Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Ocean's Mineral levels do not show a young Earth

Don’t Minerals in the Ocean show that the Earth is not billions of years old?

The ocean, of course, is “salty”. The reason that it is salty is because it contains dissolved chemicals and minerals, not all of which are actual table “salt”.

A potential problem with this date, according to creationists, is that an upper limit for the age of the oceans is obtained by dividing the amount of an element dissolved in the sea by the amount added each year by rivers. For example, if one ton of a particular mineral is dissolved in the ocean each year and the ocean contains 5 million tons of that mineral, then how can the Earth be older than 5 million years?

Interestingly enough, different minerals give different ages. The creationist icon Henry Morris calculated the age of the Earth using those element deposit rates and came up with the table shown below[1].

Element -->Years to Accumulate
sodium --> 260,000,000
magnesium --> 45,000,000
silicon --> 8,000
potassium --> 11,000,000
copper -->50,000
gold --> 560,000
silver --> 2,100,000
mercury --> 42,000
lead --> 2,000
tin -->100,000
nickel --> 18,000
uranium --> 500,000
aluminum --> 100

That’s all simple and easy to understand. Therefore this table would seem to reflect a common sense argument against the Earth being as old as mainstream science claims it to be.

There is a great deal of variety in these numbers. Creationists such as Henry Morris, suggest that God put an initial concentration of each element into the oceans in order to keep the aquatic organisms healthy. You would expect, for example, that salt (sodium) must be present in the oceans for the salt water fish to survive. (The only time that they don’t need salt seems to be when a global flood is taking place.) Therefore these numbers represent an “upper limit” on the Age of the Earth because they reflect the amount of time needed to accumulate the current mineral concentrations in the oceans if the initial concentration was zero. But they cannot be used to calculate the actual age.

First, there is a somewhat trivial objection that can be made to this contention by creationists. That objection is that there is no particular reason to believe that the rate at which these minerals are added to the ocean has been unvarying for all of time. There could be very legitimate reasons for the rate of influx to have been different in the past for at least some of these elements. In fact, creationists are always arguing against uniformitarianism – arguments based on the belief that things were the same in the past as they are now. This argument is really Uniformitarianism 101.

But the main problem with this argument is that just as there are processes that add minerals to the ocean, there are also processes that take those minerals out.

Most everyone has seen or at least heard of or possibly even seen the Bonneville Salt Flats. That area consists of 159 square miles of salt that averages six-feet-deep. That’s a lot of salt. All of it used to be underwater. It’s not under water any more. It’s been removed.

What Morris’ table actually shows is simply the “residence time” (defined as the average time that an element stays in sea water before being removed.).

To confirm that such processes exist, we need only look at the number of years for aluminum: 100. If there was no process that removed aluminum then the oceans would be no more than a century old! (Henry Morris left aluminum off of his table because of the embarrassing number it provides. He did include lead, however. Its 2000 year residence time is too short for even Morris’ estimates for the age of the Earth.) The reason that there is so much variety in these numbers is simple: each mineral has different chemical properties and different rates of deposit and the residence times vary as a result. For example, a detailed analysis of sodium shows that 35.6 x 1010 kg/yr come into the ocean, and 38.1 x 1010 kg/yr are removed[2]. Within measurement error, the amount of sodium added matches the amount removed.

So, yet again, we see evidence of a flawed argument, based on deceptive creationist data, for which mainstream science has an excellent answer.

Of course, this argument also supports my claim that creationists believe in a deceptive God as well.

As I previously mentioned, some of the minerals in the ocean, such as sodium, have a biological impact. Saltwater organisms could not live without a minimal level of sodium (which makes the water “salty”). So it is a reasonable argument that if God created the Earth just a few thousand years ago He would have planted an initial concentration of those elements or minerals in the water.

However, the majority of these elements have concentrations which are so small that they have no biological effect. For example, the concentration of Gold is very small and could be completely eliminated without any adverse effect on life in the oceans.

Why, then, is there 560,000 years of Gold in the oceans if the Earth is just 6000 years old? There would seem to be no reason for God to have planted an initial concentration of Gold. It would seem to make more sense that the initial oceans had no Gold in it whatsoever.

Certainly because the rate of mineral deposits may have changed over time we can’t necessarily use this as a way of specifically identifying the age of the Earth. But the concentration of Gold – 560,000 years – is a full two orders of magnitude above the estimated age for the Earth given by Young Earth Creationists! It is difficult or impossible to imagine any process that was so much higher in the past.

Therefore, imagine, if you can, that the table developed by Henry Morris looked something like this instead of the way that it really looks:

Element -->Years to Accumulate
sodium --> 260,000,000
magnesium --> 45,000,000
silicon --> 6,000
potassium --> 6,000,000
copper --> 6,000
gold --> 6,000
silver --> 6,000
mercury --> 6,000
lead --> 2,000
tin --> 6,000
nickel --> 6,000
uranium --> 6,000
aluminum --> 100

If the table looked like that, it would be tremendously significant evidence that the Earth is only 6000 years old! Elements which are important for biological reasons have initial concentrations. Elements such as lead and aluminum which have active processes to remove them have ages less than 6000 years.

But everything else has an age equal to – at least approximately – the real age of the Earth as claimed by those YEC. Such evidence would be extremely difficult to dispute.

Why doesn’t it look like that?

There are two possibilities:

1. The Earth is much older than 6000 years.
2. God is deceptive.

Both things can be true.

They cannot both be false.

[1] Morris, Henry M., 1974. Scientific Creationism, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 153-155.
[2] Morton, Glenn R., 1996. Salt in the sea. http://www.asa3.org/archive/evolution/199606/0051.html, referenced on June 17, 2008

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