Creation Factsheet No. 46: How Old Are Fossils?
Factsheet No. 46
HOW OLD ARE FOSSILS?
How old are fossils? Most people would say “millions of years”, since they have been led to believe that the fossils have somehow been scientifically dated. However, fossils cannot be dated radiometrically, because they usually occur in sedimentary rocks. How, then, do paleontologists arrive at the dates assigned to museum specimens? And when we read in the press that a newly-discovered fossil is “x” million years old, how has that date been decided?
Contrary to popular opinion, organisms do not need millions of years to fossilize. A number of factors are involved in fossilization, including the rate of sedimentation and mineral content of water. In a Tasmanian mine, a miner's hat, which had been covered with water for 50 years, was turned to stone, having been impregnated with calcium carbonate.
Fossil hat in a Tasmanian museum.
The Kingfisher Guide to Fossils states: 'After an animal or plant has died, it must be buried rapidly if a fossil is to form. Rapid burial usually occurs when dead organisms are buried by sediments, including mud or sand, which are washed down by water.'/1 Rapid burial means that sediments have to build up quickly. Delicate things like dragonflies and leaves are often found perfectly preserved as fossils, indicating that they were covered rapidly before they could decay or be damaged. Fossil Brachiopods are found in abundance with their shells tightly closed. This indicates they were buried alive, as when these shellfish die, their muscles relax allowing their shells to open.
A fossil dragonfly.
Fossilized tree trunks known as polystrate fossils are commonly found preserved in a vertical position, passing through as much as 17 meters (50 feet) of strata. Clearly, a tree could not remain in an upright position for thousands or millions of years while the sediment slowly accumulated around it. Again, this is evidence for rapid deposition.
A polystrate tree-trunk.
When was the “Age of Dinosaurs”?
It is important to understand that the standard geological column and “geological timescale” was constructed long before radiometric dating was used. In fact, it was before the time of Darwin. However, the whole concept of “geological time” is based on little more than assumption and speculation about how long rocks take to form, and we have already considered evidence that sediments form very quickly. When we read in the newspapers about new fossil discoveries which are immediately assigned a date, it should be obvious that these fossils have not been scientifically dated. They are, in fact, dated by reference to the geological timescale worked out in the early 19th century, and a curious type of circular reasoning is involved. For example, a paleontologist who excavated a fossil Stegosaurus would already “know” that the rock was Jurassic (“The Age of Dinosaurs”), dated at between 141 million and 195 million years, because modern geology has labelled it as such, and would have an instant date for the fossil. However, if the geologists were asked how they knew the rocks were Jurassic, they would say it was because of their fossil content! Some scientists admit the circular reasoning involved, e.g. J. E. O'Rourke: 'The intelligent laymen has long suspected circular reasoning in the use of rocks to date fossils and fossils to date rocks. The geologist has never bothered to think of a good reply, feeling that explanations are not worth the trouble as long as the work brings results.'2 Clearly, then, fossils are dated according to theory. Although it is generally believed that the fossil record shows us when and where particular creatures lived, what the record really reveals is where they died! They could have been transported some distance from where they lived. The theory that the earth's sedimentary layers were built up by the slow accumulation of sediment over vast periods of time seems totally inadequate to explain the vast fossil graveyards found in many parts of the world, including millions of fossil fish which don't normally fossilize but float to the surface.
But even though the fossils cannot be dated radiometrically, surely the volcanic rocks (which are often mixed in with the sedimentary rocks) have been radiometrically dated at millions of years old? Radiometric dating, which relies on the decay of isotopes within the rock, is dependent upon a number of unprovable assumptions, e.g. that the rate of decay has remained constant.3 And when rocks of known age are dated by this method, the result is always totally wrong. In one case, Hawaiian lavas, known to be less than 200 years old, were dated by the potassium-argon method at 22 million years old!4 How can geologists be sure that their dating is correct when applied to rocks whose true age cannot be checked historically?
Creationists believe that the earth's sedimentary layers, and the fossils contained within them, were deposited by the Biblical flood and its aftermath. This means that no fossils are more than 5,000 6,000 years old, and there is no scientific proof that this view is wrong. Fossils bear their own silent witness to the death and decay that entered God's perfect creation as a result of human sin. (Romans 8:18-22).
- Mark Lambert, Kingfisher Guide to Fossils, Ward Lock Ltd., (1978) p. 10.
- 'Pragmatism versus materialism in stratigraphy', American Journal of Science Vol. 276, January 1976, p. 47.
- Journal of Geophysical Research, vol 73, 15th July 1968, p. 4606.
- See The Dating Game, CRT Factsheet No. 49.
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