The clash between young-earth and old-earth creationists can seem bewilderingly technical at times. Is there any easy-to-understand scientific data for determining whether Earth is young or old?
In recent months, new evidence has emerged that may be simple enough for everyone to understand, regardless of science background-as simple as counting tree rings.
Scientists are learning much about Earth’s past by drilling deep into its surface-both ice and rock-with specialized instruments to remove long cylinders, or “core” samples. Six deep ice cores and one sediment core now provide a clear and continuous record of Earth’s history. The ice cores reveal hundreds of thousands of ice layers laid down on top of one another year by year, just as a tree adds one new growth ring per year. Three deep ice cores pulled from Greenland record the past 120,000 years.1 Three deep cores in Antarctica-Dome Fuji, Vostok, and Dome C-allow researchers to look back 340,000, 420,000, and 740,000 years, respectively.2
How do scientists confirm that these ice layers correspond to years of Earth’s past history? They can check for telltale markers, such as volcanic ash signatures. The Krakatoa eruption of 1883 and the Vesuvius eruption that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD 79 left their specific marks in exactly the annual layers anticipated. Climatic cycles also allow for testing. As it turns out, these cycles-caused by regular variations in the eccentricity or ellipticity of Earth’s orbit (period = 100,000 years) and the tilt of Earth’s orbit (period = 41,000 years)-correspond perfectly with what’s seen in those core layers. Finally, researchers have performed radiometric dating of minerals embedded in the ice to make sure their age corresponds with their annual layer, and in each case it does.
Further corroboration comes from a sediment core drilled off shore from New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It reveals the past 3.9 million years of Earth’s crustal history.3 Though each layer in this core represents a few centuries rather than a single year, the climatic cycles and events in this core for the past 740,000 years match perfectly with corresponding layers in the Dome C ice core. Such a calibration builds confidence that these cores yield a continuous climatic, geological, and astronomical record for the past few million years at least.
Proponents of young-earth creationism respond to this compelling evidence by pointing to possible problems at the tops and/or bottoms of the core samples as if such anomalies render the entire dating analysis unreliable.4 For example, the bottom 15,000 layers in two of the three Greenland cores are disturbed by ice folding close to the bedrock. Such disturbance (caused by extreme pressure conditions), however, in no way invalidates the 105,000 layers above or the 123,000 layers in the third core (the NGRIP core). The burial of the “lost squadron” of World War II under 250 feet of Greenland ice and snow in only 50 years has been offered as proof that the 10,000-foot-long Greenland ice cores cannot represent 100,000+ years of history.5 However, intrusions into the layers by localized forces and events does not invalidate them. In this case, the lost squadron crashed in a relatively warm area of southern Greenland where, unlike the sites of the three deep ice cores, several melts and refreezings per year can occur and seven times as much snow falls per year.
According to Psalm 19:1-4, God speaks not only through the words of the Bible but also through the record of nature. Since God speaks truth and chooses to reveal Himself, nature’s record and the Bible’s words can be expected to agree. The ice and sediment cores provide compelling extrabiblical evidence that the earth is indeed ancient. This evidence supports the literal interpretation of creation days in Genesis 1 as six long epochs.6