Young Earth Creationism in the November 2013 edition of The Christadelphian Magazine

By Ken Gilmore.     Source: Click here.

I’ve already commented on how The Testimony has sunk to a new low with the publication in the November 2013 edition of an anti-evolution article that employed the intellectually and morally dishonest practice of quote mining in its attacks on evolutionary biology.

Unfortunately, our flagship magazine The Christadelphian has also badly tarnished its reputation with its November 2013 cover article which claimed that the rapid appearance of mature-looking geological formations on the island of Surtsey provides evidence that the Earth could be young.
While our community has never officially endorsed evolution, it has traditionally rejected flood geology and young earth creationism, regarding the evidence for an ancient Earth as compelling. Robert Roberts, the first editor of The Christadelphian recognised that:

It is a demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages. To adopt a view that appears to make it begin only 6,000 years ago would create a difficulty. There is no need for adopting such a view.[1]
while his successor C.C. Walker acknowledged that:
The conclusions of geology, and the undoubted existence of fossil remains of incalculable antiquity are quite in harmony with this view, whereas the view that the earth itself was created some 6,000 years ago is hopelessly irreconcilable with facts.[2]
Over a century has passed since then, and the evidence for an ancient Earth which was regarded as compelling then has become unassailable.[3] Just the remarkable agreement between the relative ages of geological strata and the absolute ages as given by radiometric dating alone falsifies the assertion that the Earth is young.  Given this, the decision by current editor Andrew Bramhill not only to publish an article endorsing pseudoscience, but to give it cover status is reckless at best.

The article, written by Nigel Bernard and Don Pearce, appeals to the rapid generation of mature-appearing features on the island of Surtsey as ‘proof’ that the Earth could be young:

Surtsey, sixteen days after the onset of the eruption. Source: Wilipedia
Surtsey challenges the preconceptions of the timescales required for geological features to form. Features previously thought to have required thousands of years to form were being formed, in some cases, “in a few days”. As Thorarinsson also commented:
“On Surtsey only a few months sufficed for a landscape to be created which was so varied and mature that it was almost beyond belief.” - Thorarinsson, S. (1969), Surtsey The new island in the North Atlantic,London, Cassell, page 39.
If this is true of Surtsey, what of the wider creation? Could it be the case that geological features elsewhere have formed more quickly than has previously been thought?[4]
Contrary to Bernard and Pearce’s assertion, Surtsey provides no evidence that the Earth is young. Not only have they confused the appearance of maturity with actual age, they have erred in forgetting that many other geological processes other than volcanic island formation have been involved in forming the geological features of the Earth. Both writers appear to recognise this objection later:
It is true that the forces at work on Surtsey are not at work in all parts of the world; Surtsey, as with neighbouring Iceland, is located in a highly geologically active area. However, these factors should not detract from the lessons Surtsey provides.[5]
Bernard and Pearce however are wrong. These factors destroy the argument Bernard and Pearce are making. Well before radiometric dating provided powerful evidence for the massive age of the Earth, geologists had recognised that the geological features on Earth could not have formed in a mere six thousand years. Evangelical geologist Davis Young notes:
Careful mapping and description of successions of European strata throughout the eighteenth century led naturalists to recognize that sedimentary rock piles were thousands to tens of thousands of meters thick. These vast thicknesses consisted of hundreds to thousands of variably thick individual layers occurring in unvarying order and traceable for tens to hundreds of kilometers over the countryside. Even very thin layers only a few centimeters thick could be traced for long distances. [6]
By the early 19th century, which was half a century before Darwin advanced his theory of evolution, geologists hard recognised that these strata required far more time to lay down than 6000 years, thus ruling out the flood of Noah as being responsible for forming these features. As Young notes, the details of fossil distribution in the strata also posed insuperable problems for Flood geology:
By the early nineteenth century diluvialism was even less credible. Detailed stratigraphic studies in the 1790s through 1810s disclosed systematic relationships between strata and their contained fossils. William Smith in Great Britain and Cuvier and Brongniart in France independently discovered that successive superposed strata were characterized by distinctive organic remains. Moreover, successively higher strata contained increasingly complex fossils. Layers containing marine fossils were commonly found interstratified with layers containing continental remains. Why would a turbulent flood produce such striking regularities of fossil distribution as well as alternations of thinly layered marine and continental sediments?[7]
Bernard and Pearce are incredibly two centuries out of date in their understanding of geology. Furthermore, the recognition of the antiquity of the Earth took place well before Darwin’s book was published (neatly ruling out any claim that evolution was the main reason for the acceptance of an ancient Earth) and was regarded as compatible with a conservative Christian faith. Young again:
The recognition of the earth’s vast antiquity caused little alarm among leading British and American Christian geologists of the early nineteenth century. Many of the great geologists of that era were devout and enthusiastic Christian believers who were fully committed to the infallibility of Scripture.[8]
Returning back to Surtsey, it is worth pointing out that absent in the newly-formed island are geological strata with fossils and radiometric ages decreasing as one goes from lower to higher strata. What Surtsey shows is that mature-looking geomorphological features can be generated on volcanic islands in a short amount of time, and that is all. That Bernard and Pearce make much of Surtsey – a favourite young earth creationist example used to ‘prove’ a young earth’ merely demonstrates their ignorance of mainstream geology. The unarguable fact is that Earth is ancient:
  • Annual ice core layers in Greenland[9] and Antarctica[10] that stretch back 123,000 years and 740,000 years, respectively.
  • Igneous intrusions such as the Boulder Batholith which, based on the time taken for the molten rock extruded into the even older rock around them, have taken several million years to form.[11]
  • Zircon grains from Western Australia dating back 4.4 billion years [12]
 Examples can be multiplied, but this alone attests to the unimaginable antiquity of our earth. That Bernard and Pearce can advance their YEC argument in the face of this evidence merely demonstrates the power dogma can hold over reason.
Bernard and Pearce ignore the fact that the example of Surtsey cannot be extrapolated to the entire planet, a fact they admit on p 498, but then gloss over without providing any rigorous evidence from the geological literature to support their assertion. Conversely, mainstream geologists such as David Montgomery  have shown how geological features such as the Grand Canyon were formed over hundreds of millions of years, stating how YEC arguments for rapid formation fail to explain the "multiple alternating layers of different rock types, the erosional gaps in the rock sequence that spoke of ages of lost time, or the remarkable order to the various fossils in the canyon walls."[13]
Finally, Bernard and Pearce, in arguing that Genesis teaches a literal creation 6000 years ago in six days ignore the fact that earlier Christadelphians, such as the second editor of The Christadelphian C.C. Walker, accepted the geological and astronomical data[14],[15],[16] which even then shouted an ancient earth:

"We can only legitimately glean from the very brief allusion of Moses that at some time anterior to the creation he is about to describe, the world was in existence, but in a waste and void condition by comparison with what it afterwards became under the creative energy of the Almighty. The conclusions of geology, and the undoubted existence of fossil remains of incalculable antiquity are quite in harmony with this view, whereas the view that the earth itself was created some 6,000 years ago is hopelessly irreconcilable with facts.[17]

He also recognised that the creation narratives were not given to provide a scientifically accurate account of creation:

Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22).[18]

Bernard and Pearce’s advocacy of a young earth and rejection of modern geology is also out of step with the original Christadelphian position which recognised both an ancient Earth and the exegetical follies of trying to read the creation narratives as a literal account of creation. It is something of an embarrassment for our community to see the current editorial staff allow a scientifically vacuous article not only to be published in the flagship magazine of our community, but to give it cover article status.

The following edition saw a number of letters from readers thoroughly dismayed with the infiltration of YEC nonsense into The Christadelphian. Readers such as Daniel Weatherall tore the heart out of the argument advanced by Bernard and Pearce:

Although I am not an expert, I don’t think that these facts do much to change the evidence-based conclusions of geologists regarding the age of the earth from observations in the rest of the world. In fact, a brief search on the subject indicates that the high rates of erosion on Surtsey have been mostly because much of the material that formed it was only loosely bound together following the volcanic eruption. This makes it an unsuitable benchmark to judge the rest of the world with and it would be questionable logic to do so to try and undermine the findings of decades of scientific analysis. It is also a stretch to parallel this month-long event with the six days of creation.[19]

Exactly. One is left wondering why the editor Andrew Bramhill did not likewise bother to perform at least a ‘brief search on the subject’ in order to check the Bernard and Pearce article for factual accuracy before damaging the credibility of The Christadelphian by publishing this factually inaccurate article.

[1] Roberts R, “In the Beginning”, The Christadelphian (1885) 32:141

[2] Walker C.C, “Genesis”, The Christadelphian (1910) 47:223

[3] Dalyrymple G.B. “The Age of the Earth” (1994, Stanford University Press)

[4] Bernard N, Pearce D “Surtsey: a pattern for creation?” The Christadelphian (2013) 150:497

[5] ibid, p 498

[6] Westminster Theological Journal (1987) 49: 23.

[7] ibid, p 24

[8] Westminster Theological Journal (1987) 49: 262.

[9] North Greenland Ice Core Project Members, “High-resolution Record of Northern Hemisphere Climate Extending into the Last Interglacial Period,” Nature (2004) 431:147–151

[10] EPICA Community Members, “Eight Glacial Cycles from an Antarctic Ice Core,” Nature (2004) 429: 623–628.

[11] Johnson B.R. et al "Reexaming the geochemistry and geochronology of the Late Cretaceous Boulder Batholith, MT" GSA 2004 National Meeting, Denver, Colorado.

[12] Wilde S.A. et al “Evidence from detrital zircons for the existence of continental crust and oceans on the earth 4.4 Gyr ago,” Nature (2001) 409:175-178.

[13] Montgomery D "The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood" (2012: W. W. Norton & Co). p 16

[14] Young, Davis A. ”How Old Is It? How Do We Know? A Review of Dating Methods – Part One: Relative Dating, Absolute Dating, and Non-radiometric Dating” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2006) 58:259-265

[15] Young, Davis A. ”How Old Is It? How Do We Know? A Review of Dating Methods—Part Two: Radiometric Dating: Mineral, Isochron and Concordia Methods” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2007) 59:28-36

[16] Young, Davis A. ”How Old Is It? How Do We Know? A Review of Dating Methods — Part Three: Thermochronometry, Cosmogenic Isotopes, and Theological Implications” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2007)  59:136-142

[17] Walker C.C "Genesis" The Christadelphian (1910) 47:223

[18] Walker C.C "Is it "Wrong" to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?" The Christadelphian (1913) 50:348

[19] Letters:   Daniel Weatherall The Christadelphian (2013) 150: 532-533

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