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Radiocarbon Dating and American Evangelical Christians. Department of the History of Science Helen C. White Hall Madison, WI R adiocarbon C dating has several implications for Christianity, particularly in terms of the interpretation of the first part of Genesis. Since its advent in the midth century, it has been one of the central topics in the creation-evolution controversy. As of the mids, radioactive dating had not attracted serious attention from the majority of evangelicals. Since the invention of the C method and the appearance of evangelical professionals in this field, however, American evangelicals have divided themselves into two groups.
One group has been made up of fundamentalist evangelicals, who accepted the global effect of Noah's flood and a young earth and rejected radioactive dates. The other, non-literalist group of evangelicals accepted some kinds of evolutionary uniformitarian hypotheses and radioactive dating.
The Seventh-day Adventists and the American Scientific Affiliation were central forums in the controversy regarding radioactive dating during the first decade after the invention of the C dating method. Then the controversy spread out into wider evangelical circles. This paper traces the reactions of Seventh-day Adventists and American evangelical Christians toward C dating. Among several radioactive dating methods, the radiocarbon C dating method which was invented by Willard Frank Libby of the University of Chicago in the late s occupies a special position in archaeology and ancient history, as well as geology, because it can give the absolute age of those carbonaceous archaeological findings that were not older than the half-life of C This method also drew special attention from Christian scholars because of its effect on biblical interpretation.
C dating received special attention from evangelical Christians who emphasized the authority and reliability of the Bible, because it could date the age of organic remains of ancient plants, animals and men in terms of the biblical chronology.
In particular, the C dating method is important in the study of the Old Testament, since it professes to supply absolute dates for events within the past forty thousand years, which covers the apparent periods of Old Testament history.
Since the revival of scientific creationism in the early s, one of the most important events has been the on going debate over the validity of C dating. The apparent contradiction between C dates and the literal interpretation of Genesis has split the evangelical Christians of the United States into two factions: one, fundamentalist evangelicals who attempted to fit scientific findings into the literal interpretation of the Bible; and two, other evangelicals who felt that the Bible does not contain an absolute chronology of earth history.
Although the Adventists regard themselves as evangelicals, some hesitate to include them in a list of evangelical Christians because of their strong commitment to the writings of Ellen G. White, the Adventist prophetess. But during the twentieth century the Adventists played a very important role in the formulation of the so-called "scientific creationism" in the United States, influencing evangelical Christian responses to the idea of a young earth. Therefore, in order to understand the relationship between Christians and C dating, we must include the SDA in our discussions.
Seventh-day Adventists. Seventh-day Adventists' opinions on C dating and the age of the earth have varied somewhat over time. In his book The New Geology and in other publications, George McCready Price, an Adventist geologist, framed the so-called "flood geology" theory, which greatly influenced fundamentalist evangelicals as well as the Adventist scholars. One of the first Adventist critics of C dates was Robert W. Woods, a college physics teacher, who criticized not the technical process of C activity measurement but the assumptions by which the dating were interpreted.
Thus he said that the method was good as far back as shortly after the flood, which seemed to be the practical limit of historical dating. To Woods, if the assumptions of C dating were accepted, the C method was capable of measuring some 20, years into the past. However, this is the case only if certain conditions are met. First, the rate of the formation and decay of C has always been the same. Woods admitted that no method had been found to accelerate or retard the radioactive decay of an atom.
However, the assumption that the rate of formation for C has been the same for long ages past was, to Woods, not certain. Such an assumption ps that: 1 The rate of cosmic-ray activity has always been the same as it is at present; 2 The magnetic field of the earth has always been the same as it is now; and 3 The nature of the upper atmosphere has always been the same as now. Another figure was Lester E. Harris, an Adventist biologist. While not a major figure in the creationist debate, he did demonstrate the possibility of contamination in C dating samples.
One of the most interesting and controversial defenses of a young earth was raised by Robert V. Gentry, an Adventist geophysics professor at Columbia Union College, who published several scientific articles in authoritative journals on the pleochroic halo and its implications. Gentry argued that these halos indicated that some of the Precambrian rocks were created suddenly and recently. He used radiohalo evidence to prove the youth of the earth, Noah's flood, and the uncertainty of C dating.
Ironically, many Adventist scholars gave little credence to Gentry's findings, some even opposing them. In the late s, orthodox Adventists relaxed their attitude toward the C method.
Even Price, a major critic of C dating, admitted the validity of C dates for the post-diluvian period, 8 assuming that the C method might be reasonably accurate up to the flood. Yet he continued to believe that the environment of the pre-flood era was totally different from the present one and argued that the present conditions of cosmic radiation from outer space did not prevail before the flood.
Although he sometimes accepted the antiquity of the earth by subscribing to the gap theory, 9 on the whole he never went against his teacher, E. White, throughout his long life. Since the late s, Price's disciples in both evangelical and Adventist circles actively sought to establish organizations committed to strict creationism.
While they faithfully followed Price's flood geology, some of them modified his arguments concerning the age of the earth and life on earth. Although even in the s the majority of orthodox Adventists still accepted Woods' critique of C dating, 10 some scholars appeared who were much bolder than their predecessors in accepting the C method.
The apparent consistency of achieved by many different, often independent dating methods was recognized as a serious problem by some Adventist scholars. It is worth noting that most of them were trained as professional geologists or geochemists. Beginning in the late s, some scholars in the Geoscience Research Institute GRIan affiliate of Andrews University and Loma Linda University, objected to a rigid young earth interpretation and accepted C dating.
The GRI was founded in to meet the realistic needs of the SDA church: to defend their doctrines in regards to natural science and to meet the demands of Adventist science teachers for qualified earth scientists in the church. Edgar Hare, a chemist. In it also added Richard M. Ritland, a comparative anatomist.
In spite of age differences the three men at first worked together in reasonable harmony. But the harmony was broken the next year, because, while Marsh believed in the young earth and the global flood, Hare and Ritland insisted the old earth and the local effect of Noah's flood.
Marsh could not understand why both men supported radioactive dating methods that placed "Creation Week hundreds of millions of years ago" in apparent direct contradiction to the Bible and Ellen G. Inin an unpublished paper entitled "Problems and Methods in Earth History," Ritland pointed out that multiple catastrophes, not just Noah's Flood, had structured the surface of the earth.
From his studies on amino-acid dating in marine shells, which were based on changes in proteins, Hare claimed that life had been on earth for much longer than a few thousands years. Hare originally developed the amino-acid dating method to undermine the credibility of C dating, but to his surprise the he achieved were consistent with C dates. I am beginning to wonder if our whole approach to this problem is in error. We have been taught for years that almost everything in the geologic record is the result of the flood.
I've seen enough in the field to realize that quite substantial portions of the geologic record are not the direct result of the flood. We also have been led to believe by men like Marsh and Burdick that the evidence for the extreme age of the earth is extremely tenuous and really not worthy of any credence at all. I have tried to make a rather careful study of this evidence over the past several years, and I feel the evidence is not ambiguous but that it is just as clear as is the evidence that the earth is round. But the struggle of Hare and Ritland for "liberalizing" the GRI came to an end when they left the institute.
Edgar Hare originally developed [this] amino-acid dating method to undermine the credibility of C dating, but to his surprise the he achieved were consistent with C dates. Brown ardently believed that life on earth was not older than 10, years and "originated within six consecutive rotations of the planet," and that the earth "experienced a universal destruction as portrayed in Genesis White," he regarded C dates as incorrect.
Interestingly, though, he accepted other radioactive dates showing the antiquity of the earth. Later, Brown's attitude toward C dating became more flexible. Beginning in the late s, he proposed a new interpretation of C dates rather than a total rejection of them. According to his recent papers, C dates could agree with historical dates if some of the environmental factors of the antediluvian world were taken into : the variation of cosmic ray intensity, geomagnetic field strength, water vapor concentration and C dilution by the biosphere carbon.
He admitted that if the premise and method of C dating were sound, C dates were acceptable up to about 2, B. He openly advocated an old earth but argued for recently created life, and concentrated on a compromise between biblical chronology and C dating, trying to extend the biblical time-scale and correct C dating. Pearl, who tried to reduce both the age of the Bristlecone pine and C dates to adjust them to the biblical chronology. Although both Pearl and Brown gave comprehensive arguments, neither gave enough scientific evidence to support their arguments, nor could they explain the dates obtained by other dating methods.
White had kept silent on, as Price did. He was still within the orthodox SDA's line. Brown's position is well discussed by M. Under the direction of Brown and his successor, Roth, the GRI devoted itself to holding fast to flood geology and criticizing C dating. Those who did not accept the great flood would find no footing in the GRI and should leave the institute. Today, with only a few exceptions, the SDA holds fast to flood geology and literal interpretations of Genesis days. Today, with only a few exceptions, Seventh-day Adventists hold fast to flood geology and literal interpretations of Genesis days.
The strongest professional defense of the C method by an Adventist scholar was offered by R. Ervin Taylor, director of a radiocarbon dating laboratory at the University of California at Riverside. He emphasized that the C dates were supported and confirmed by many other methods such as obsidian hydration, thermoluminescience, archaeomagnetic data, the potassium-argon method, fission track dating, dendrochronology, varve dating, fluorine diffusion and archaeological sequences.
Even Ross Barnes admitted that literal interpretations of Genesis are incompatible with scientific dates. Couperus said that Christian faith "should not be affected by views on the age of our planet, be it young or old. The American Scientific Affiliation. The ASA was formed in to serve as a principal forum of evangelical Christianity to "promote and encourage the study of the relationship between the facts of science and the Holy Scriptures. Since the publication of its first inthe C dating method raised controversy in the ASA.
The ASA membership had a mixed reaction to radioactive dating until the early s, when advocates of radiometry began to dominate. As shown in the discussion of a paper by Monsma, the responses of key members to geologic ages and the flood varied until Monsma himself accepted the flood and seemed "to deplore the acceptance by Christians of the ideas of geologic ages. But F. Alton Everest, Peter W. Stoner, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Pasadena City College and a supporter of the day-age theoryRussell L. Laurence Kulp were quite dubious about a recent creation and a cataclysmic deluge.
But this period of confusion did not last long. Right after the announcement of the C dating method by Libby, J. Kulp, a Ph. He returned to Columbia University to establish his own C laboratory, and pioneered the various applications of C dating to geology. He eventually became one of the nation's top authorities in C dating.
Kulp played an important role in converting ASA members to C dating. Although Kulp himself did not leave many writings about his role in the ASA, articles of that time revealed his influence. In these proceedings, Kulp added many brief editorial comments to all of the papers presented, and finally in his own paper showed the validity and limitations of the assumptions of radioactive dating. At the end of his paper, Kulp discussed the basic requirements, the effective range, and some applications of C dating.
Bearing in mind the criticism from some conservative Christians of radioactive dating methods, he pointed out that " a The half-life will not be the limiting factor This paper was an open attack on the young earth and flood geology theories and their proponents, and played an important role in orienting the ASA toward accepting radioactive dates and refuting flood geology.
Kulp pointed out the basic errors of flood geologists, discussing their ignorance of recent scientific discoveries associated with C dating. Morris wrote a rebuttal to the piece, trying to answer the various arguments, but the JASA editors did not publish it.
In his own article attacking flood geology, Kulp pointed out that the proponents of flood geology lacked a formal education in geology. What made Kulp so important in the ASA? The key was his professional background in geology, specifically geochemistry. In contrast to a confident Kulp, those who opposed him who were not professional geologists had to be very careful in presenting their opinions in geological matters. For example, to a question raised by Cordelius Erdmann, Monsma said, "I would not dare to answer that question because I am not a geologist.
Kulp's paper "Deluge Geology" was only the beginning of Kulp's rebuttal of flood geology and the idea of a young earth. In a paper presented at the Los Angeles Convention of the ASA, Kulp argued that "the theory that a relatively recent universal flood can for the sedimentary strata of the earth is entirely inadequate to explain the observed data in geology. In a paper presented at the Convention, Roy M.
Allen, a metallurgist, summarized the conditions that complicated the accuracy of radioactive dating, and then criticized the uncertainty of radioactive dates. But in the discussion session, Allen's paper was attacked by Kulp. Kulp, after pointing out the author's lack of geological training, refuted Allen's criticisms one by one. In addition to his total commitment to contemporary geology, young Kulp's partisanship and power of persuasion contributed to converting the ASA to acceptance of C dating and the doctrine of the old earth and human antiquity.
What other factors helped Kulp in his mission to convert the ASA?Christianity carbon dating
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