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The Age of the Earth

Facts About the Age of the Earth

Physical and chemical evidence is used to determine the age of the earth. Different processes yield different ages. It is currently accepted by the majority of scientists today that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. This date is based one main line of evidence known as radiometric dating.

Radiometric dating depends on the fact that certain elements will decay at a known rate into other elements. The most well known radiometric decay process is carbon 14. Carbon 14 will, over time, turn into nitrogen by a process known as beta decay. The age of the earth is determined using the "uranium to lead" and "potassium to argon" methods. Radiometric dating is actually a very simple process. If you know how much of an element you start with, the rate of decay and how much of an element you end up with you can then determine how long that decay process took. An everyday example of this process can be demonstrated with a candle. Light a candle and note its height and the rate at which it melts. Let's say that the candle was 12" long and it melts at the rate of 1" per hour. If after a time the candle was 6" tall you could determine that the candle was first lit 6 hours ago. Measuring how much of any element that is present today is relatively easy. Radiometric dating however is dependent on knowing how much of an element there was originally and assuming that the rate of decay that we see today has always remained the same. Radiometric dating is therefore dependent on the Doctrine of Uniformitarianism.

Sedimentation (the original evidence for Lyell) argues for a relatively old earth. The thicknesses of different layers of sediment can be physically measured. The current rate at which those layers are laid down today can also be measured. If it is assumed that the rate of sedimentation has remained constant over time then the age of those layers can be determined. Sedimentary layers are evidence for a 100,000+ year old earth. Using sedimentation to determine the age of the earth depends on an acceptance of the Doctrine of Uniformitarianism.

There are many other dating methods that are used in an attempt to determine the age of the earth. Almost all of these methods are dependent upon the doctrine of uniformity. Some of these methods argue for either a very old earth or a relatively old earth. Others indicate a relatively young earth or a very young earth.

Observations on the Age of the Earth

Evidence that indicates an old earth is accepted while the evidence that indicates a young earth is rejected. The reason for this is the theory of evolution. Much of the debate that occurred when Darwin published his theory had to do with the age of the earth. At the time Darwin published his book the prevailing view among the vast majority of scientists was that the earth was either very young or relatively young. At that time there also were scientists who argued for a relatively old earth. But descent with modification takes a very, very long time. And so the search was on for evidence that would show a great age for the earth.

There are many times when the Doctrine of Uniformitarianism is used to explain past events. But there are also times when this doctrine is assumed to be false. But science is based upon observation and repetition. As such the doctrine or uniformity cannot be used selectively. Science must assume, due to its own self-imposed limitations, that what happens today also happened yesterday. Therefore the doctrine of uniformity should be used across the board. When using this doctrine we find that there is evidence for a very old earth, a relatively old earth, a relatively young earth or a very young earth. It all depends on the evidence that one will accept.

Let us assume for a moment that there is no theory of evolution and no requirement for a very old earth. If this was the case then the age of the earth would still be up for debate. The evidence itself actually supports a very old earth, a relatively old earth, a relatively young earth and a very young earth. Without the theory of natural selection the debate over the age of the earth would still be ongoing. But because the theory of evolution requires such a long period of time it is then assumed that the earth must be very old. But this assumption is not based on science. Science is all about observation and repetition. Based upon the available evidence the earth may be very old, relatively old, relatively young or very young. Using the scientific method we may never determine just how old our planet really is.

Star and Planet Formation

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