deal with the past, and how would you be able to test its claims to determine whether or not its claims were true?

But of course, AiG knows the answer to that—you can’t. That’s why they define “historical science” the way they do—it inoculates their claims from any kind of questioning or testing at all. Therefore, their “historical scientific claims” boil down to this: “Trust us…what we say is correct—God gave us the historical scientific information in Genesis 1-11.”

Getting Accurate Rock Dates…You Know What You Do When You “Assume”!
The rest of the video tries to convince you that radiometric dating and calculating the half-life of rocks isn’t enough to figure out the age of rocks. You need to use that “observational science” in conjunction with some sort of “historical science” to get it right. And, as AiG states, “Since radiometric dating uses both types of science…”

Wait…what? Do you see what AiG did there? They just threw that assertion out there—and this is problematic for two reasons:

  1. The fact is, there is no such thing as ‘historical science’—no self-respecting scientist believes there is a field of science that can somehow tell about the past without appealing to any kind of evidence in the natural world.
  2. Since there is no such thing as “historical science,” it is also obviously false to claim that radiometric dating uses it in conjunction with “observational science.” Simply put, there is just one kind of science—the kind that observes the natural world and makes testable predictions based on that evidence in order to understand the natural world better.

But in any case, AiG’s canard of “historical science” really boils down to their classic line regarding “starting points” and “assumptions.” Or in other words, AiG ends up rejecting radiometric dating because even though scientists today can observe the half-life of rocks, they weren’t there when the rock was original formed, so therefore they have to make assumptions regarding the conditions of the original rock sample. As AiG states,

  1. How do they know those conditions weren’t altered somehow by some other processes in the past?
  2. How do they know that the decay rate remains constant throughout the past?

And with that (and their analogy of the hourglass), AiG confidently declares, “THEY DON’T!” “Since we did not observe the initial conditions when the hourglass started, and since we haven’t been watching all the sand all the time since then, we must make assumptions.”

And (again), with that, out goes radiometric dating!

David Hume, or the Christian Assumption of an Orderly Universe? AiG Sides with Hume!
david-humeSince we’re making assumptions, I’m going to make one here: AiG is the reincarnation at an organizational level of David Hume. If you don’t know, David Hume took skepticism to an absurd extreme, basically saying you can’t know anything for certain unless you actually witness the entire event—but even then you couldn’t be certain, because you can’t really trust your senses either. You see me throw a ball throw a window and the window shatters—but how do you really know it was the ball that shattered the window? Isn’t it possible the window just happened to shatter for some other reason a millisecond before the ball came in contact with it?

How do you know for certain?
Were you there?
Were you able to observe every split second from every angle for all time?
Aren’t you just basing your conclusion on your assumptions?
What if you’re wrong?

ken-ham-picLet’s be honest, the only “assumptions” scientists are making is that there are consistent natural laws in the universe (i.e. half-life, speed of light in a vacuum, etc.). Or simply put, the basic assumption scientists make is that the natural universe is pretty orderly. In fact, that is the assumption the original medieval scientists had as they began to investigate the natural world—and why did they assume that? Because they were Christians who believed God was a God of order—and yes, they read Genesis 1 and realized that one of the messages of Genesis 1 is that God’s creation is one of order.

Based on that assumption, scientists study things like half-life and the speed of light, and come to the conclusion (based on the testable things they observe in the natural world!) that rocks are millions of years old and that the universe is 14 billion years old. Those calculations are possible because we live in an ordered universe, created by God.

And even if one doesn’t believe in God, one can still make the same calculations and come to the same conclusions…except for AiG…for they, quite literally, deny that the universe is orderly. Ironic, eh? In this silly little video, AiG denies the basic assumption that inspired the original Christian scientists to go out and study the natural world. AiG is denying the fundamental assumption that God is a God of order, and that the nature universe reflects that very thing.

By the Way…What Does Any of This Have to do with the Bible, or the Gospel?
The subtitle here pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? AiG makes this huge deal as to why one can’t trust radiometric dating to give an accurate age for rocks (never mind the ludicrous “WWDavidHumeD” mindset of AiG)…and for what reason?

Well, if you’re familiar with AiG at all, you already know the real reason, even though they don’t put it in this video. AiG has an assumption all its own: Genesis 1-11 is scientifically and historically accurate, and if it isn’t, then Christianity isn’t true, for a scientific/historical reading of Genesis 1-11 is the foundation for the Gospel. Never mind that at no time in Church History before the 20th century was that claim ever made. And never mind the fact that everything modern astronomy, biology, geology, and genetics contradicts AiG’s claim that the universe is 6,000 years old.

No, the assumptions of AiG are not even based on anything observable. Quite the contrary, they are literally based on nothing. That’s actually ironic, for in the Old Testament, when the prophets would rail against pagan idolatry, one of the ways they would describe idols is with a word that essentially meant a breath, or vapor, or basically nothingness. And that was the point—even though pagan temples had physical idols, in reality those idols represented nothing that corresponded to reality in any way.

In a similar way, AiG actually prides itself…on nothing. Such is idolatry—the worship of an image that ultimately corresponds to nothing that is real.

We Christians often refer to God as the “Rock of Ages.” In a very poetic and metaphorical way, the radiometric dating of modern science, by showing that there are rocks here on earth that are ancient, “of ages” long past, so to speak, actually can be seen as a reflection of God here in the natural world. It’s just a shame that AiG refuses to see it. They can’t–they’re worshiping their own peculiar idol that cannot hear or see, and hence, they become like what they worship.

10 Comments

  1. There is no other reliable way to measure age of rocks, only by using different types of radiometric dating for the different ranges of time periods. That is why C14 or any isotope is only used for up to 5 half-lives, because the numbers get more extrapolated the lower the % of C14 is left. After halving 5 times, less than 3.125% is present in any radiometric isotope. After halving 10 times, do the math for the powers of 2 in reverse, approximately .09% of the isotope is left to measure. So there are reasonable limits for each radioactive isotope and its decay, whether U238, K40, Th232. See the good intro description in Wikipedia for Radioactive Decay.

    Historical science isn’t science. it appears as someone’s faith in something that can’t be measured. The issue is that God never brings up this area of science in the Bible, probably because to Him it is not important. So Joel and other Christians who try to compare real science and the Bible are just showing what the Bible does not try to prove, although the young earth group has its own faith in their view of God and science beyond any reasonable rationale within science. Thanks for the well-written clarification on these points, Joel. By the way, nice picture comparison of you and Hume. You do look like him.

    1. No, historical science very much is science. It works in exactly the same way as any other kind of science. Form a hypothesis; make some predictions based on it; design a test to see if those predictions are met; conduct test; confirm, improve, adjust or discard hypothesis as appropriate.

      One of the most useful tests is to cross-check the results of two studies whose assumptions are independent of each other. If different results are in agreement the majority of the time, then we can safely assume that the results concerned are indeed correct.

  2. Please see here, if you haven’t already:
    http://scienceandcreation.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/answers-in-genesiss-deceptive-video-on.html
    (I don’t claim to be an isochron expert but I recall this other blog post which discussed the topic – and which I thought I understood when I read it back in 2015:
    https://ageofrocks.org/2015/04/13/argon-argon-dating-how-does-it-work-is-it-reliable/)

    If radiometric dating methods suggested that meteorites were no older than around 6,000 years, would AiG and co embrace ‘historical science’ and indeed ‘uniformitarianism’? I guess we will never know (unless they tell us).

  3. PS to my comment awaiting moderation – which flagged a new blog on this same video by Jimpithecus/ScienceandCreation. That video is here too!:
    https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/answers-in-genesis-deceptive-video-on-radiometric-dating/comment-page-1/#comment-1418

    PPS Wonder if AiG will review your book (shouldn’t be too hard for them if you don’t, as existing Amazon reviews suggest is the case, much tackle them on the scientific aspects of their claims about the (recent) past).

  4. Seem to recall Bill Nye gave a copy of his latest book to Ham in 2014 or 2015 (unless it was the other way round). (And AiG claim their detractors are ‘ignorant’ of THEIR claims, so I hope Ham is aware of the claims of evolution or theistic evolution or non YEC evangelicalism.)

  5. Actually, the claim that historical science involves measurements that can’t be repeated or tested is wrong. All you need to do is to take two or more studies whose assumptions are independent of each other, and cross-check them. If the cross-checks confirm each other more often than not, you can be pretty sure the results are solid when they do.

    1. Yes, well I’m pretty sure what was meant is the “historical science” that Ken Ham puts forward doesn’t exist. Obviously, modern science can make claims about past events based on what they can observe today (i.e. starlight, radiometric dating), but that isn’t what Ken Ham means when he says “historical science.” If you read enough of him, you’ll see his definition boils down to this: “Genesis 1-11 is God’s eyewitness account of the creation of the world; it is historical and scientific, and if you don’t believe that, you’re undermining God’s Word. Historical science is a matter of faith in God’s infallible Word, or man’s fallible opinions.”

      I think we can agree that THAT kind of “historical science” is a canard.

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