Oldest Rocks on Earth

DiscoverMagazine reported on a peer reviewed study indicating that sedimentary rocks had been discovered with traces of life at least 3.95 billion years old, which would make it some of the oldest known life on Earth. If true, this would mean life may have existed during the earliest stages of Earth’s formation, when the planet was supposedly being bombarded by asteroids, still solidifying, and thought to be uninhabitable. The environment was so harsh and extreme that it was considered ‘hell on Earth’. Yet life existed.

The samples were collected from a remote region in Canada where some rocky outcrops are believed to be 4 billion years old. Researchers found biogenic graphite, which possibly suggests the rock was modified by life. The assumption is, once organisms leave behind biological matter, heat and metamorphism convert it into graphite over long periods of time.

The study’s conclusions, however, remain controversial. The researchers never really dated the graphite, but relied on existing geological assumptions. The study’s lead author, Tsuyoshi Komiya from the University of Tokyo, said, “It is not necessary to directly date the age of samples with the graphite. Geology is also important.”

Needless to say, many experts rightly doubt the dates assigned to the samples, criticizing the study for not dating the rocks. One skeptic, Stephen Mojzsis, professor of geology at the University of Colorado, said the rocks in that region could differ by billions of years, even if centimeters apart, because they’ve been ‘churned like salt-water taffy’, mixing new rock with old. Other skeptics want more convincing evidence that the samples are truly evidence of life.

These aren’t the only scientists trying to establish the existence of life during this harsh time period. A study from March claims to have found evidence of life between 3.8 billion and 4.3 billion years, while another study found stromatolites thought to be 3.7 billion years old.

If scientists are able to establish these dates as authentic, then they will be able to conclude that life could survive the harshest conditions on Earth, and thrive. Such a conclusion would give credibility to the idea that life may have evolved on other planets under similarly harsh conditions.

The article concludes that Earth’s early history will remain controversial until scientists can more conclusively date their findings. This is a most significant admission. I’ve always maintained that dating methods are flawed and unreliable, and these studies confirm that. If dating methods- like radiometric dating and carbon dating- worked, then there would be no controversy, and the study’s authors would have included those dates.

But there are many underlying and unprovable assumptions behind these dating techniques that it’s impossible for them to be reliable. For example, one must assume the amount of parent isotope present at its origin, and that there were no daughter isotopes; it must be assumed there was no contamination, and it must be assumed the decay rate of parent to daughter remained constant.

These assumptions are impossible to know, and I think the study’s authors realize that. Even had they dated the samples, how would they know the dates are correct? The answer is, they couldn’t. But we do know the rocks in that area have been churned, so it’s very likely the samples have been contaminated, and that would render any date unreliable.

In fact, Mojzsis corroborates this by adding, “All of us- and especially lately- everyone is trying to push the envelope. But there are bits and pieces and scraps of evidence and so on- none of this is proof. We don’t have time machines that we can go back and see what happened.”

This is another most-important takeaway. Another distinction I’ve always made is between operational science and forensic science. Some people don’t want to accept this distinction because it naturally leads to uncertainty regarding evolution and the age of the Earth (and universe), and most evolutionists want to treat it with the same certainty as a well understood chemical reaction.

Nonetheless, there are major distinctions. Operational science allows us to utilize the scientific method, which relies on hypothesis, observation and experimentation. This type of science allows us to build computers, treat medical conditions, and to put a man on the moon. It’s observable, testable, and repeatable.

But forensic science is about what happened in the past; it’s the same kind of science a detective uses when piecing together a crime scene to identify a criminal(s). And while this is helpful, it has limitations because it’s impossible to observe and analyze the crime as it happens. For instance, we all know there are many people who have been wrongfully jailed and put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. Why does this happen when we have such incredible technology available? It’s precisely because we can’t observe the crime in action and investigate it the same way we can observe the effects of gravity on an apple.

This goes to show the imperfections of forensics. So then, how much harder is it to piece together the past when we’re talking about millions and billions of years? Remember, when it comes to evolution or the age of the Earth, we don’t have a time machine that we can go back and see what happened in the past, and that means any conclusion about the past cannot be confirmed, except by faith alone. We can observe all the rocks in the world, test them with the most sensitive equipment in the world, but we can never prove that the dates provided by the lab are accurate or reliable.

Therefore, I think it’s quite reasonable to accept a Biblical age of the earth, which I believe is well under 10,000 years.

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2 thoughts on “Oldest Rocks on Earth

    • Yes, it certainly would. But that happens all the time anyway. It’s not uncommon to read headlines of how the history of earth, the universe, or man has to be rewritten in light of new discoveries. Of course that calls into question much of what was written in the first place, including the methods used.

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