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The Blind Leading The Blind On The Age Of The Earth


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I live not far from the creationist museum in Santee, CA. Recently I was listening to a Christian radio station and the museum had an ad on. It included an invitation to an exhibit that presented 10 reasons why the Earth is no more than 20,000 years old. I was intrigued enough to see what their website said about this.


Most of their denial of geology and evolution was vague and subjective. Some claims they make must be false, such as their claim that both carbon dating and argon dating are on their side, but it would be a lot of work to track down their references as to why.


One claim they made was easy to evaluate fully on its face. They claim the currently decreasing magnetic field of the Earth is proceeding so quickly that the original field and therefore the Earth could at most be 20,000 years old. That's an absolutely incredible claim.


It's not the math that makes it incredible. It's that anyone who has the relevant data at hand also has geological data saying that the Earth's magnetic field reverses completely almost like clockwork, presumably for billions of years. Data from the sea floor shows stripes of rock with alternating magnetism for many millions of years. Computer models show this continuing indefinitely.


Yet somewhere in teaching this story was a creationist who realized that if you ignore most of the data, there's an argument in here for a young Earth. That's the part that amazes me. Someone wanted a young Earth this badly.


It can be hard to understand what's wrong with every Bible-based attack on geology and evolution, but there's a good place to start every time. What does a scientist say about that attack (not an engineer or with a job related to science)? Why didn't the Bible remain scientific truth? Creationists don't want that answer.


Even halfway well-meaning fear-mongering on TV gets the magnetic field story wrong with warnings of the field's collapse someday. No, computer models show the reversed polarity happens in patches, so the field never goes to zero.


Sometimes Christian apologetics is not about well-meaning ignorance, though. Look at some atheist's website of 101 or more contradictions in the Bible and then a book on apologetics. Things like this deliberate misuse of magnetic field data happen regularly, because that's what it takes to prop up biblical inerrancy.


Yet biblical inerrancy is not on the verge of collapse except in the mind of someone like me, because I was born recently enough to know science, and because the flaws of Christian apologetics have bothered me for 40 years.


Will it ever collapse? Will it weaken as opposition to homosexuality weakens or as science keeps growing? I am sure that it keeps going because of the almost blind leading the completely blind. So what?


It drives me to prayer.

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I think it is inevitable that the creation story as told by biblical literalists and young earthers, will collapse one day. I believe it is doing so as we speak. The internet has made information so readily available to so many, and I think we are starting to see the impact of such availability of information.


It may seem slow, but I think it is faster than what we imagine.




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I tend to think that religion is more about a search for meaning than it is about truth (our best understanding of what is). Take the Santa Claus myth, for example. We all know that though there is no real Santa Claus (though there was once a St. Nicholaus), we teach the myth to our children as part of our culture and the meaning of Christmas. And who doesn't love the story? It seems to matter not whether it is historical or factual, the myth endures because of the meaning and symbology attached to it.


I think religious notions are much the same. Most people don't put that much thought into how a virgin could conceive or how a man could walk on water. The stories persist because they bring meaning and purpose to people's lives. I suspect that the creation myth, as a literal, historical account, will likely endure also. As has been said, "My mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts." :) I think we believe what we believe, not because we are convinced of its ultimate truth, but because of the structure and comfort that our beliefs give to our lives.


I personally know Christians who believe Genesis is a literal, historical account, and they are very loving people. And I know a few atheists who "know better", hold to evolution, but are mean as snakes. So I question that knowing the truth of a thing necessarily makes for good character. I suspect we are more complicated than that.

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Bill, you point out something else that is frustrating about this. Love and truth don't go along well in individuals. If the Spirit sanctifies us, shouldn't we be improving at both? Or does the Spirit have other priorities?<br /><br />It is as you write that people believe what they believe. I am pacified by that when it comes to people who trust apologetics to say there is no problem with biblical inerrancy. What amazes me is how easy it would be for those with some exposure to science to know better. If you do the calculation to suggest that the current drop in magnetic field can't be more than 20,000 years old, how do you miss the bigger context of millions of years of complete reversals?<br /><br />It's like the politics of global warming. Because 1998 was an especially warm year, deniers say with a straight face that warming stopped after that year, yet the actual graphs show that the trend has continued warming straight through the most recent data. Human capacity for denial is amazing.<br /><br />I hope it's true as the others said that religion is evolving. It may take centuries, though.

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David, like Soma has mentioned, I think there is room for (and we need) a rational spirituality that is not based primarily in superstition or non-sensical worldviews. At the same time, some of our spiritual values are, perhaps, above rational critique, coming more from the heart than the head. So I think there is room for both. One of the problems with rationalism, IMO, is that we have to know a great deal about the subject matter in order to decide what seems valid and what does not. And when it comes to God or spiritual things, although some put trust in holy texts or church doctrines, many of us, when the rubber meets the road, go on gut instinct, on what we feel is right based upon, not thorough examination of the facts, but what makes us feel part of the greater whole. I think we need both. But I also think we need to teach myth as myth, not as historical, factual truth. That way, we can preserve the meaning without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

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