"IT'S A YOUNG WORLD AFTER ALL"
©1986 by Paul D. Ackerman    http://www.creationism.org/ackerman/ 




 12 - Creation Stopwatches

 
 



Behold,  thou has made my days
as an handbreadth; and mine
age is as nothing before thee.
                              Psalms 39:5


 



In considering the age of the cosmos, one important difference between the evolutionist and creationist positions needs to be discussed. The evolutionist stance maintains that all features of the present universe have come into existence through the operation of the scientifically observed regularities and processes we see operating today. The creationist, on the other hand, contends that these observed processes cannot account for the creation of the cosmos but are merely characteristic of its post-creation operation. This difference leads to a major break between the two camps as to what constitutes the most valid clocks for estimating the age of the universe. To understand this difference, we may examine an Adam-and-Eve illustration.

Adam and Eve and Carvings on Trees

If the Genesis account is regarded as historical narrative, then Adam and Eve are seen as sudden and "mature" creations. They are also seen as inhabiting a mature world that is finished and waiting for them. From a creationist viewpoint, it would be very misleading to try to estimate the age of the world by examining the developmental level of Adam and such other primary features of the creation as size of trees, amount of foliage, and so on.

On the other hand, with the passage of time, certain secondary features would come into existence as a result of interactions taking place between primary aspects of creation. For instance, Adam might carve "Adam loves Eve" inside a heart on a tree. This carving would be a secondary feature, and if it could be dated by some scientific process, a creationist would have a relatively high degree of confidence in the outcome. Such dating would not, of course, tell us how old the world is, but it would tell us that it must be at least as old as the tree carving. In contrast, the evolutionist would maintain that everything existing in the universe had to come about through a regular developmental process. Since no distinction between primary and secondary features is recognized, the developmental age of Adam would be given equal weight with the tree carving.

Application to Radioactive Dating

When evolutionists estimate the age of the universe at 10 to 20 billion years and the earth at 4.5 billion years, they use features that creationists would tend to regard as primary and therefore suspect as a measuring device. The estimate of 10 or 20 billion years for the age of the universe, for example, is derived in major part from estimates of the size of the universe. However, from a creationist point of view, the size of the universe and the age of the universe are independent. You cannot estimate one from the other.

The 4.5-billion-year estimate for the earth's age is derived by the evolutionist partly from the radioactive parent-daughter element ratios in the basement rocks of the earth's crust. Since these bedrocks are assumed to have formed early in the earth's evolutionary formation, their developmental states are taken as good age indicators. Again, however, from a creationist point of view, these radioactive ratios might be the least dependable age indicators. Many of the radioactive daughter elements, which take millions and billions of years to form under present-day conditions, are necessary or at least useful to human life. Creationists cannot imagine that a rich supply of these elements was not present at the beginning, and so using them to estimate age would be like Adam trying to guess the time since creation by measuring the depth of the topsoil in the Garden of Eden. Such things are primary features of creation and not valid estimators of age.

Radiohalos: An Amazing Discovery in Colorado

Among the world's leading experts on radiometric dating is Robert V. Gentry, formerly a head researcher in chemistry at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As a biblical creationist, Gentry kept the distinction between primary and secondary features of nature very much in mind as he set out to tackle the age question. Would it be possible to find secondary radiometric clocks that would logically have to have been "set at zero" at some point after the formation of the earth?

Gentry's search for such secondary radiometric clocks led him to the study of microscopic bits of radioactive material that are frequently found imbedded in different types of rock formations. The importance of these tiny intrusions to the age issue will become apparent shortly. Among the formations studied by Gentry are coal deposits in the Colorado Plateau, believed by evolutionists to be hundreds of millions of years old.1

At some time in the past in the Colorado Plateau, a great deal of forest vegetation became buried in thick, wet sediment. Buried tree trunks first of all became saturated with water. Suspended in the water were numerous microscopic mineral bits including uranium, which is radioactive. As water soaked into the porous woody material of the trees, some of the microscopic bits of uranium were also transported in and became lodged inside the trees. In the course of time, heat and pressure would affect the buried tree trunks and other forest materials, turning them into coal. Once the coalification process was completed, the uranium bits would be permanently sealed in the rock and—in the sense of providing a radiometric clock—"set at zero."

As a radioactive uranium bit decays, radiation extends in all directions into the surrounding coal for a small yet precise distance determined by the particle energy of the radiation. Over time this emitted radiation will change the color of the coal, forming a distinct sphere around the bit of uranium in the center. These tiny spheres of discolored rock surrounding a microscopic radioactive center are termed "radiohalos." Such radiohalos are Robert Gentry's specialty.

Uranium's Radiohalo Clocks

A number of secondary clocks can be identified in relation to these radiohalos. The two most obvious uses are (1) the precise dating of the radioactive center itself; and (2) the more general dating of the discolored area or halo surrounding the microscopic core.
Regarding the radioactive center, a bit of uranium has at some time in the past, before the wood material was hardened into coal, migrated into its present position. As the uranium bit undergoes radioactive decay, a form of lead is created. Once the coal has hardened and the uranium bit has been cemented into a fixed position, this lead isotope begins to accumulate at the site.

Scientists can now carefully examine the radioactive center to measure the ratio of the uranium "parent element" to the lead "daughter element." This ratio gives a fairly precise estimate of how long the decay process has been going on at that site and thus how old the coal formation is. Gentry has found that the uranium/lead ratios in the Colorado Plateau coal formation indicate that this formation is only a few thousand years old. To quote Gentry:
 

Such extraordinary values admit the possibility that both the initial U (uranium) infiltration and coalification could possibly have occurred within the past several thousand years.2


and again:
 

. . . these ratios raise some crucial questions regarding the antiquity of these geologic formations and about the time required for coalification.3


As a validation of the uranium/lead dating of the radioactive center, the halo or discolored area surrounding the central bit can also be examined. Gentry has found that the halos in the Colorado formation are in an early stage of development, again indicating that the coal deposit is quite young.

Polonium Halos: A Creation Stopwatch

In addition to the uranium halos, Gentry has also found polonium halos in the Colorado Plateau formation. These add an exciting dimension in that they offer evidence that the time required to form the coal was extremely short. Scientists now know that under proper conditions coal and oil can be formed very quickly. Coal has been synthesized in the laboratory in about twenty minutes and oil in about two hours. Gentry's work with polonium halos has provided evidence that coal can also form in natural situations in a relatively short period of time.

Polonium is a high-energy isotope with a short life span (or half-life, as scientists call it). It forms a halo in a very short amount of time before it becomes inactive. Many of these halos in the Colorado formation are not spherical but have been compressed and flattened out. This flattening indicates that the halo developed when the coal was just forming and was still somewhat soft. A spherical halo developed, but then, as the coal became compressed and hardened, the halo was flattened.

Gentry's data indicate that the amount of time involved in the formation of these coal deposits was less than twenty-five to fifty years, probably much less. The basis for this estimate is the presence of fascinating dual halos around a single center in which one halo is flattened and the other is perfectly round. The flattened halos are of a type that would form in six months to a year. The round halos are of a type that would form in twenty-five to fifty years. Thus, the coal had to be hardened and in its present shape well within the twenty-five-to-fifty-year span in order for the spherical halo to retain its form.


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