SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
The Age of the Earth
Part 4: Glacial Varves and Tree Rings
By Steve Webb
Greetings in Christ! This is the fourth in a series of blog articles that deal with the age of the Earth from a Christian perspective. I am a Christian geologist who has been working in this field of science for 38 years. I take the Bible as the accurate inspired word of God, as I have done since my youth. As explained in a prior introductory blog, I believe the Earth is considerably older than 6000 years and I do not believe that this conflicts with Scripture. The immensity of this subject is more than book length. In fact it would require many books, particularly to explain to those with limited science backgrounds. Due to the fact that my time and energy for writing on this subject is limited, all I can do is bite off a single small piece of this at a time. There are not many areas that I can speak with true authority, but this is one of them. I know my geology. I hope you will give me audience.
The single topic I am addressing in this note is the 6000 year threshold as it relates to the age of the Earth. If one assumes the days of creation in Genesis are consecutive 24-hour days (with no time preceding them), and that the genealogies listed in Scripture are accurate, this leads to an age date for the Earth, and the physical universe, of close to 6000 years (6017 as possibly a more precise calculation). All Christians interested in this topic need to fully understand the significance of this number. While there is room to quibble over a few years, 6000 is not the same as 20,000 or even 10,000. It is 6000 or bust. If the Earth does not date as extremely close to 6000 years using a "literal" interpretation then it might as well be any number, and I do mean any number — 6 million or 16 billlion are equally good. I cannot emphasize this point of logic enough.
I have some Christian friends who are very intelligent educated professionals, who told me that based on their study of this subject, they believe that the age of the Earth is on the order or 40-50 thousand years old, but no older. The sole reason they stated for it being no older was that if a lengthy time period were allowed then it would provide humanistic evolutionists the foundation for their theories to work. I was shocked by this rationale and still feel bad that they could reason this way. First of all they thought they were honoring a literal interpretation by staying reasonably close to it. They were not; 40,000 years is not 6000. Being "in the ballpark" is not good enough when it comes to judging the veracity of Scripture. Either our approach to interpreting Genesis is correct or it is not. Secondly, what they were saying in essence was that the ends justified the means. They were ready and willing to fight evolution even if it meant potentially falsifying the facts. We Christians cannot do this. Truth has no fear. We cannot hide our heads in the sand. We, of all people, must use our understanding and intellect, and be truthful about everything we say.
The truth is that scientifically the Earth appears much older than 6000 years. To believe otherwise one must reject 99% of the observations and accept the 1% as being true. As stated in my introductory blog, there are theoretical and theological reasons why the Earth could truly be 6000 years but this does not change the fact that it appears much older. My reasons for believing the Earth is much older are many. I have previously talked about radiometric age-dating and geologic processes, but I understand how people could be suspicious of these lines of evidence for one reason or another. So, to address a more straightforward subject, I am going to next talk about tree rings, i.e. the science of dendrochronology.
I am not a dendrochronologist but the basis for this age-dating is simple. Trees leave annual growth rings. They even do it in tropical climates. These growth rings have been successfully matched with known historical events for hundreds of years back, and they correspond accurately with radiocarbon dating. Attempts to discredit their age dating accuracy on the basis of Noah's Flood and other reasons have not met with success. From an age-dating perspective the oldest living trees on Earth are the bristlecone pines in Nevada, which take us back about 4800 years (there are some other candidate being touted as older but I have not seen the substantiation for them). While this is certainly impressive it does not take us back in time as far as we would like to go. Fortunately, trees are sometimes preserved long after their death via fortuitous petrification or burial in anoxic environments. Such preservation allows us to overlap tree rings from one generation to another as if we were overlapping bar codes or fingerprints. The method does not rely solely on interpretation by the human eye (although even this is pretty good) but is now done by computer imaging. Also important, it does not normally rely on single tree specimens. When this preservation works, it usually works quite well, serving to preserve many trees in a given area, providing the basis for crosschecking results. Such age-dating has been done with great confidence and repeatability back to 10,800 years in oak and pine tree in Poland , back to 8,900 years in the bristlecone pines in Nevada , and back to 7,300 years in the oak trees of Ireland.  The significance of this is that they (and others not cited) easily bust the 6000 year threshold. All of them must be refuted if one is to hold onto a 6000 year age.
In a different but somewhat similar line of evidence, age dating has been done on glacial ice in a number of places. This operates basically the same way as tree rings with summer and winter creating distinctive banding. Age-dating this glacial ice is more problematic than tree rings with different methods used to provide cross-checking accuracy, but everywhere that there has been a substantial thickness of ice cored, it has routinely dated as much older than 6000 years. As but one of many examples, glacial ice in Greenland provides a continuous record back 40,000 years. 
In the same way that ice layers show seasonal growth variations, the sediments that are deposited in deep lakes show a characteristic variation between summer and winter deposition that are as diagnostic as tree rings, and have even been cross-correlated with radiocarbon and even with tree rings. These cyclical mud layers are called varves. I have examined such varves myself on many occasions and their evidence is compelling. In Green River, Wyoming these varves can be counted back to over 100,000 years. An interesting discussion of this is found in the reference below. 
I fully realize that what I have written is a very superficial summary. I am trying to cover a lot of ground in a few words that I know will not be very convincing to many, but I do it from a broad perspective of seeing how it fits together. The Earth simply looks older than 6000 years. I have absolutely no incentive to say this if I did not believe it.
Blessings and keep the faith!
Please note, as a ministry, GotQuestions.org officially holds to Young Earth Creationism. We truly and fully believe that Young Earth Creationism best fits with the biblical account of creation. However, we recognize that Old Earth Creationism is a valid viewpoint that a Christian can hold. In no sense is Old Earth Creationism heresy and in no sense should Old Earth Creationists be shunned as not being brothers and sisters in Christ. We thought it would be worthwhile to have some articles that positively present Old Earth Creationism, as it is always good for our viewpoints to be challenged, motivating us to further search the Scriptures to make sure our beliefs are biblically sound.
For more on ice core dating, see:"Are the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets old?" and "Do Greenland ice cores show over one hundred thousand years of annual layers?"
For more on tree rings, see: "Tree Ring Dating" and "Patriarchs of the Forest."
1. An 11,000-Year German Oak And Pine ...
2. "Dendrochronology, the Bristlecone Pines and ..." - Indiana University
3. "Dendrochronology of Subfossil Pine in the North of Ireland" - JStor
4. "Ice Core"
5. "Rocks of Age: How Varves Show the Earth Old"
Tree rings by kendura99; Some rights reserved
Glacial varve courtesy University of Arizona
Age of the Earth: The SeriesPart 1: Introduction
Part 2: Radiometric Age-Dating
Part 3: Dinosaurs
Part 4: Tree Rings
Part 5: The Meaning of Yom
Part 6: Other Scriptural Difficulties
Part 7: Noah's Flood
Part 8: Hebrew-Judaeo Worldview
Part 9: Who were the Cavemen?
Part 10: The Garden of Eden
Part 11: Bible Genealogies
Tags: Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Science-Creation
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