October 25, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Key Reference Rock Formed Five Times Faster than Thought

Strata in the Niagara Gorge, used as a reference for Silurian dating, formed much quicker than previously believed – in just 1/5 the time, according to a press release from Ohio State.  Bradley Cramer and his advisor Matthew Saltzmann used high-resolution carbon isotope stratigraphy to re-examine the rocks in the Niagara Gorge.  “Rocks that were originally estimated to have formed as sediments built up over 10 million years’ time actually formed in only 2 million years, they found.”
    A ramification of this study is that dates of other rocks around America and the world could also be in error, because they relied on dates from this region.  A boundary called the Ireviken Excursion is seen in the United States, Canada and Sweden, which geologists believe represents a global event involving the extinction of many marine organisms.  The rocks in the Niagara Gorge, among the first dated by geologists in the 1800s, established a benchmark for other corresponding formations around the world.  Now that the formation time has collapsed from 10 million years to 2 million or less (since “most of the formations originated during the Ireviken event, which lasted for only 1 million years or so”), this new finding will have a ripple effect:

Rock formations there are used as a frame of reference to judge the ages of rocks throughout North America.  So these new results mean that many scientists will have to revise their work.  Estimates of when certain animals went extinct may change.
    “Unfortunately, this means that a lot of people are going to have to re-examine work that they thought was done,” Cramer said.

Cramer, a doctoral student at Ohio State, is next going to examine some pre-Silurian dates with the carbon isotope technique.  Though he believes this technique is more accurate, he commented on the uncertainties in geological dating methods:

“We have this great geological record of climate changes in the past,” Cramer said.  “The problem is, the rate of change that we’re worried about in the modern day is on a very short time scale.  And when we look into the deep past, our ability to know where we are in time isn’t that precise.  If we can get our time constraints down more precisely, we can begin to ask the same sort of questions of the past that we’re asking of the modern era.”

The dating technique relies on ratios of carbon-12 to carbon-13.  Geologists assume that similar anomalous ratios represent global “excursions” away from the norm.

The Niagara Gorge was the site of another episode where the word “unfortunately” is apt.  Creation on the Web retells how Charles Lyell, the father of uniformitarian geology (who had a huge influence on Darwin) fudged the data about the rate of erosion of Niagara Falls.  His estimate of the age of the falls—35,000 years—undermined the faith of many Christians about the Biblical record of the age of the earth.  Only after the damage was done did the facts come out: his estimate was also at least four to five times too slow!  The corrected date puts the age at an upper limit of 7000-9000 years, much more credible in a Biblical timescale, considering that the erosion would have been much more rapid right after the Flood.
    Now, another measurement in the same gorge has been found to be off by a factor of five.  Sure, everything is still stated in terms of millions of years, but bigger questions need to be faced.  Think of the confidence that many other geologists placed in the earlier estimate.  Think of the timelines, tables, and charts published in geology textbooks and scientific papers that counted on the Ireviken Excursion dating to a particular age and rate of formation.  Now, “a lot of people are going to have to re-examine work that they thought was done.”  They need to re-examine at a much deeper level and question another formation: the geological column itself.
    Uniformitarian geologists might respond that this error represents one correction out of a vast body of data and will not have that big an impact on the geological column.  But Cramer’s comments bear deeper reflection: “when we look into the deep past, our ability to know where we are in time isn’t that precise.”  Then he said that “if we can get our time constraints down more precisely, we can begin to ask” the pertinent questions (italics added).  That is a big if.  Geologists apparently counted on this marker from 1800 to 2006, only to find that the formation was laid down at least five times faster than they had estimated.  What confidence can we have in other measurements?  How much can one infer about millions of years when all he has to go on is some carbon isotope ratios?
    The problem is, their methods are married to their assumptions, and those assumptions were raised in Darwinland.  Cramer was only questioning the rate of formation of this particular gorge, not the framework of geological history that assumes it occurred hundreds of millions of years ago when fish were presumably evolving.  A new generation of geologists needs to arise with bigger questions, and fewer assumptions.  For too long, the marriage of geology with evolutionary theory has been a bondage instead of a blessed union.  Calling a rock stratum “Silurian” for convenience based on a type section is harmless taxonomy, but why must Silurian correspond to evolutionary beliefs?  The evolutionary beliefs usually dictate the interpretations.
    For example, as we have seen, no one in secular geology questioned the disconnect between the geo-evolutionary assumption that dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago and the finding of flexible soft tissues in a dinosaur bone (06/03/2005, 03/24/2005).  It’s like a wife exclaiming, “Wow, look at how fresh this bone looks!” only to have the husband put his hand over her mouth and tell the reporters, “What she means is, we have just realized that soft tissue can survive 65 million years, because we all know that dinosaurs went extinct long before humans evolved.  Isn’t that right, honey?” and she nods submissively in agreement.
    Evolution is an abusive spouse.  It beats research into conformity with its own needs and desires.  If geology can get a divorce from evolution, and if geologists can once again start dating outside the Darwin Party concentration camp, a union of new questions and answers might emerge from the minds of liberated researchers, and the offspring could be precocious.  For a good discussion on thinking anew, read The Right Questions by Dr. Phillip E. Johnson.

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