Media scientists and textbook writers commonly assert that life is billions of years old. Many Christians, on the other hand, embrace the biblical record of history, documenting the creation of life thousands, not billions, of years ago. Both views involve elements of faith, but what does the data say? The best approach to investigating when life on Earth began is to study living things and once living things. Five lines of evidence suggest a shorter span of life on Earth.
Evidence 1: ancient biomolecules
When North Carolina State University paleontologist Dr. Mary Schweitzer dissolved away the minerals in a fragment of dinosaur bone back in 2007, according to the evolutionary explanation of the history of life on Earth, she should have ended up with nothing. Instead, she found soft tissue—proteins that looked like blood vessels and additional structures.
Proteins, DNA, and other large biological molecules are broken down by water, oxygen, other chemicals, and radiation. That’s why, at least in theory, if dinosaur bones are millions of years old, there should be no protein remaining in them. Of course, theory isn’t the same as observation, and proteins, along with other biological molecules, have now been observed in many fossils.
Some scientists, including Dr. Schweitzer, have suggested that perhaps proteins are preserved in the presence of iron or when they are associated with the mineral part of bone. However, these explanations are quite difficult to believe. It seems more reasonable to take the evidence at face value: these bones may be a few thousand years old—but not many millions.
Evidence 2: mutations
Changes in DNA molecules, called mutations, can be caused by chemical damage, viral infections, radiation, and errors in copying DNA. DNA contains the recipes for how, when, and where to make the proteins in our bodies. As with changes in our cooking recipes, randomly changing protein recipes can result in bad outcomes.
Thankfully, the information encoded in our DNA is remarkably robust, so in most cases, these mutations don’t kill us—at least not immediately. But when a mutation is really bad, the person who has it usually dies, and thus it isn’t passed on to his or her children. But what about those mutations that are just a little bit negative but don’t kill you? These are called
“near-neutral” mutations, and they are not weeded out by natural selection. Instead, these near-neutral changes accumulate in our DNA.
There are different estimates for how fast these near-neutral mutations are accumulating, but generally speaking, they account for 100 mutations per person per generation. Even though most of these changes are only slightly negative, at our current mutation rate, the vital proteins in our bodies will eventually be corrupted to the point that we can’t survive.
So if we can’t last forever, how long can we last? Time will tell, but millions of years seems way too optimistic. It’s depressingly obvious that humans and other organisms are unlikely to last too many thousands of years longer. Even unbelievers should be hoping for a new era in which our DNA is created new and incorruptible—something akin to the Bible’s promise of a “new creation.” Otherwise, humanity has little hope for the long-term future.
The observable evidence shows that our genetic codes are being degraded over time, which is in stark opposition to the mainstream scientific conception that through the evolutionary process our DNA has been improving over the last few billion years.
Evidence 3: improbable hybridizations
A gardener working in the Oxford Botanical Gardens around 1670 noticed some tree saplings that he’d never seen before. It turned out that these new trees were the result of hybridization between American sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) and oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis), whose native range extends from the Balkans to Iran.
These species normally grow more than 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) apart. The continents that each one is native to are supposed to have separated from each other tens of millions of years ago. That’s the kind of timespan that Darwinists typically invoke to explain the evolution of humans, chimpanzees, and old-world and new-world monkeys from some kind of primitive monkey.
The idea that two organisms could be separated by thousands of miles and tens of millions of years, yet still be capable of interbreeding seems incredible even from a biblical perspective, and it seems extremely incredible from a Darwinian perspective. There are alternative explanations that are more reasonable.
The most obvious is that these two species were not separated by tens of millions of years, which suggests either that life isn’t millions of years old or that what became the American sycamore was transported in the relatively recent past from the Middle East to the North American continent. In either case, there are no 50 million years involved. And this isn’t the only example. Unexpected hybridizations are not uncommon in biology.
Evidence 4: interchangeable parts
Biological cells teem with a wide variety of microscopic “machines” that perform all the functions necessary to keep those cells alive. Do these elegant molecular machines look like they evolved in different kinds of organisms over millions or billions of years?
It would be surprising to find that the headlights of a 2018 Ford Focus are interchangeable with those from even a five-year-old Focus, and it would be preposterous to suppose they could be replaced with the headlamps of a Model T Ford! Yet the interchangeability between parts of molecular machines in different species is common.
This explains a model in which a designer used the same microscopic machines that haven’t drifted apart over time to create different species of animals. But think of this: according to the evolutionary theory, modern dogs and bacteria separated from their common ancestor a billion or more years ago. Both have gone through extraordinary changes in order to be completely separate species. Nevertheless, modern dogs and bacteria still retain interchangeable molecular parts. That stretches our credibility!
On the other hand, a more recent creation of various organisms by the same Designer seems quite reasonable. Both phenomena require miracles, but maintaining interchangeable parts over a billion years seems like a very long and complex miracle compared to a recent Creation as recorded in the Bible.
Evidence 5: carbon-14
Radiometric dating is commonly seen as one of the strongest arguments in favor of the idea that life on Earth is millions or billions of years old. When measuring the age of biological things, the most obvious method to use is carbon-14 because carbon is present in all living things. The problem is that carbon-14 breaks down relatively rapidly; about half of it is gone in 5,700 years, half of the remaining carbon-14 is gone after another 5,700 years, and so on. And since living things contain very little carbon-14 in the first place, by the time a sample is more than 100,000 years old, there should theoretically be too little carbon-14 left in its remains to measure.
Yet it turns out that carbon-14 has been detected and measured in coal and other biological samples that are supposed to be tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of years old! The most reasonable conclusion is that the measurable carbon-14 in coal and other biological samples was formed within the past 100,000 years.
What does a Darwinist who believes that life is millions or billions of years old do with this data? Generally, the response is that the carbon-14 is a result of contamination from more recent sources or that it was somehow generated within the samples. There are responses that could be made to these responses, but they get progressively more technical. If nothing else, this situation illustrates why scientists commonly reject radiometric dates, such as carbon-14 dates, when they don’t agree with their prior ideas about the age of living things.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the available scientific evidence that is consistent with the biblical record of life’s recent Creation. Living things really don’t give direct evidence that life is billions of years old. To the contrary, much of the evidence available today is best explained by the proposition that life is only thousands of years old.
Evidence interpreted within a biblical framework requires an equal number of, or fewer, assumptions and logical steps than interpretations that require the long expanse of Darwinian time. Generally, the fewer the logical steps, the more reasonable an explanation is considered to be. Everyone who wishes to know what is true will have to figure out for themselves what they believe about life’s origins. In doing this, it’s important to keep an open mind and examine all the evidence. Nice, neat explanations encompassing all the data do not currently exist; faith is always necessary. But for someone who is drawn toward Christian faith, it is reassuring to see what a fair examinaion reveals about how well the data we can gather from the study of living things fits with the biblical record of life’s history.
Timothy Standish is a scientist with the Geoscience Research Institute (GRI) in Loma Linda, California, USA. GRI is dedicated to investigating the scientific evidence in favor of the biblical Creation view of the origin of life on earth.