Calling the Earth to Witness

According to Buddhist tradition, the final stage of Prince Siddhartha Gautama’s becoming the Buddha came after he had rejected the extremes of both luxury and asceticism in his quest for enlightenment. Sitting beneath a Bodhi tree in meditation, he vowed not to stir from that spot until he had found the answer to the problem of suffering.

While he sat there, he had an encounter with the demon lord Mara, who sought to keep him from enlightenment by breaking his concentration. Mara first threatened the Buddha by firing arrows at him, then summoned horrifying demons and violent storms to assault him, then sent his sensual daughters to tempt him, but the Buddha’s serenity revealed all these threats to be illusory. Finally, Mara himself approached the Buddha and demanded to change places with him. Mara claimed that he, and not a human being, had the right to sit where the Buddha was sitting. His legions of demons would vouch for him, he said; who would vouch for the Buddha?

In response, Prince Siddhartha touched the ground with his right hand, calling the earth itself to be his witness. At this moment, Mara was defeated, and the Buddha attained enlightenment and freedom from the endless cycle of suffering and rebirth.

This is a lovely story, and a great metaphor. I think we can apply it in a slightly different sense. Today, after several centuries of patient scientific investigation, we’ve uncovered a glimpse of planet Earth’s vast history and the immense and complex biosphere that it supports. Yet there are still people who deny all this and would reduce our world’s multibillion-year past to a paltry 6,000 years, who view all its living things as separate and immutable creations of God rather than interrelated twigs on the tangled tree of life.

When it comes to dealing with these people, we, too, should call the Earth to be our witness. The very ground that the creationists walk on, the stones beneath their feet, testify that this world has a far deeper and grander history than the pitiful scrap of time they would allow it.

Radioactive isotopes decay at a known and measurable rate. For any sample of radioactive atoms, the length of time it takes for half of those atoms to disintegrate is called the halflife, and each isotope has a different one. Generally, after about 20 halflives, the number of radioactive atoms remaining from an original sample is too small to be detectable. Some short-lived isotopes, such as carbon-14, are continually produced by natural nuclear reactions (usually as the intermediate decay product of a longer-lived isotope), but many, so far as we know, are manufactured only in exploding stars.

Below is a chart listing all the isotopes with a half-life of one million years or more that are not constantly being produced by natural reactions, and whether that isotope is known to exist on the Earth.

Isotope Halflife
(in millions of years)
Detected on Earth?
Vanadium-50 6,000,000,000 yes
Neodymium-144 2,400,000,000 yes
Hafnium-174 2,000,000,000 yes
Platinum-192 1,000,000,000 yes
Indium-115 600,000,000 yes
Gadolinium-152 110,000,000 yes
Tellurium-123 12,000,000 yes
Platinum-190 690,000 yes
Lanthanum-138 112,000 yes
Samarium-147 106,000 yes
Rubidium-87 48,800 yes
Rhenium-187 43,000 yes
Lutetium-176 35,000 yes
Thorium-232 14,000 yes
Uranium-238 4,470 yes
Potassium-40 1,250 yes
Uranium-235 704 yes
Samarium-146 103 no
Plutonium-244 82 yes (by extreme effort)*
Curium-247 16 no
Lead-205 15 no
Hafnium-182 9 no
Palladium-107 7 no
Cesium-135 3 no
Technetium-97 3 no
Gadolinium-150 2 no
Zirconium-93 2 no
Technetium-98 2 no
Dysprosium-154 1 no

When understood for what it is saying, this table shouts out that the Earth is old. According to the mainstream scientific position, our planet originally condensed from a cloud of gas, dust, and heavy elements manufactured in supernovae. Ever since then, the clock has been ticking, as the radioactive isotopes present in Earth at its formation decay and are not replenished. The long-lived isotopes, which in 4.5 billion years would have had less than 20 halflives, are still around. However, those which have had far more than 20 halflives have decayed to such an extent that they are undetectable.

The line between detected and not detected can be drawn between uranium-235, with a halflife of 703 million years, and samarium-146, with 103 million. Thus, not only does this chart show that the Earth is old, it indicates – even without the use of any more precise dating methods – approximately how old the Earth is. For samarium-146 to be undetectable through ordinary methods, the Earth must be on the order of 2 billion years old or more. (More sophisticated methods show that the real answer is about 4.5 billion.)

Evidence like this shatters, beyond all possibility of reasonable doubt, the religious dogmas of a 6,000-year-old cosmos. The only way a creationist could avoid this evidence would be to assume that God decided to create the world with the long-lived isotopes, but without any of the short-lived isotopes, in a way that perfectly mimics what we’d expect to find on an ancient planet and an ancient universe. In other words, the creationist belief makes God into the Great Deceiver, deliberately fashioning misleading clues to deceive us, and then eternally condemning people who fall for the ruse that he himself perpetrated on them. To such bizarre and deceitful speculations are creationists reduced in their effort to deny the evidence that’s right before their eyes.

(Credit to the Don Lindsay Archive for this list.)

* Plutonium-244 is a special case. After 4.5 billion years, this isotope has seen 55 halflives, so it should be undetectable – and it is, by ordinary methods. It was found only by an extremely thorough study that refined 85 kilograms of ore and then literally counted the atoms by running them through a mass spectrometer. The total amount found was approximately one hundred-trillionth of a gram. Samarium-146 could probably be detected if someone went to similar trouble. Curium-247, which has had over 280 halflives in the lifetime of the Earth, should be many orders of magnitude rarer, almost certainly beyond the reach of even our most sensitive tools.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • andrea

    Excellent essay. I do love how creationists are more content with saying their deity is a liar than admitting that the earth is old, very, very old. They would prefer that God has made the world a nanosecond ago and we only think we remember yesterday and that God has some reason for lying to us in “his mysterious ways”.

  • Mrnaglfar

    The earth is only 6000 years old and the reason people have to suffer was because of a talking snake in a tree. Isn’t it amazing how science can be so wrong about everything mentioned in the bible? How can people even doubt that story?

  • Polly

    Evidence like this shatters, beyond all possibility of reasonable doubt, the religious dogmas of a 6,000-year-old cosmos.

    It certainly does! That list is what finally put the nail in the coffin permanently for YEC for me; I had waffled before that. I still remained a Xian a little while longer after that, though. Until then all I ever heard about radioisotopes was about carbon dating and how it might be unreliable due to radiation or whatever-typical apologist crap.
    I truly HATE Xian apologetics. All it is, is a collection of half-truths, outdated information, and outright lies. (I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating)

  • shifty

    Call me incredibly naive, but I’ve always had this notion that science and religion were born of the same egg. The curiosity of man. Where did we come from?, how did we get here? With science in it’s infancy, mythology filled the void. Somehow, somewhere the paths deviated and the story tellers lost their curiosity and I think that is a real shame. Science is a wonderful story teller and new ones are being written every day.

  • Logismous Kathairountes

    I’m confused… If I believe that God created the whole Universe… Why would I have my faith shaken by the revelation that He also created a planet full of mostly-decayed isotopes?

    Do you think that I think that God can only create pure, undecayed isotopes? God’s act of creation-from-nothing is not the same as the condensation of a planet from a cloud of supernovae dust.

    I mean, for one thing, I already believe that God created Adam and Eve as fully-grown human beings, without them having to pass through the normal life-stages of infancy, childhood, and puberty. Why should His creation of the planet Earth be any different?

    I don’t even understand how this could possibly be any sort of objection to Creationist dogma.

  • http://realevang.wordpress.com/ The Professor

    I’ve used a similar argument based on the speed of light. Because light has a finite speed, there is always a time difference between the event you’re seeing and when you see it. At astronomical distances, the things you’re seeing are longer and longer ago. Look up at the sky on a dark, clear night, and you can be an eyewitness of what was happening in the universe 6,000 years ago.

    The word “eyewitness” is key. Anybody who can look up can be an eyewitness of the past, and can see for themselves that God was not creating the universe 6,000 years ago. The only way to deny that is to assert that God is deliberately tampering with eyewitness evidence.

  • http://passionateatheist.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    That’s a truly *beautiful* table. The sheer simplicity of it is stunning. With just a few data-points it’s possible to place a rough age on the Earth. Brilliant.

  • http://passionateatheist.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    Logismous Kathairountes,

    Firstly I don’t think anyone expects to seriously shake a fervently held belief with this article. That sort of faith is immune to logic or (dis)proofs. But someone who is questioning their faith (as everyone should from time to time), can include this article in their own internal discourse on the subject.

    In reference to your question: Do you think that I think that God can only create pure, undecayed isotopes? I do think you missed this part of the article above.

    The only way a creationist could avoid this evidence would be to assume that God decided to create the world with the long-lived isotopes, but without any of the short-lived isotopes, in a way that perfectly mimics what we’d expect to find on an ancient planet and an ancient universe.

    Ebonmuse highlights one problem with this theory: it implies that God deliberately created the contrary evidence in order to deceive people and send them to hell for eternity. Here’s another problem with that theory…

    Once you’ve invoked the god-created-stuff-to-distract-people-from-the-true-path defense then *everything* you think you know is suspect. To frame the problem as a specific question:

    If god is able, and willing, to fake the evidence then is it not just as likely that it is the bible that is the deception and the earth’s record that is the truth?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Noastronomer,

    You basically nailed it there. It’s seems to that argument for faith then turning to the argument for relativity, be it moral (without god we can just do whatever we want) or the deception (I know it doesn’t match up with evidence, but god must have made it that way), and even back to descarte’s “I can only not doubt my own existence”.

    Of course, later in that (his ‘proof’ of god), he just assumes god exists and is no deceiver; a bit ironic.

  • Polly

    The only way a creationist could avoid this evidence would be to assume that God decided to create the world with the long-lived isotopes, but without any of the short-lived isotopes, in a way that perfectly mimics what we’d expect to find on an ancient planet and an ancient universe.

    When I explained this table to my wife (several months ago not as a result of this post) she came back at me with exactly that statement. “Who says god didn’t create the world already ‘done’?”

  • Eric

    NoAstonomer’s post has me puzzling and pondering something, and I hop I can express my question properly (nothing like being surrounded by a bunch a great smarty types to intimidate a fella!)…

    I agree with his arguments for sure, but it seems too, that there is some sort of ad infinitum in there too to illustrate this hypocarsy and inconsistency with the creationist pap and pablum, MEANING…if god intentionally built this earth deceptively, and if we buy into this decption we burn in hell, then god could have decieved with the bible which means to believe that would give you the eternal barbeque, then god must have also deived us on the whole concpet of hell but to believe that will make us burn forever…

    Can anyone help me thinnk this one through? There seems to be some some of “decpetion in the afterlife” as well, and to believe in the afterlife, one way or the other (heaven or hell) leads you to question god and you will…

    HELP!

    Eric

  • Eric

    And OH MAN, my apologies for all the typos in the above post! I am in an editing room right now and it is a bit dark! I missed several keystrokes, my mea culpa to those reading!

    Eric

  • http://www.cogspace.com/ Katie Molnar

    Wow, I have NEVER thought of this argument before… the whole “test of faith” business… I.e., “God gives us no evidence of His existence so that we must use faith…” but this supposed deity is *falsifying* evidence, so the claim becomes “God falsifies evidence to tempt us away from Truth…” etc. …

    But it seems to me that a God that could (and would) intentionally design the entire Universe to hide his tracks and make it appear totally natural (which is ironic, since it means God is now being invoked in a position where he isn’t even needed, since this is concession that the natural universe is rational… another fun argument point) … anyway, that such a God would not be able, or willing, to similarly deceive people by, say, reverse psychology? All he’d have to do is whisper in a few prophets’ ears some nonsense contrary to what he actually wants us to do…

    I.e., suppose God actually does exist, but pities Christians for falling for his ploy and is impressed by atheists for their ability to reason based on the evidence presented them.

    The point of all this is that I find this argument absolutely delicious in its ability to answer the absurd “test of faith” question. What, to the addled Christian mind, makes the Bible more plausible than scientific evidence? What makes faith in its statements more logical than the assumption that, based on his supposed universal deception, he’d also stuff the Bible with lies and self-refuting claims designed perhaps to challenge and test the intelligence of his creation?

    Amusingly, a God whose bible is a tome of lies seems a much more rational and compassionate fellow than the greedy, arrogant, murderous psychopath of the Christian faith. =)

    This post rocks! Well done!

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m confused… If I believe that God created the whole Universe… Why would I have my faith shaken by the revelation that He also created a planet full of mostly-decayed isotopes?

    Do you think that I think that God can only create pure, undecayed isotopes? God’s act of creation-from-nothing is not the same as the condensation of a planet from a cloud of supernovae dust.

    I mean, for one thing, I already believe that God created Adam and Eve as fully-grown human beings, without them having to pass through the normal life-stages of infancy, childhood, and puberty. Why should His creation of the planet Earth be any different?

    I don’t even understand how this could possibly be any sort of objection to Creationist dogma.

    You don’t find it even slightly odd that this requires you to believe that god either JUST HAPPENED to create the world, or deliberately created the world, to look and behave EXACTLY as it would if it came into existence naturally 4.5 billion years ago?

  • http://passionateatheist.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    @Eric: You’re correct, this debate has led to a paradox. In my opinion there are a few ways out. One is to move away from a literal interpretation of the bible and towards a more ‘flexible’ reading. Logically, that road ultimately leads to the Intelligent Design school which, of course, has it’s own problems.

    Another way out is to cut the gordian knot, so to speak, and simply eliminate the root cause of the paradox – god. That road leads to the truth (IMHO).

    @Katie: I left my question hanging deliberately to see who would pick up on the point you bring up in your penultimate paragraph. Given the internal inconsistency of the bible and the strength of the earth’s record I think it is *more* likely that it is the bible that was faked by god. Assuming that there were a god to do any faking.

    Incidentally, NoAstronomer is not my real name.

    Mike W.

  • Eric

    Mike W.

    This is a good start on that paradox for sure. Luckily, I have three and a half days on the ferry going back to Alaska to think this one through beginning this evening! Hopefully, I’ll be able to post as I get into the ports and have wifi.

    And yes, by removing god from the equation it does free up the paradox, but in order to argue (albeit, in vain) with apologists and jesus-buffs, I would like to think it through with the god still in there, just to have that “okay, let’s assume there even IS a god, if there was then…” to counter their ignorance.

    But this is a great starting point.

    Eric

  • boxofbirds

    I agree the usual argument to refute such incontrovertible evidence is to assert that god made it look that way in order to test the faith of his believers, but another argument that i’ve heard is that the evidence is being interpreted incorrectly. Usually this is used in regards to carbon dating and geological evidence. I’m not saying it is a good argument, I’m just wondering what a good response would be if that argument is used in regard to this evidence. For instance a creationist might say that we can’t possibly know that the rate of decay is constant because we haven’t observed the atoms over billions of years. Or might say that the way we measure it may be flawed, etc…

    And don’t forget that the devil likes to do plant false knowledge to shake faith! ;)

  • Jon

    Curium-247, which has had over 280 halflives in the lifetime of the Earth, should be many orders of magnitude rarer, almost certainly beyond the reach of even our most sensitive tools.

    I thought I’d apply my experience in calculating I-131 long after Chernobyl to this, because I was fairly confident of the answer. So I imagined a mass of curium-247 equal to the mass of the entire Earth, created 4.5 billion years ago. Given the 288 elapsed half-lives, the expected number of remaining atoms today would be: zero.

    I got the same result by starting with curium-247 to the mass of the Galaxy. Zero atoms remaining.

    Just for fun I assumed that the two common isotopes of uranium, 235 and 238, were generated in equal quantities and have reached their current ratio by differential decay rates. The appropriate time interval is 6 billion years.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    So here’s what I want to know.

    Do the creationists who think that fossils/ long-lived isotopes were created by God to test our faith get into fights with the creationists who think that fossils/ long-lived isotopes were created by Satan to tempt us into sin?

    I’m just asking, is all.

  • Eric

    So Greta, you are asking a sort of “Shiite” and “Sunni” kind of thing then…cool.

    (this said the voice over of John Belushi circa Animal House…(instead of Food Fight)…”Bible Fight”)

    Eric

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    To paraphrase Bluto further:

    “Seven years of Bible college down the drain!”

  • Jim Baerg

    “For instance a creationist might say that we can’t possibly know that the rate of decay is constant because we haven’t observed the atoms over billions of years.”

    If these things were decaying fast enough to make thousands of years look like billions of years the energy released would melt or vaporize the earth. So the cdesign proponentist has to invoke more ad hoc miracles to fix that.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    A reply to boxofbirds:

    For instance a creationist might say that we can’t possibly know that the rate of decay is constant because we haven’t observed the atoms over billions of years. Or might say that the way we measure it may be flawed, etc…

    The rate of decay of a given isotope is quite easy to measure directly, such as with a Geiger counter. Of course, a creationist could say that God miraculously changed the laws of physics so that they decayed faster in the past (and miracled away the extra heat and radiation that would have generated).

    Even so, it doesn’t deal with the basic problem: if he did that, he must have changed all the different decay rates by different, precise amounts to produce the chart given above. We still are faced with the problem of a deceptive deity intentionally rearranging the world to produce misleading false evidence of a history it never had.

  • http://passionateatheist.blogspot.com NoAstronomer

    boxofbirds,

    Introducing the ‘devil’ as the source of the false knowledge doesn’t help. Since, again, the devil could equally have introduced the bible as the falsehood.

    Mike

  • Logismous Kathairountes

    Like I said, I already believe that He created Adam and Eve fully-grown. I don’t think He created them that way to trick them into thinking that they were once children. I think that He wanted some fully-grown human beings, and so He created some fully-grown human beings. Probably He just created an entire fully-grown Universe without having it pass through it’s ‘childhood’ stages. The Universe we see is what a fully-grown Universe looks like – How is that deceptive?

    See, the reason that the isotopes argument just can’t connect with me is this: I believe that at one point in time, the entire Universe, everything I see, just didn’t exist. And then God made it start existing. If I believe this, then I obviously don’t believe that the physical laws currently in effect have always been in effect – Which is the fundamental assumption of forensic science, upon which the argument rests.

    I believe that all physical laws are subject to change according to God’s will – Which is totally contrary to the assumption of forensic science.

    (By the way: There’s no need to involve the isotopes. Once you’ve taken as an axiom the fundamental assumption of forensic science that current physical law has always been in effect, it’s already necessary that the world was never created ex nihilo.)

    If you want to shake my faith, you have to take as a premise an assumption that I already believe, and argue your way towards a conclusion that I don’t believe. The isotopes argument starts from a premise that I don’t believe and argues it’s way towards a conclusion that I don’t believe. It just doesn’t connect. I follow the argument, but for me it’s a moot point.

  • Alex Weaver

    You already implicitly believe that the laws of physics are constant; you wouldn’t step outside of your house if you suspected that you were just as likely to go floating up into the air as to be held on the ground by gravity. It’s only when your preconceptions are challenged by overwhelming evidence that you retreat into this borderline solipsistic view of physical reality; to borrow from a Pharyngula commenter, you live your life as if 2 and 2 makes 4, and only once in a while do you decide the opposite.

    But frankly, I don’t think anyone gives a damn about “shaking your faith,” as you rather narcissistically put it. Our purpose is not to “tempt” you but to make available the evidence and arguments that convinced us that this position is correct. We have provided evidence sufficient to convince any reasonable person; if you choose to renounce your reason (your assertions here are tantamount to such a renuncation), that’s your problem until you begin acting on it in a way that impacts the lives of others.

    However, I’m curious: what hypothetical evidence WOULD you accept as proving that your views (or, even better, your premises) are wrong?

  • Eric

    And to add quickly to Alex Weavers comment, the problem als rests that the only “proof” you have of this silly little fantasy is your assertion that you BELIEVE that this sky fairy did such and such. I would hazard a guess saying you have tried to enforce this belief in others, even if just your own children, and there is the problem. We operate from a platform of rationality and evidence. Empirical evidence. And until you can come up with TANGIBLE evidence to proof this sky fairy deceived us by building this world and multivers the way you assert you detract from the world, and are guilty of intellectual dishonesty.

  • Jack

    Logismous – You argue that God could have made the universe “fully formed”. But I assume he could have created a universe without radioisotopes in the first place, a universe that would be both fully formed and without any “deceptive” evidence to its age. Or he could have radioactive elements decay in such a way that our detectors get the message in Morse Code “Don’t be fooled – the universe is only 6000 years old”. He could have even blocked man from discovering radioisotopes in the first place so as to prevent mankind from getting confused about whether or not the bible is true. The problem is that the bible seems to say that God wants everyone to believe (and will damn those who don’t), and yet the universe as we observe it seems to indicate that the bible is faulty in its chronology. The problem isn’t just limited to radioisotopes – there are scores of incidents in the old testament and new (like the exodus, the star at Jesus’ birth, etc) that do not line up with astronomical or archaeological evidence. In light of those problems, can we REALLY say that god wants everyone to know him and the bible is his revelation?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Logismous Kathairountes,

    If you want to shake my faith, you have to take as a premise an assumption that I already believe, and argue your way towards a conclusion that I don’t believe.

    -Where does god come from in the bible?
    -There are two different versions of the same event in the bible when it comes to creation.
    -Also, from only creating two people, how do you end up with any kind of diversity? The most they could do is have children, and then out of people to sleep with. Rampant incest which would lead to everyone being a genetic identical twin of each other, provided people would survive with all the genetic deficiencies (probably deficiencies designed by god too)
    -The bible makes no mentions of dinosaurs, nor do any anicent civiliation. Yet we have tons of fossils of them. Thoughts?

    I think that’s a good four to start with.

  • MJJP

    “Evidence like this shatters, beyond all possibility of reasonable doubt, the religious dogmas of a 6,000-year-old cosmos. ”
    =========
    Why is it so hard to get the evangelicals and others both in the school systems and politics to understand these basic fundamental facts? What scares me in this upcoming political season is the recent report that Mike Huckabee accepts the Noahs Ark tale as fact.

  • MJJP

    “Like I said, I already believe that He created Adam and Eve fully-grown. I don’t think He created them that way to trick them into thinking that they were once children. I think that He wanted some fully-grown human beings, and so He created some fully-grown human beings. Probably He just created an entire fully-grown Universe without having it pass through it’s ‘childhood’ stages. The Universe we see is what a fully-grown Universe looks like – How is that deceptive?”
    Logismous K
    =============
    It’s deceptive in the fact that it contradicts everything we know to be correct when tested over and over. You are not reading what is in the original post or you fail to understand it. The elements listed above and found on earth have known decay rates and have decayed or are decaying based on their age. It is no different than the flood story. If there had been a worldwide flood as the bible implies WHY does the geologic strata defy the evidence? What purpose would God have of ordering such a calamity only to hide the evidence of such an event?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    For Logismous Kathairountes:

    The Universe we see is what a fully-grown Universe looks like – How is that deceptive?

    Because the universe we observe doesn’t merely have an appearance of age, but an appearance of history. Based on the evidence, it looks as if it came into existence at a specific time and that certain things have happened at various times since then. If your beliefs are correct, then none of that history ever happened, and all this evidence was falsified and planted to deceive us.

    Why does a “fully-grown Universe” have plenty of vanadium-50 and hafnium-174, but no curium-147 or lead-205? If God had created the cosmos with initially equal amounts of these isotopes 6,000 years ago, they’d all still be around. The fact that long-lived isotopes still exist on Earth, but shorter-lived isotopes do not, indicates that the Earth has existed for at least several billion years. In other words, it indicates that the Earth has a history. We would not be able to draw that conclusion if all the isotopes I listed above still existed, or if the list was randomly distributed as to which ones existed and which ones didn’t, rather than showing the clear pattern that you can see above.

    You mentioned that God created Adam “fully grown”. But to make that analogy applicable, we’d have to assume that God created Adam with a bellybutton, an appendectomy scar, and a tattoo reading “Mom”. That would be the state that a deity would have had to create the first human being in to be analogous to the state in which we find the universe.

  • heliobates

    Why does a “fully-grown Universe” have plenty of vanadium-50 and hafnium-174, but no curium-147 or lead-205? If God had created the cosmos with initially equal amounts of these isotopes 6,000 years ago, they’d all still be around.

    This, Logismous Kathairountes, is the crux of Adam’s argument and the point you’ve deliberately avoided addressing. Put another way, if the anthropo- and ethnocentric version of history presented in the bible is true, then what’s the point of the rest of the universe? If you answer “I dunno, God has his reasons” then you’re abdicating a rational defense of your position.

    What I find interesting is the way in which believers expect their beliefs to be privileged. That you assert something as a belief seems to be all the work you’re willing to do. We metaphysical naturalists, on the other hand, feel the need to only hold justified beliefs and the justification is available evidence.

    The evidence supports an incomprehensibly old universe and a planet that formed in Deep Time. You may dismiss isotopes as insufficient to shake the foundation of your faith, but if you’re also going to dismiss sea floor spreading, the geologic column, the speed of light in a vacuum, WMAP and cosmic background radiation and the genetic evidence for evolution, then the tenor of your “faith” has a very strong motif of “La la la I can’t heeear youuu!”

  • theistscientist

    I am not YEC, although God certainly could have done it that way. The same God capable of causing the first cause, creating first matter, and causing that matter to create more matter, then organizing it into such an intelligently designed Universe, could easily use “proces”, including big bang, evolution(if he so chose)and /or a hybrid of both naturalistic and transcendental processes. The Bible indicates that our time on earth is a typology of process,testing and preparing us for eternity. I also know that ancient words for very large numbers often tend to be truncated or symbolic,eg (ten thousand thousands) (as many as the stars in the sky) I see no theological problem with a certain degfreee of flexibility here. Secular science, particularly cosmology is very flexible with itself I note also.

  • spaceman spif

    Late getting to this thread, but an excellent read. And an excellent counter to the “God created the universe this way” argument…if he really did create it 6000 years ago, but put in evidence that it’s much older, then he put in evidence that he knew would be deceiving lots of people straight into hell. Not very nice!

  • Wayne Essel

    I can’t seem to find in this thread how one calculates the decay rate of an isotope that is no longer detectable. Do you calculate it based on mass/particle ratios?

    How does one know that the isotope even existed?

    Just curious…

  • Jim Baerg

    To Wayne:
    We can create lots of isotopes using fission reactors or particle accelerators, & then measure the properties of those isotopes. That’s where the information in a ‘table of the nuclides’ comes from.

    As for knowing that the isotope ever existed naturally in the solar system: In some cases it’s based on observations & calculations on what happens in supernovas, that we expect a mix of *everything* to be made.

    In other cases we deduce this from odd ratios of stable isotopes in very old minerals. Eg: in some meteorites there are aluminum minerals with some magnesium in them that have an oddly high amount of Mg26 in the magnesium. Al26 decays to Mg26 with a half life of 740000 years. The best explanation for this is that the minerals in the meteor formed from elements made in a supernova that occurred less that a few million years before. This is part of the reason for thinking that the collapse of an interstellar cloud of dust & gas to form the solar system was triggered by a nearby supernova.

  • http://www.timpanogos.wordpress.com Ed Darrell

    Radioisotopes! Their decay is the most constant rhythm in the universe. To really tick off creationists, I generally note they are God’s clocks . . . and do not lie.

    Great post. Good stuff. Thanks.

  • Tom

    Shifty, there is an Ian McEwan quote that could have been written just for you:

    “Shakespeare would have grasped wave functions, Donne would have understood complementarity and relative time. They would have been excited. What richness! They would have plundered this new science for their imagery. And they would have educated their audiences too. But you ‘arts’ people, you’re not only ignorant of these magnificent things, you’re rather proud of knowing nothing.”

  • Jim Baerg

    For some more information on the subject see:
    http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/2008/09/isotope-park.html
    & some recent research about the complexities of where those isotopes came from:
    http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/2008/10/how-astrophysicists-spoil-cosmochemical.html

    Once again the scientists flip-flop on the issues while creationist stick to the bible

  • karatemack

    I agree, the 6000 year thing doesn’t seem to add up. I believe this was originally introduced by a catholic bishop who took the genealogies backwards from the Exodus (which occurred sometimes between 1400 and 1200 BC) and calculated the years people lived (IE: Adam lived 130 years and had a son then lived 120 more years and died…) between each generation and came up with a figure of 6000 years. Problem is this way of dating is highly innacurate (for other reasons other than those supplied by science).

    First, there is much debate about Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 1:2. Some believe “In the beginning” refers to the start of the age of the earth. Those who feel this way are divided into three camps. Some feel the earth was created on day 1 of the seven day creation. Those who feel this way are divided between those who feel a ‘day’ is a literal 24-hr period, and those who feel as though ‘day’ refers to an age. Either interpretation has it’s problems. (If it was a literal day, how did Adam name all the animals in just one day? If each day was an ‘age’ and death did not occur until Adam and Eve sinned, how was overpopulation of the animals controlled?) Of those who do not believe the earth was created on day 1 there are two other views. The first believe’s there is a “GAP” between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 which allows for a period of ‘unknown’ time between the original creation of the earth and it’s reshaping by God in the first chapter of Genesis. The third camp feels that Genesis 1:1 does not describe the actual event of the creation of the earth, but supplies a title to the rest of the chapter. This would follow the ‘tol e dot’ structure the rest of Genesis follows. In this model the reader is not clued into the original time the earth came into existence at all. We are only given the condition of the earth at the time which starts our human history.(see “charts” below)

    *————–>——->——->——->——->
    Earth made followed by 7 literal days.

    *————–>——->——->——->——->
    Earth made followed by 7 ages (each lasting for thousands or millions of years)

    *————||||||||||—————————–>
    Earth made___GAP___7 days (or ages) of creation follow “gap”

    ——–>——->
    We don’t know when the earth was made______God reshapes earth as what we know today

    +
    +
    The second glaring problem with the bishop’s calculation is that genealogies in the ancient near east did not always follow the pattern of european genealogies. Many accounts followed only important family members or only listed a certain number of family members (normally 10). These vertical genealogies did NOT list EVERY step of a family line. Certainly from Adam to Cain and Seth we know it was direct, but when it says “Enoch lived 100 years and became the father of…” it does not necessarily mean Enoch fathered Lamech. It means that when Enoch was 100 years old he had a child who would eventually (through 1 or 5 or 10 or 20 generations!) make Enoch Lamech’s ancestor. This does not follow our western way of doing things, however there is pleanty of evidence for this type of genealogy in the ancient near east. (and in other places in the Bible as well… SEE Kings and Chronicles and Matthew and Luke)

    Conclusions:

    The ‘young earth’ creationists certainly have alot to account for. Both in science and from the text of the Bible itself. We cannot say with all certainty that the Bible tells us exactly when the earth was created (at least not from what I’ve seen).

    Those who would try to date the time between us and Adam by calculating years have to answer the questions of ‘broken’ genealogies. We cannot say with certainty that the Bible claims a 6000 year period between us and Adam, let alone between us and the creation of the Earth.

    I know this may seem irrelevant… but I found your article interesting here and wanted to contribute to an argument against a young earth… while at the same time stating that while this certainly argues against a young earth… it does not rule out creation or the Biblical account.

  • Emil

    @Jim,
    I read the links you provided and, while not a scientist, I think you need to revise the last comment you left after the links.

    Instead of “Once again the scientists flip-flop on the issues while creationist stick to the bible”

    Might I suggest:
    Once again the scientists engage in heated and sometimes vicious debate over the meaning of new data while creationists consistently misinterpret interdisciplinary scientific feuding as somehow confirming the bible, in spite of any and all contradictory information.

  • Jim Baerg

    Hi Emil:

    I fogot to put ;^) at the end of that sentence.

  • Aung

    “In response, Prince Siddhartha touched the ground with his right hand, calling the earth itself to be his witness. At this moment, Mara was defeated, and the Buddha attained enlightenment and freedom from the endless cycle of suffering and rebirth.”

    The Buddha called upon the earth to be his witness that he went through many lives for the time period of 4 incalculables and 100,000 worlds to study and research the causes of sufferings and the ways to end them so that he could tell others how to escape from the endless series (cycle) of rebirths and deaths. He wanted to explore what were the forces pushing the people and himself through one life after another. He wanted to know the link so that he could end the steam. He wanted to share it with the people. So, the intense power of his good deeds shook up the earth. (Energy cannot be created nor destroyed remember? You can say it was merely a conversion of energy.)

    Neither the earth nor the fight with Mara gave him the enlightenment. He used many of his lives to live through, research and study the causes and nature of suffering. What he did under the Bodhi tree was using his zen attained through meditation – he looked back his own lives, he studied the lives of all beings – at birth, born, in existence and dying and he concluded the causes of suffering and the way out of the stream of lives. You can even say it’s scientific. It’s through research!

    The Buddha never said He created the world. He did not believe in creation or creator. He did not claim to be a son/ messenger/ reincarnation of God or any Creator. The article even agrees that the concept of creation is flawed.

    In Buddhism, we talk about beings from 10,000 universes. The Buddha talked about the beings who live millions of worlds and how they think they are immortal looking at the transient lives of humans. Look at those mosquitoes. Do you think they care they’ll be dead in 7 days top? Look at us.

    Would you say the so-called “science” just started centuries back claiming to know the whole truth. Many scientists have been proven wrong by other scientists anyway. The knowledge of “science” is still under development and far from complete to compare with the wisdom of the Buddha.

    Learn with an open-heart. Inquire freely. Practice! Only if you find it to be the truth, then accept! that’s the freedom of Buddhism. Read Kalama Sutta.

  • Aung

    I posted the above comment. eek. i rushed through the article and misunderstood. sorry. the article is just criticizing the creationism. :D sorry ! ! ! ! ! ! !

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Would you say the so-called “science” just started centuries back claiming to know the whole truth. Many scientists have been proven wrong by other scientists anyway. The knowledge of “science” is still under development and far from complete to compare with the wisdom of the Buddha.

    Science improves on knowledge and corrects mistakes, which is a strength that gets us closer to actual knowledge of the world. Yes, it’s far from complete and yes it is still under development, but it is the combined empirical knowledge of many, many people over many, many years. To compare this unfavorably to the meditations of a single person, especially trying to defend such by saying, “You can even say it’s scientific. It’s through research!” is absurd.

  • Aung

    many many years of research compared to light years is nothing. the knowledge we know compared to the vastness of the universe – nothing. we’re living in the “concept” of the world and the universe we have constructed. A single person’s meditation can be beyond all our research. I’d like to suggest everyone out there who don’t believe anything beyond “science” to go meet a psychic called Daw Swe Swe Win @ ET in Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma). She will tell you everything about you and your family one u tell her your name. She will tell you the names of your family, the number on the money note you have in your wallet. Not so expensive. Locals pay about 20 USD. Not sure about foreigners. Explain that with science.

    You will then see the possibility that the Buddha obtained the great wisdom through meditation. But He said – “don’t proclaim that the Buddha knows everything but proclaim the truth that nothing can block the Buddha’s wisdom and that He can know everything he wishes to know”

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    many many years of research compared to light years is nothing. the knowledge we know compared to the vastness of the universe – nothing. we’re living in the “concept” of the world and the universe we have constructed. A single person’s meditation can be beyond all our research.

    This is simply ridiculous. You’re claiming that the shared knowledge of many people working over hundreds (or more) of years is insignificant to the universe, yet that one person meditating is able to gain more knowledge than all those doing science, and on top of that it’s enough to be significant?

    Please.

    I’m sure Buddha learned about diseases and medicine? Oh he didn’t? How about electricity? No? How about computers, lasers, vehicles, cosmology? No?

    Explain that with science.

    It’s called cold reading. It’s not a secret.

  • Aung

    Please read again – the Buddha said – “don’t proclaim that the Buddha knows everything but proclaim the truth that nothing can block the Buddha’s wisdom and that He can know everything he wishes to know”

    Buddhism is about escaping from the series of lives (or the cycle). Whatever is irrelevant to that the Buddha didn’t teach. He might not even have explored those areas. How would electricity or laser relevant to Nibbanna?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Evidence pls.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    “don’t proclaim that the Buddha knows everything but proclaim the truth that nothing can block the Buddha’s wisdom and that He can know everything he wishes to know”

    Gnostic assumptions pervade every religion (xians “know” Jesus loves them)but its still un-demonstrable and un-falsifiable. Meditation may well have beneficial effects on the human psyche;clarity of mind, concentration, relaxation. It may even enable you to solve problems or hypothesise solutions based on information you already have but I fail to see how it can generate any true new knowledge.


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