I was first convinced over forty years ago that the Earth is extremely old, in fact more than one billion years and as much as two billion. Today I feel confident that the Earth is over four billion years and probably older. How was I convinced?
My textbook for introductory geology at university was "Outlines of Geology" by Longwell, Knopf, et al., first published in 1934 and revised in 1941. One statement was, "the oldest rocks thus far determined are in Manitoba and Carelia, Russia, and their ages are around 2,000,000,000 years." The ‘sodium in the sea’ method seemed to provide the logical deduction of a minimum age of one billion years. Later I realized that assuming that the original seawater was fresh made the method spurious. But the enormous quantities of halite and gypsum deposited throughout geological time around the world is persuasive of great age for the earth, provided the assumption is correct that these deposits were formed from evaporation of sea water. Subsequently undergraduate courses in historical geology, stratigraphy, paleontology, structure, sedimentology, etc. further confirmed for me that the Earth is old.
During fifteen seasons of geological field mapping I found that thick sections of fossiliferous sedimentary rocks conformed to the succession in the geological time scale:
The geology courses I have taught include introductory, historical, stratigraphy, paleontology including micropaleontology, sedimentology, and carbonaceous fuels. My research papers have been in the fields of stratigraphy, paleontology, carbonaceous fuels, and the history of geology. On field excursions from coast to coast in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom (including Siccar Point in Scotland which contributed to Hutton’s conclusion, "we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end"), northwestern Europe and Australia I examined the consistent succession in accord with the geological time scale and the consistent succession of diagnostic fossils. Field camp and several excursions in northern Ontario provided opportunities to examine complex rocks of the Precambrian that are interpreted by the experts as extremely old. Radiometric dating gives absolute ages. I have faith that the geochronologists are striving for precise figures. My conviction remains firm – the Earth must be old.
In Canada and the United States there are over sixty federal, provincial and state geological surveys that conduct field mapping, laboratory research and publish geological maps, reports, memoirs, etc., and employ thousands of geologists and technologists. It is the consistent policy of these surveys that the Earth has great age, as manifest by the time scale that is on the geological maps.1 The oldest survey still operating under the same name is the Geological Survey of Canada. The first field study was done in 1842 by the Director, William Logan, was the measurement of a shoreline at Joggins, Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy. The gently dipping section is over 4800m of Pennsylvanian sandstone and shales, exposing thirty-three levels of upright tree stumps and in one 1600m section exposes sixty-five thin beds of coal. Deposition on a slowly subsiding vast river-delta plain over a long period of time would seem to be a logical explanation. Logan adhered to great age for the Earth.
The directory of the American Geological Institute lists over 400 geoscience departments in the United States and Canada with over 8000 faculty members. Geology in these departments is taught on the basis that the Earth is old, including such church related institutions as Wheaton College and Calvin College.
Most professional geologists belong to one or more of the geological societies, such as the Geological Society of America (17,000+ members), American Association of Petroleum Geologists (34,000+), the Geological Association of Canada (3500+), etc. The Professional societies produce publications such as bulletins, memoirs, special papers, etc. Any paper that includes reference to the geologic time scale indicates that a great age for the Earth is inferred, even in papers that do not include absolute dates. All these professional organizations attest by their publications to a great age for the Earth.
In 1980 the Geological Society of America embarked on the publication of a multi-volume cyclopoedia of North American geology to celebrate its founding in 1888. The first publication in 1982 was a ‘Regional Geologic Synthesis’ which cited a multitude of absolute dates as far back as 3.8 billion years. In 1983 the GSA issued a ‘Geologic Time Scale’ to serve as a common denominator of ages for all of the volumes. The table includes the periods, epochs, and ages; an absolute age column indicating more than 3800 million years; and a magnetic polarity scale showing field reversals. At the present time, the oldest identified rock is from the Northwest Territories of Canada with an age of 3.96 billion years. The rock is a gneiss, the metamorphic derivative of some previously existing rock, thus indicating that older rocks are yet to be found.
A multitude of geoscientists are employed by mining and petroleum exploration companies exploring rocks from a few thousand to a few billion years old. Can we conceive of a mineral deposits geoscientist working in the complex terrains of the Precambrian shields who assumes that the rocks are very young? I can’t!
I could wax eloquently and at length about the individuals living over a century and a half ago such as James Hutton, William Smith, and Charles Lyell, who gathered the evidence and initiated the modern understanding that the Earth has great age. The book by Claude Albritton, ‘The Abyss of Time’ (Freeman, Cooper, 1980) provides an excellent summary. In the late nineteenth century, such prominent geologists as James Dwight Dana, Yale professor, Michigan geologist Alexander Winchell, and Charles Hitchcock, Dartmouth professor, acknowledged a great age for the Earth, and at the same time were committed Christians. Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield believed that the Scriptures are inerrant but acknowledged an ancient earth. I recommend a book entitled ‘Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders’ by David Livingstone, Eerdmans, 1987, for more examples.
I remain convinced on the basis of over four decades of experience that the earth is very old. If qualified geoscientists with comparable experience can provide positive evidence that the Earth is young, I shall gladly listen. But in the meantime, let us reflect on one purpose of the Affiliation of Christian Geologists to which all members attest – "to promote the integrity of geology as a scientific discipline". The word integrity is defined as "a state of being whole, entire and undiminished; a sound, unimpaired and perfect condition." In my opinion, to deny that the Earth has great age, would remove geology from the realm of science. This would be like removing the periodic table of elements from chemistry. What would happen to the integrity of Christianity and the New Testament if the Apostle Paul were discredited and eliminated?
Pilate asked, "What is Truth?"2 In this instance, I reply – The Earth is very old!!
1. I would argue that political jurisdictions that have a geological survey publishing reports based on great age, should also have a public school curriculum for geology that requires teaching that the Earth has a great age.
2. John 18:38