Science and Youth

A fairly short one today, but firstly I’d like to plug the God’s Warriors series that the Humanist Society is showing. Tonight’s episode takes a look at Judaism, I believe, and begins at 6pm TONIGHT in Appleton Tower, Edinburgh University. The next 2 weeks will examine Christianity and Islam.

I went to the Edinburgh Creation Group last night to watch Dr Marc Surtees make his talk on the age of the Earth. He started by establishing what the Bible says, that if we look at Genesis in the original Hebrew then it is obviously talking about 6 days of 24 hours each, approximately 6,000 years ago, so there’s no fudging the issue, that’s what it says. To claim it’s a metaphor would be to do it an injustice.

What followed for much of the talk was just theory. If humanity did start with 2 people, how long would it take for there to be 6 billion people? He calculates that with a 2% increase every year as it is now, it would take just 1100 years. I meant to ask him how he got to this conclusion, but even so, it’s well known that the human population has been increasing very rapidly over the last century or so, and I think the growth rate would have been much less than 2% per year in the past.

There were other things which would seem to suggest that the world is only thousands of years old. Long-period comets have an average ‘lifespan’ of thousands of years. If they were formed at the same time as the planets, then the planets must only be a few thousand years old, because otherwise the comets would have all burned up by now and we wouldn’t see any comets. The Oort Cloud has been suggested as a source of comets to get around this problem, but it’s never been observed.

One thing that did interest me was something called the Faint Sun Paradox. We know that through nuclear fusion, the sun is now 40% brighter (and hotter) than it would have been at more or less the start of it’s lifetime, which means the Earth would have been extremely cold. Not only would this not allow life to evolve, but it would also go against geological evidence which has flowing water making sedimentary rocks. Sagan, who first noticed the problem, explains it by the immense amounts of greenhouse gases that would have been in the atmosphere at that time.

There were other things that, although they disputed the age of the earth, didn’t really support the Biblical account either, such as levels of salt in the oceans and levels of helium in the atmosphere. Then he went on to hypothesise that dinosaurs and humans existed side-by-side as late as the Middle Ages, with the dragons slain by St George and Beowulf being the last of the dinosaurs.

Of course there’s one big issue that I’ve skirted around so far, and that is dating methods on rocks, which the scientists say show us the earth is millions and millions of years old. Dr Marc showed how inaccurate dating methods can be, saying that there are lots of assumptions involved, particularly since we don’t have a good way of measuring the half-lives of any material useful for telling the age of the earth, so we shouldn’t rely on them.

I’m going to stop storytelling now and give my opinion. The dating methods we use now, although they may well be inaccurate, give us a ball-park figure of millions of years. It’s nothing like the mere 6,000 years the 6-day creationists are talking about. If the dating methods have problems (and I’m not nearly specialised enough to tell you if they do), then I would fully support taking another look at the issue from another direction, in the interests of good science. But that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the data that we’re getting. If I counted and told you that there were a hundred sweets in a jar, and then someone else counted and said “no, I think there’s 110”, it would be like assuming that there are a pitifully small number like 2 sweets in there, because obviously the counting method is unreliable, so you should just guess. There’s going to be somewhere in the region of 90-120 sweets in the jar.

It’s an issue I’ve noticed in a lot of creationists. There are niggles and problems with any theory. We can’t pretend to know everything, but creationists tend to point at the cracks in a theory and say “look, this can’t be true, so therefore Goddiddit!!” It reminds me of this picture I saw recently:

Wheel of Misfortune

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