Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah. The rock formation in which the arch formed is older than 6,000 years. Not too surprising, considering that most rocks on Earth are older than 6,000 years.
I am generally a nice person. I am polite and patient, and I try to listen to people, even when I disagree with them. I do not normally hate people. I am an atheist but I also consider myself a humanist. If you’re a human and you aren’t responsible for a mass genocide, I generally won’t hate you. I may not like you, but I won’t hate you.
However, my polite, patient, human-loving streak reached a breaking point today. I have decided that I hate Young Earth Creationist “geologists.” In my opinion, you CANNOT be a geologist if you do not accept that THE EARTH IS APPROXIMATELY 4.5 BILLION YEARS OLD. I’ll say that one more time: In my opinion, you CANNOT be a geologist if you do not accept that THE EARTH IS APPROXIMATELY 4.5 BILLION YEARS OLD.
You don’t have to believe every geological theory to be a geologist. That’s one great aspect of science– theories change, and scientists often harbor different opinions. However, I am comfortable saying with 100% confidence that the Earth is older than 6,000 years old. Most geologists feel this way, too. Geology makes sense when the Earth is old. Geology does not make sense when the Earth is young. There are too many contradictions, and the processes shaping the planet happen too slowly to create the features we observe in a mere few thousand years. Earth was molded over BILLIONS of years.
I am willing to compromise somewhat. You can disagree about how old certain continents are and can debate the ages of sedimentary layers and certain volcanoes. However, if you believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that’s a deal-breaker for me. You can’t possibly be a good geologist– or be a geologist at all these days– without appreciating that the Earth is very, very old and that geological processes occur slowly over long periods of time. If I become a professor and ever have a geology student who believes Earth is only 6,000 years old, I will kick that student out of my program. Period.
Why am I so worked up about Young Earth Creationist “geologists” tonight? Because of an excellent article in the most recent New York Science Times featuring this asshole. “Dr.” (I cannot bring myself to call him a real doctor) Ross has a Ph.D in paleontology from the University of Rhode Island, but he believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. How is that possible? How can one possibly be a good paleontologist if one believes the Earth is so young? There’s no way the Earth’s fossil record could have been produced in such a short time period!
What cracks me up, actually, is the biography on “Dr.” Ross’s website:
“Marcus Ross has loved paleontology (especially dinosaurs) since he was a kid growing up in Rhode Island. He has continued pursuing this passion, currently researching about a group of extinct marine reptiles called mosasaurs. He is greatly interested in issues surrounding the creation-evolution controversy and the intersection of geology with the Biblical events of creation and Noah’s Flood.”
Interesting contradictions here. So, “Dr.” Ross accepts that animals go extinct. Doesn’t that mean that he accepts evolution? So, where’s the controversy? Mosasuars = extinct = evolution happens. End of story, in my book. Yet, “Dr.” Ross later states that he’s interested in the creation-evolution controversy. I wish a Mososaur would eat “Dr.” Ross… or at least frighten him into scientific enlightment.
As for the intersection of geology with Biblical events of creation… well, the science is totally gone here. Why? Becuase The Bible is not a scientific text. The Bible is not a historical record. The Bible is not a valid reference for a scientific paper, for a geological paper. Actually, I think that there is some merit to considering geological explanations for events which happened in The Bible, which I personally consider to be a work of fiction inspired by actual events, here and there. Certainly, there have been large floods in the Middle East in the past. Could one of these be a Biblical flood? Sure. Why not? I’m sure geologists and Biblical historians have considered the possibilities. But that’s all they are–possibilities. They are possible inspirations for a fictional work.
Why else am I so worked up about “Dr.” Ross and his Young Earth Creationist “geologist” friends? Currently, I date rocks for a living. In my free time, I try to date men, but mostly I’m dating rocks these days. More formally, I am a graduate student in training to become an argon-argon isotope geochronologist. Basically, I am learning how to use argon isotopes to determine dates for rocks.
I am learning that dating rocks and minerals is no easy task. For instance, this spring I am working on obtaining ten dates from a group of volcanic rocks from the Ninetyeast Ridge, a 5000 km long hotspot track in the Indian Ocean. I anticipate that my samples will range in age from about 40 million to 80 million years old. These ten age dates are going to require a solid three months of my time. Not just three months of ordinary, 9 to 5 labwork either. I am working 60+ hour weeks, and I’m also trying to do some homework now and then between samples. The past week has been particularly grueling as we (two of us– I’m working with the lab supervisor) are trying to prepare a group of samples to send off to the nuclear reactor we use to turn potassium into argon, an important step in the argon-argon dating process. For the past week, I’ve been working 14-15 hour days during the week. On the weekend, I took it easy… I worked for six hours on Saturday and for eleven hours on Sunday. Monday morning I was back at lab at 9 am, and I just returned home now (Tuesday) at 2 in the morning. Once we ship the samples off to the reactor next week, my schedule will relax again, and I’ll only work 8 to 10 hour days.
I work very hard as a geochronologist. There are many people like me who work extremely hard to produce these dates of rocks and minerals. Theoretically, someone with a Ph.D in geology appreciates how difficult these dates are to obtain and understands the science behind the isotopic dating systems. I just don’t understand how a well-educated geologist could be a Young Earth Creationist. I am angry because here is someone who is clearly NOT a very good geologist but who has GOOD geological credentials… and he’s essentially trying to discredit what is swiftly becoming my life’s work. I feel insulted, personally, by people like “Dr.” Ross. I work hard, every day, to better understand the Earth. I work hard, very hard, to obtain concrete dates for my rocks. Having a Ph.D geologist tell me that Earth is only 6,000 years old is absurd and makes me very angry and also very, very sad.
Another day, I’ll address some of the criticisms creationists have for isotopic dating. For now I’ll just say that while some of their criticisms are valid, their interpretations of these criticisms are extreme. Geochronologists are able to constrain their errors. They have estimates of all of the uncertainties and take these uncertainties into consideration when reporting ages. For instance, the dates I will ultimately report for my volcanic rocks will be on the order of 50 million years, and I’ll probably know the dates to within a million years or so. Not an exact age, sure, but I can at least say with certainty that my lavas were erupted more than 6,000 years ago.
Maybe I should just give up and make my life easier. Do I really want to spend another fourteen hours in lab tomorrow? Not really. I’ll just make up ages for my rocks (5,000 years, 3,000 years, 5005.77 years) and call my story good. Maybe I’m beginning to understand the creationists… certainly, my work as a geochronologist would be easier if the Earth really were a mere 6,000 years old. And, hey, I can always land a job at a conservative Christian college, right? Ugh. I’ll stick with my isotopes.