NOTE: This review is from the print edition of Journal of Creation. Creation Ministries International has not yet posted this article on the web.
Review by Mike Hore
First Published 11 February 2013
I’m not calling this a “review”, since I’m not a geologist, and so not qualified to review the RATE work which Baumgardner was part of, and in any case this work has been well critiqued elsewhere. I’m also not calling this a “rebuttal”, since I don’t want to rebut it! Rather, I commend it, since without heavy YEC blinkers, this is a very effective demolition of the whole YEC position!
Baumgardner’s main point in this article is that radioisotope methods do, in fact, yield trustworthy relative ages. Even for YECs who reject the absolute ages, the relative ages are trustworthy. OK, fair enough—but that’s not the point I want to draw attention to.
But first, a word about miracles in the Bible. These always have a clearly stated purpose. It might be for God’s judgment (e.g. the plagues in Egypt), or to demonstrate His existence and power, or accomplish His salvation, or to show His mercy, love and compassion for His faithful people. But in all cases God’s purpose in the miracle is always clear. This even applies to miracles outside the Bible—this isn’t the place for a discussion about whether modern miracles occur, but I think we can agree that if they do, they come under the category of God answering persistent and faithful prayer as described in Luke 11 and many other places. My point is that the Bible tells us why miracles occur, and if somebody claims a miracle that doesn’t appear to be clearly promised in the Bible, then there’s a problem.
Now back to Baumgardner’s article. Consider this remarkable paragraph:
“It is worth emphasizing that the helium still present in the zircons studied by the RATE team from the drill core in northern New Mexico as well as the 238U and Po radiohalos documented in tens of separate granite bodies from around the world represent tangible, physical and nearly indisputable evidence of vast amounts of nuclear transmutation, much more than a few thousand years’ worth at presently measured rates. But many creationists have struggled, and continue to struggle, with whether or not this can honestly be true. Indeed, that very issue loomed large as the RATE team first met together in the summer of 1997. It was only after a vigorous grappling with the observational evidence, especially evidence involving fission tracks, that the entire team came into agreement that the physical observations do strongly support the conclusion that billions of years’ worth of nuclear transmutation at present rates has truly occurred since the earth’s rocks first came into being.”
Clearly at this point the RATE team should have drawn the obvious conclusions, packed their bags and gone home. But no, their determination to uphold their interpretation of the Bible didn’t allow that. The answer? Accelerated nuclear decay. “During a brief span of time—the Genesis text allows only tens of hours—God not only brought the continental crust into being, but also caused several Ga [billion years] worth of nuclear transmutation to unfold within its rocks… Somehow God also disposed of the heat released, such that later on Day 3 all sorts of lush grass and herbs and fruit trees were flourishing over much, if not most, of the land surface. … an additional 550 Ma worth of nuclear transmutation also unfolded during the Flood cataclysm. … Somehow God removed the heat and protected the living things that survived the cataclysm from the associated radiation. This transmutation process left behind a clear and readable record…”
I have quoted extensively so that the absurdity of Baumgardner’s position will be obvious in his own words. What could cause accelerated nuclear decay? It would have to be a miracle. If it had been a natural physical process, the universe wouldn’t be here. Atomic nuclei are held together by the strong nuclear force. For very large nuclei, the “potential well” created by this force isn’t as large as for smaller nuclei, so under the principle of quantum uncertainty there’s a non-zero probability that a particle from within the nucleus will eventually “tunnel” out of the well, giving a radioactive decay event. For this decay to speed up, naturalistically, there would have to be a change to the strong force, or quantum physics. But for the universe to exist, the fundamental constants of physics have to be what they are.
For comparison, several years ago some YECs proposed a change to c, the speed of light. This was quickly found to be completely untenable. Relativity shows that space and time are to some extent interchangeable, and c represents the ratio between space and time units. It simply can’t be changed without having a different universe. And rightly, the major YEC organizations now reject this idea. A naturalistic change to the rate of nuclear decay would hit exactly the same problem. So the YEC is left with “God did it, somehow”. Not just once, but twice. And of course, the monumental amount of energy released has to go somewhere, so yes, God does it again.
Now where in the Bible do we find this type of miracle? We don’t. Do they show us anything of God’s love, justice or mercy? Hardly. Well, the miraculous removal of all that energy might show His mercy, but it was God who caused the problem in the first place! What conceivable reason would God have for causing all this nuclear decay, and then not telling us about it? Maybe to make us think the earth is billions of years old when it isn’t? This wouldn’t be the God of the Bible. In short, this position discredits both God and the Bible—and yet, YECs claim to be upholding the truth of the Bible against the “compromisers”. There seems to be some inconsistency somewhere!
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