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Creation's Tiny Mystery
Chapter 8: ACLU Strategy Revealed at Little Rock

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The Age of the Earth: Testimony of the ACLU Geology Witness

The age of the earth was a key issue in the Arkansas trial. The general theory of evolution encompasses both the multibillion-year geological evolution of the earth as well as a multimillion-year evolution of life on the earth. In order to win their case, it was imperative for the ACLU to find a witness who would strongly promote an ancient age of the earth consistent with geological evolution.

To accomplish this task the ACLU called a scientist whom I personally admire very much, one who is considered an eminent authority in the field of radiometric dating, Dr. G. Brent Dalrymple. At the time of the trial Dalrymple held the position of Assistant Chief Geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. Not surprisingly, Dalrymple testified that the earth is billions of years old, contrary to the generally accepted creation-science position that the age of the earth is less than 10,000 years. He also stated that, on this point, creation science could be falsified and, in fact, had been falsified many times over the last several decades by many different tests.

As indicated in the previous chapter, the popular legacy of the Scopes trial was that true scientists believe in evolution. At every opportunity the ACLU waged a clever psychological war to capitalize on this perception. The following excerpts from the official trial transcript of ACLU Attorney Bruce Ennis' direct examination of Dalrymple illustrate this point quite effectively regarding the age of the earth:

[p. 108]

Q       Are you familiar with the creation science literature concerning the age of the earth?
A Yes, I am. I have read perhaps two dozen books and articles either in whole or in part. They consistently assert that the earth is somewhere between six and about twenty thousand years, with most of the literature saying that the earth is less than ten thousand years old.
Q Are you aware of any scientific evidence to indicate that the earth is no more than ten thousand years old?
A None whatsoever. In over twenty years of research and reading of scientific literature, I have never encountered any such evidence.
Q Are you aware of any scientific evidence to indicate that earth is no more than ten million years old?
A None whatsoever.
    THE COURT: Wait a second. What is it that the creation scientists say is the age of the earth?
A They make a variety of estimates. They range between about six and about twenty thousand years, from what I've read. Most of them assert rather persistently that the earth is less than ten thousand years. Beyond that they are not terribly specific.
Q Are you aware of any scientific evidence to indicate the earth is no more than ten million years old?
A None whatsoever.
Q Are you aware of any scientific evidence to indicate a relatively young earth or a relatively recent inception of the earth?
A None whatsoever.
Q If you were required to teach the scientific evidences for a young earth, what would you teach?
A Since there is no evidence for a young earth, I'm afraid the course would be without content. I would have nothing to teach at all.
Q Is the assertion by creation scientists that the earth is relatively young subject to scientific testing?
A Yes, it is. It is one of the few assertions by the creationists that is subject to testing and falsification.
Q Have such tests been conducted?
A Yes. Many times, by many different methods over the last several decades.
Q What do those tests show?
A Those tests consistently show that the concept of a young earth is false; that the earth is billions of years old. In fact, the best figure for the earth is in the nature of four and a half billion years. And I would like to point out that we're not talking about just the factor of two or small differences. The creationists' estimates of the age of the earth are off by a factor of about four hundred fifth [sic, fifty] thousand.
[p. 109]
Q In your professional opinion, are [sic, have] the creation scientists' assertions of a young earth been falsified?
A Absolutely. I'd put them in the same category as the flat earth hypothesis and the hypothesis that the sun goes around the earth. I think those are all absurd, completely disproven hypotheses.
Q In your professional opinion, in light of all of the scientific evidence, is the continued assertion by creation scientists that the earth is relatively young consistent with the scientific method?
A No, it is not consistent with the scientific method to hold onto a hypothesis that has been completely disproven to the extent that it is now absurd. [Smith 1982b, p. 409, l. 6 to p. 411, l. 19]

I agree that theories which have been shown to be false should be discarded—that is one of the main themes of this book. But is Dalrymple correct in claiming those tests disprove or falsify a young age of the earth? As we shall soon see, Dalrymple's cross-examination showed that the tests he cited to justify this conclusion all assume constant radioactive decay rates. This assumption is actually just a part of the uniformitarian principle—the glue that holds the evolutionary mosaic together—mentioned many times earlier in this book.

Dalrymple's claim of certainty about the earth being four and a half billion years old coupled with his scathing comments about a young age of the earth were exactly what the ACLU wanted Judge Overton to hear. Certainly Ennis knew beforehand that Dalrymple planned to psychologically attack the young-earth view by linking it with the flat-earth hypothesis. Would the ACLU ever have allowed Dalrymple to draw this invidious comparison unless they strongly suspected that Judge Overton had already been primed in favor of evolution?

Ennis then turned his direct examination to questions concerning various types of dating techniques. The excerpts from the transcript, shown below, are some of those linking radiometric dating and the age of the earth.

Q       How do geochronologists test for the age of the earth?
A We use what are called the radiometric dating techniques. [Smith 1982b, p. 411, ll. 20-23]
Q Why did geochronologists rely upon radiometric dating techniques rather than other techniques?
A Because radioactivity is the only process that we know of that's been constant through time for billions of years.
Q Is radioactive decay affected by external factors?
[p. 110]
A No, radioactive decay is not affected by external factors. That's one reason we think it's been constant for a long time. [Smith 1982b, p. 413, l. 24, to p. 414, l. 6]
Q Have any tests ever shown any change in the decay rates of any of the particular isotopes geochronologists use in radiometric dating?
A None. They've always been found to be constant.
Q Are changes in decay rates of various isotopes at least theoretically possible? [Smith 1982b, p. 416, ll. 7-12]
A . . . There have never been any changes affecting any of the decays being used for radioactive dating. [Smith 1982b, p. 417, ll. 13-14]

Note here that my respected colleague asserts that radioactivity is the only process known to be constant for billions of years and then affirms this assertion by saying there have never been any changes in the decay rates of the isotopes used in radioactive dating. There is no question that his absolutist remarks were crucially needed by the ACLU to bolster their case for an eons-long evolutionary development of the earth. But the truth is that Dalrymple was not around during the period when he claims to have certain knowledge of radioactive decay rates. As we shall see in the next chapter, his great assurance about this matter is, in fact, nothing more than what evolution assumes to be true. This was brought out clearly in Deputy Attorney General David Williams' cross-examination of Dalrymple. And it is in this cross-examination that the topic of radioactive halos comes to the fore.

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Earth Science Associates