The Young-Earth Creationist’s Problem with Evidence

early_cretaceous_plant_fossilsThe whole basis of young earth creationist (YEC) arguments, and indeed the only way they can even begin to make a case for their so-called viewpoint, is the idea that nothing can be known about geological history based on the analysis of rocks. This idea is so fundamental to the case for a young earth that vast amounts of evidence must be brutally twisted or completely ignored, and the entire field of geology is reduced to nothing. It’s really more of a non-viewpoint, since they refuse to do any viewing and their point is empty and self-defeating.

Let’s take a moment to consider the strange irony of people worshiping as absolute truth an ancient human-produced document of dubious origins, claiming that the world is direct evidence of their god…and then utterly denying the possibility of learning truth from ancient rocks formed by predictable natural forces that we’ve been studying for a long time now and can actually observe in progress today. The cognitive dissonance of such a position blows my mind.

There are numerous things we can learn from the rocks, fossils, and other features on our planet. I mentioned varves in a recent article–they are particularly compelling because the evidence of their age is the very physical stuff they’re made from. They show clearly defined seasonal layers that contain the pollen, flowers, and fruit of plants, as well as many other substances representing specific times of year. We have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that varve layers are of annual nature, some that are still forming today have more than ten thousand layers, and we have unearthed well-preserved ancient varves covering millions of years of environmental history.

To “interpret” this evidence in a YEC worldview requires dismissing it entirely–they cannot admit the existence of several million layers of annually deposited material because they’ve already decided the earth is much younger than that. They cannot even admit the existence of varves that are still being formed in lakes today, which contain so many annual layers that they push back the mathematically “possible” date of Noah’s flood to several thousand years before creationists think the universe began! So, rather than deal with the evidence staring them in the face, they claim that there must be some other explanation but we can’t know what it is because we didn’t see those layers being formed. Even though we can take samples of the layers and find out precisely what they are made of, even though we can watch essentially identical layers forming in front of us in real time, somehow we still can’t know how they formed.

When someone digs up an animal skeleton, it’s not reasonable for them to say, “There’s no way of knowing if these bones came from an animal that died.” We all know that buried bones got there because an animal died. Yet applying the logic of young earth creationism, we simply can’t know that those bones got there via the death of an animal because none of us saw it die.

This completely fallacious argument (or solipsistic perspective) is further worsened by the insistence that any evidence pointing to an old earth is being interpreted wrongly through the lens of uniformitarianism. The main problem here is that science requires far better evidence than assumptions of uniformity–we figured that one out quite a while ago. Radiocarbon dating is often targeted with this argument, yet nobody is assuming atmospheric C14 was uniform throughout history. We actually know it fluctuates, and use a variety of data to figure out those fluctuations and adjust for them.

Ice cores also show the earth is very old because modern glaciers and ice sheets contain tens of thousands of annual layers. The layers result from seasonal cycles of melting and growth, and even though it’s a reasonable assumption that long periods of warmth followed by long periods of cold and snow represent changing seasons, we can further back up this evidence by analyzing the chemical composition of the ice, which shows annual changes apart from the visible evidence of freezing and melting.

In some cases, to dismiss radiometric dating, accusations of uniformitarian assumptions are leveled at the idea of radioactive decay rates being consistent. If it isn’t already obvious, this accusation is ludicrous not just because radioactivity is well understood and predictable, but also because the rate of decay required to fit measurements into a YEC timeline would probably vaporize the oceans and kill everything on the planet.

The accusation of uniformitarianism is particularly insane when used against continental drift. We know the continents have been joined in the past because we’ve matched up the rocks that split apart when they moved. In addition, we have enormous amounts of ocean floor available to research, and we can examine the chemical composition of the rocks and sediment to determine precisely how they were formed and how quickly that happened. The history of continental drift is literally written in stone at the bottom of the oceans.

Yet somehow the YEC imagines continental plates racing apart from each other extremely fast compared to today’s rate, faster than the thick molten rock they float on can possibly move. This would’ve had to happen for quite a while after their worldwide flood (allowing the kangaroos to get over to Australia before it split off, of course), at such a speed that devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions would probably make the planet uninhabitable. It would also create an ocean floor very different from the one we actually have, assuming the oceans didn’t all boil away in the process.

Rock formation is another subject that must be almost entirely ignored, because within every rock are visible and chemical features that tell the story of how they formed and sometimes how old they are. One interesting example is the existence of folded rock layers, which contain millions of tiny fractures that tell us the rock was folded very slowly over a long period of time after it solidified, not quickly while it was still hot and ductile. The time required for many large rock formations to exist as we see them today is often far longer than the YEC age for the universe.

Geological processes are pretty well understood these days, and it’s usually quite simple to spot the difference between formations created quickly in cataclysmic events and those that took much longer. It’s like spotting the difference between damage caused to your car by a tree branch that’s still lying on it, and the damage caused by a vandal who spray-painted the windows. Different effects come from different causes, and in some cases the effect makes the cause obvious. Windows spray-painted? The culprit is probably not a tree. Very fine particles pressed into millions of microscopically thin layers, with distinct and varying composition, that show patterns corresponding to both yearly seasons and long-term weather cycles? Probably not laid down by violent floodwaters in a short amount of time. Never mind “probably”; it would be physically impossible.

One of my favorite problems for the YEC is the sheer number of animal species that exist. Part of their mythology is a literal worldwide flood that killed everyone except eight people, who supposedly survived on a large boat with at least one pair of every land animal to repopulate the world. Let’s set aside for a moment the issue of human genetics (which shows we could not have come from a population of just eight, much less a single breeding pair), and also the fact that underwater life probably would not have survived the cataclysm they describe due to complete destruction of ecosystems and mixing of fresh and salt water. Let’s focus on one single issue: the sheer number of different animal species makes it impossible for all of them to fit on Noah’s ark, let alone live in it for a year.

How does the YEC get around this? Ken Ham and many others like him adopt a bizarre form of evolution in which animals are somehow able to mutate and speciate extremely fast (Bill Nye’s generously conservative estimate was eleven new species every single day), and yet somehow they are constrained to only the specific mutations that would keep them within their “kind”, a vague and imaginary bible-based taxonomic group. No actual definitions are given for these kinds, aside from profoundly ignorant things like “we never see cats giving birth to dogs!” Duh, but we do see subsequent generations of cats changing over time due to environmental pressures. Which is evolution.

Another big problem faced by the YEC is our ability to see light from galaxies over 13 billion light years away. The phrase “13 billion light years” describes a distance in space through which light would travel while 13 billion years pass from our perspective. The light was emitted when the galaxy was much closer to us, and the expansion of space has stretched out the distance to much greater than 13 billion light years, but that’s beside the point. The point is that the fact we can see this light means at least 13 billion years have passed from our perspective. The only other option is to argue that the speed of light has been different in the past, but as religious apologists are so fond of pointing out, if you change just one constant the universe wouldn’t work…so it must have been finely tuned for us! (Some get around this issue by inserting a 13 billion year gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, but the really devout do not accept your blasphemous time gaps.)

Or, we could just look at trees. By counting their rings, and correlating hundreds of individual trees whose growth overlaps, we can eliminate any possible cases where more than one ring was formed in a year, and such chronologies take us back to more than double the YEC age of the universe.

Or look at coral. Reefs have annual layers too, and their annual nature is supported by all evidence including simple observation of how they form, chemical composition, and U-Th dating…and this information also tells us the history of the fluctuating coral growth rates (thus accusations of uniformitarianism are completely misguided). The record of modern coral communities–which must have formed after the YEC’s worldwide flood–extends tens or even hundreds of thousands of years into the past.

Or look at caves, which we know are formed by the dissolution of rock into water, which is a very slow process. The very nature of the cave precludes the possibility of a catastrophic cause. Even at the fastest possible rates, many well-known caves are so large it would still take far too long to carve them out to fit into a YEC timeline. Not only that, but caves are full of speleothems (like stalagmites and stalactites) which themselves take thousands of years to form, something that can be confirmed in multiple different ways without assuming uniformity.

Or look at the massive deltas where rivers meet the ocean. These sediments were clearly delivered by the river over long periods of time, as any faster process such as flooding would produce results that look very different. Deltas have been thoroughly mapped and examined and they show that the modern landscape of the world has been quite stable for millions of years.

Or look at sediments at the bottom of the ocean, which are comprised of layer upon layer of extremely tiny particles, diatoms, microscopic plankton, and more. Such tiny particles could not have been deposited rapidly, as they would remain suspended in flowing water. The only way for them to be deposited as they are is to settle down through relatively calm water, and such a process would take millions of years to produce the deposits we observe. Other methods of dating than simply measuring layers are also used to confirm their age. In addition, volcanic ash from known eruptions is found intermittently in ocean sediment layers, which is only possible if the ash settled down through a relatively calm ocean, which further precludes the possibility of catastrophic sedimentation. As if that wasn’t enough, ocean floor sediments also record the reversals of the earth’s magnetic poles, which happens on a very long time scale (compared to the YEC timeline).

Or look at sediments on land. The continents are much higher than the ocean floors (duh), yet a catastrophic flood would have moved sediment from higher to lower ground. The YEC model cannot account for the comparatively young age of the ocean floors and the much older age of continents, because they would have to suppose that after the flood waters had receded, all of the lowest parts of the earth magically rose up miles above the rest to form the modern continents. In addition, we have rocks all over the earth that are essentially identical to modern ocean floor sediments, proving they could not have been formed in a flood but rather formed slowly over millions of years in calm ancient seas…and are now found in mountains.

Or look at the sheer amount of organic matter in the earth’s crust that was supposedly buried by the YEC flood. It’s somewhere around 3000 times greater than the entire biomass of the world today, which could not possibly have existed all at once. There’s simply not enough space and resources for that much life to exist on the planet at the same time…and it only represents the small fraction of organic matter that happened to be buried instead of decomposing on the surface.

Or look at the damn fossil record. Apart from showing clear delineations between different sorts of life, we have fossilized lake beds with cracks that resulted from drying mud during droughts, animal footprints, river channels, and more. We have animal remains meticulously blanketed between ancient varve layers. These things are in turn on top of more layers containing more fossils. The YEC has to claim all of it was laid down in the flood–they essentially have to claim that the flood created evidence of droughts, animal footprints, river channels, raindrop impressions between sedimentary layers, and microscopically thin layers of finely sorted material including pollen, insect poop, fish scales, volcanic ash, and so on. The mental image of the magic interference required of a deity to create what we see in the fossil record during a worldwide flood is absurd and hilarious.

Furthermore, the fossil record shows us various sorts of life that cannot possibly exist at the same time. The most striking examples are dragonflies the size of eagles and millipedes the size of cars, which existed a long time ago before modern mammals showed up. Huge insects and other terrestrial arthropods could only exist in a world with oxygen levels that would kill most mammals. This is why we no longer have giant insects–the oxygen levels dropped and therefore insects grow to smaller sizes than they used to. But the most important aspect of this evidence is how it proves the existence of life long before humans. Perhaps god initially created the world with more oxygen and then realized he had to make it lower in order to support humans, so he killed everything halfway through day five, fossilized it under many layers of meticulously deposited sediments and evidence of ancient landscapes, and then proceeded with the rest of creation.

I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Here’s a short list of a few other things that cannot be explained with the YEC flood or within their timeline: Angular unconformities, dolomite, massive deposits of salts via evaporation of ancient lakes and oceans, syntectonic deposits, huge amounts of chalk, offset of sediments along faultlines like the San Andreas, the amount of oil and coal in the earth’s crust, the mere existence of oil and coal, the absence of soft tissue in older fossils, early fossils found in gastroliths in the bellies of dinosaur fossils, the almost universal disarticulation of vertebrate fossil skeletons (complete articulated skeletons would indicate catastrophic burial), ancient sandstone that formed in deserts (not floods), the physical shape of the Grand Canyon, ancient stromatolites, concentrations of helium in zircons (which comes from radioactive decay), the changing chemistry of rocks over time, the nearly complete absence from the earth’s crust of elements like technetium (the most stable isotope has a half life of 4.2 million years), the current temperatures of huge masses of igneous rock (which would have taken millions of years to cool down), large metamorphic bodies, the sheer amount of volcanic deposits…

So you see, it really isn’t that the YEC is just interpreting through a different lens, as they’re so fond of saying. They aren’t interpreting evidence, they are ignoring it. They are proposing a hypothesis that simply cannot account for what we actually see in the world today. It explains geological evidence as well as the stork delivery hypothesis explains the origin of babies.

At this point, YEC apologists are essentially reduced to argument from ignorance and an absurd notion that any fundamental feature or constant of the universe may have been somehow very different in the past, despite there being no logical reason nor any evidence to indicate that we should expect such things to ever be different. They give all sorts of “possible explanations” that in most cases don’t even hold up to basic logical scrutiny, let alone application of geology, mathematics, physics, and other branches of knowledge.

But the arguments are just a shield. The answer to the question–truth–doesn’t actually matter to them. Their beliefs matter. They don’t have a logical argument, they have an emotional connection to an idea.

Why is this so important to them? Why do they cling to a reality-contradicting worldview that must blind itself to almost all evidence available in order to continue existing? The short answer: because it’s part of the package, and the package is a collection of emotionally privileged beliefs that are instinctively protected via confirmation bias. Remember, I lived this.

The long answer: In the first place, young earth creationism owes its existence as an audible minority to some intellectually dishonest men who published writing they might have actually known was false. The omission of context for quotes taken from research papers, in order to make claims contrary to what the research actually said, doesn’t seem like carelessness. It seems like willful deceit. Fortunately, the Christian market is easily pandered to.

Insinuations of greedy motives aside, I think much of the modern movement is driven by people who genuinely believe it. If my extensive experience of the culture is representative, it’s simply integrated into their very lives from the beginning. Children are kept at home almost all the time, homeschooled, and trained from infancy to express disgust at any mention of evolution, or time spans longer than six thousand years.

Then the adults form small cults which perform emotionally fulfilling rituals and create a community separate from “the world”, in which friendships with unbelievers are considered dangerous (I’ve been called dangerous by Christians many times, even before I deconverted). Thus, almost 100% of a child’s life is spent at home or in the presence of other people who believe the same things.

The cycle repeats itself, unless an inherent skeptic comes along and recognizes the scam after seeing the information he’s been deprived of knowing for two decades.

Image: Wikipedia


4 responses to “The Young-Earth Creationist’s Problem with Evidence

  1. I won’t beat a dead horse. I also won’t at this point get into everything wrong with the idea that the Bible is just like any other old ancient book of uncertain time and/or accuracy. Now here’s the thing; either there’s a purely naturalistic explanation for what happens in the earth, or there isn’t. A purely naturalistic explanation doesn’t work because we know from science that matter doesn’t just spring from nowhere, and that it can’t be eternal because everything is running down. (I know “running down” is a very unscientific way to put it, but it’s the best layman phrase for entropy I can think of.) As soon as you allow for the supernatural, you allow for things that supersede science. Some of those beliefs in the supernatural, such as pantheism, actually do work against observable science; other’s– including Biblical Christianity–don’t. Either way, intellectual honesty would demand allowing for the possibility and even making sure science, or the things people call scientific, add up to what we can find out about the world from other sources.


    • I’ve written about the cosmological argument already:

      The supernatural, since it has never been demonstrated, is entirely irrelevant to the matter of interpreting natural history through geology, paleontology, and biology. If you want to claim your god initiated the universe by causing the Big Bang, fine, but that doesn’t give you any rational basis for making claims that contradict all available evidence. Fill in all the gaps you want with your unverified god hypothesis (what few gaps there are left), but don’t think that just because you can wedge your god into a gap that you can also use him to contradict reality.


      • But everything is connected. Of course we don’t look at geology, biology, history, anthropology, philosophy, psychology etc. in the same way, because they’re different things. But they all match up. Even if science did fully support a completely naturalistic world, if other things about life don’t fit with that–and for the time being, I”m being hypothetical–such as the way humans think and behave, it’s not enough to say, “well, science supports this, so everything else is irrelevant.” Everything has to fit together, not just science.

        Anyway, I”ll head on over to your other blog post. Oh, and I don’t want to be a pain, so if at any time you get tired of this, let me know and I’ll shut up and go find someone else’s brain to pick. 🙂


      • So, if I dig up a skeleton of a small rodent, how is the possibility of some supernatural force existing somewhere in any way relevant to figuring out which rodent the skeleton is from?

        It isn’t. Your argument is fallacious. I can identify the rodent aside from any supernatural hypothesis. Unless perhaps the skeleton started running around like a living animal. Then I’d have a situation in which supernatural ideas might be relevant.

        I can explain how cells work without once invoking a supernatural being. I can examine the fossilized footprints of an animal and figure out what its feet looked like without once involving supernatural ideas. I can examine for myself thousands of layers of varves that contain leaves and pollen and flowers and fruit and determine that they were laid down annually as things settled to the bottom of a lake. No supernatural ideas involved. Now, if you had a bunch of layers that would require suspension of the laws of physics, like if they were forming against gravity, then maybe you could argue that supernatural hypotheses are relevant.

        But when it’s so easy to determine what it is, and we can observe it happening today, and there’s nothing unusual about it, and natural explanations work perfectly…why the hell is your pet supernatural hypothesis relevant? Should I also consider the supernatural hypotheses of Islam, Scientology, ancient Greek mythology, etc.? Why not? If everything’s connected and an unverified supernatural hypothesis is relevant to everything, why aren’t all of them?

        I’m sure you’ll tell me that Christianity is different. But until someone demonstrates that it’s any more real than any other supernatural hypothesis, it’s exactly as relevant as any other.

        In other words, your hypothesis of the supernatural will remain irrelevant until it’s actually verified and supported by testable evidence. The same was true for evolutionary theory…and then it was verified and supported by evidence. So it’s pretty simple: if you want your hypothesis to be integrated into an established theory, then you must back it up with testable evidence. Otherwise it’s no more than a wild guess and therefore irrelevant. Even if I grant that your god exists, the evidence we have is still completely incompatible with young earth creationism.

        So if your hypothetical god was actually real, either the world is still billions of years old, or he’s an unbelievably dishonest and illogical being who put way more effort into making the planet look very old, and making all life on earth look like it’s the product of evolution, than he ever has helping children who are dying of starvation or cancer.


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