The Great Debate

Last night, I debated Dr. Robert A. Martin on the question of creation versus evolution. I obviously took the creation side, and he took the evolution side. I debated him once before in 2009, and you can watch a video of that debate here. The format of this debate was a bit different from the one on the video. In this one, we each had 30 minutes to present our case, and then the audience asked us questions. The purpose of the questions was to focus the debate on what the audience found interesting in our presentations. Dr. Martin and I were each given a chance to address the question, and that usually led to more interaction between us. Everyone with whom I talked, including Dr. Martin, was very pleased with how it all turned out.

One thing I have to say up front is how appreciative I am of Dr. Martin. First, the fact that he was willing to do the debate at all is a testament to his commitment to real science education. I contacted several universities in Indiana, and none of them were interested in finding an evolutionist professor who was willing to debate. The common response by evolutionists is that they don’t debate creationists, because that would give the creationist view too much legitimacy. However, Dr. Martin realized that if no one came to give the evolutionary side, everyone at the conference would hear only one side of the story, and that’s not very good when it comes to science education. As a result, he was willing to drive from Kentucky to make sure that both sides were heard.

Second, Dr. Martin was incredibly gracious. He knew going in that this was a creationist event, so he knew that his view would be in the minority. In some ways, he was like a lion in a den of Daniels. However, he was very kind in how he treated everyone. Now don’t get me wrong – he took a strong stand for evolution. He often said things like the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and that there is just no question about the age of the earth and the universe. But never once did he descend into the name-calling and other nonsense that is common among those who don’t care to discuss evidence. He limited his discussion to the science, and that was great.

Third, Dr. Martin was kind enough to stay longer than we had intended. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of questions, and at the scheduled end of the debate, the moderator stopped and said that we were officially out of time. However, Dr. Marin immediately said that he was willing to stay longer. As a result, everyone who stood up to ask a question was able to interact with us. Even after the debate was over, he stayed and talked with people one-on-one for quite some time. Clearly, Dr. Martin has a passion for science and science education. His demeanor and willingness to pleasantly engage people with whom he disagrees demonstrated that to me in no uncertain terms.

I went first, and I had thirty minutes to present the case for creation. I concentrated on five predictions that creation makes regarding the data, and how those predictions have been confirmed: (1) marvelous design in nature, (2) the extreme rarity of vestigial organs, (3) the majority of the human genome is useful, (4) mutations are either neutral or erode information – they never produce new information, and (5) there is a limit to the change that an organism can experience through mutation and natural selection. For each prediction, I discussed the data that confirm it.

When it was Dr. Martin’s turn, he started off with a spontaneous, witty comment. The executive director of the group that hosted the event is fond of saying that he wants to “bury evolution.” In fact, he always brings a shovel to such events to emphasize the point. When he made that statement before the debate began, Dr. Martin laughed out loud. Then, when it came time for Dr. Martin to come on stage and present his case, he actually stopped by the shovel and picked it up. I can’t exactly quote him, but while holding the shovel he said something to this effect: “I recall Nikita Khrushchev vowing to bury capitalism, and that didn’t work out very well.” I think I was the only one who laughed at and applauded the comment.

In his presentation, Dr. Martin covered several things. The age of the earth was a big part of his talk, and he addressed it in a very clever way. He said that the idea the earth is 6,000 years old comes from the work of Ussher in the 17th-century. He said that for the time, Ussher’s method was an ingenious way to determine the age of the earth. However, we’ve learned a lot since the 17th-century, and we now have several lines of evidence that tell us unambiguously that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old. He then showed two pictures: one of Einstein and one of Ussher and asked, “Who are you going to believe when it comes to the age of the earth, Ussher from the 17th-century or Einstein from the 20th-century?” Now obviously, that statement presents a false dichotomy. There are lots of 20th-century scientists who present data to indicate the earth is only thousands of years old. However, as a rhetorical technique, it was quite good. He then followed it up with a slide that had my picture and his picture on it. It was titled something like, “Who will you believe about evolution? Dr. Wile or Dr. Martin? Both of them are handsome devils.”

He went on to show some of the standard things that evolutionists show – the evolution of the whale, the evolution of reptiles into mammals, and the evolution of man. Many (not all) evolutionists think that there are some great fossils to show these progressions, and he spent time discussing them. He also spent time discussing what he thinks is poor design in nature. For example, he showed the lifecyle of a flounder, where its eyes start off on both sides of its head and then one migrates to the other side so the flounder can lay on its side at the bottom of the ocean. He then contrasted that to the eyes of a stingray, who also lays at the bottom of the ocean. He said that the stingray obviously had the better design, but evolution produced a “jury-rigged” way to make the grouper do the same thing. He claimed that such poor design was common in nature.

He then ended his presentation with an excellent quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” I agree wholeheartedly.

I was a bit surprised at the focus of the questions afterwards. No one asked about whale evolution, the evolution of reptiles into mammals, or the evolution of man. I really wanted to address the problems associated with each of those series, but they never came up. Instead, a lot of the questions focused on the age of the earth and the supposed “bad designs” that Dr. Martin presented. We had a lot of back-and-forth on radiometric dating as well as alternative ways to date the earth. We also discussed the concept of bad design quite extensively, with me pointing out the advantages of what he labeled “bad.”

So who won? I think it was the audience. In the end, whenever an audience can hear two scientists give different views on a topic like evolution in a cordial way, the result is that the audience learns. Obviously, I think I made the stronger case, but I suspect that Dr. Martin thinks he did. The key is that we both were able to present our cases and interact with each other in a reasonable, cordial manner. That made the debate a real success.

In case you are wondering, the organization is planning to make a DVD of the debate. I don’t yet know whether or not I can post the video. If nothing else, I will at least let you know how to get the video if you are interested.


  1. Sean September 27, 2012 10:24 am

    Sounds like Dr. Martin was a gem. You are too. Thanks for the kind and gracious description.

  2. Eduardo September 27, 2012 11:05 am

    I thought that the age of the Universe is obtained from the rate at which distant galaxies are flying away from each other and Einstein did not believe in an expanding Universe because it was the result of the Big Bang a theory proposed mainly by a catholic priests Lemaitre and Einstein “have not yet fallen in the hands of priests”.

    • jlwile September 27, 2012 12:08 pm

      Eduardo, you are correct that the age of the universe is obtained from the expansion of the universe. It is also true that for a long time, Einstein disagreed with the idea of an expanding universe. However, he made his “I have not yet fallen in the hands of priests” comment before Hubble made his first redshift observations that gave observational evidence for the expanding universe. Even after Hubble, Einstein resisted the notion of an expanding universe. However, Einstein traveled to Pasadena at Hubble’s invitation to examine the evidence firsthand. At the trip’s conclusion, Einstein reluctantly admitted, “New observations by Hubble and Humason concerning the redshift of light in distant nebulae make it appear likely that the general structure of the universe is not static.” [Hasan S. Padamsee, Unifying the Universe: The Physics of Heaven and Earth, IOP Publishing 2003, p. 623] So even though he didn’t like the idea, he did end up admitting that the universe was expanding.

  3. Eduardo September 27, 2012 11:10 am

    What I meant is that is not clear to me what Einstein have to do with the age of the Earth

    • jlwile September 27, 2012 12:09 pm

      Eduardo, I think Dr. Marin was just using Einstein as a representative of 20th-century science.

  4. Jay September 27, 2012 11:44 am

    Educational and enlightening, if only all debates conformed to this standard.

    Sounds like you, Dr. Martin and the audience had a great time. As you said, it is a pity nobody brought up whale, reptile or human evolution. I would have liked to hear Dr. Martin’s response

    I am also surprised Dr. Martin would quote Neil deGrasse Tyson. I always thought he committed intellectual suicide when his outrageous design arguments backfired:

    1. We are not water creatures, thus subjecting us to possible drowning

    2. We have useless appendages like the pinky toenail and an appendix

    3. Our knees and spines are poorly designed

    4.Unlike cars, we don’t have built-in “biogauages” (equivalent to lights on the dashboard) to warn us of dangers like high blood pressure.

    5. Our eyes are punky detectors for astrophysics – no ultraviolet or infrared – or radar detection “to spot police radar detectors”!

    6. Unlike birds, who navigate through the magnetite built into their heads, we don’t have such gifted noggins, and thus we need maps to get around an unfamiliar city.

    7. We don’t have gills [see point 1], and we should have more than two arms to be more productive.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, “The Perimeter of Ignorance”, Natural History (November 2005).

    • jlwile September 27, 2012 12:12 pm

      Jay (nice name, by the way), I think that the debate did set a good example of how such things should be done. I wasn’t aware of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s odd arguments about design. They are rather strange. However, I still agree with the quote that Dr. Martin used.

  5. Sally September 27, 2012 12:27 pm

    So who nurtured and cared for all these evolving species? Did babies grow and feed themselves as they went from bacteria to humans … and then suddenly two complete forms had to reproduce? It’s so mind-boggling that anyone could be deceived by evolution. The very complexity of life in every form and the precise measurements and coordination of every planet and star in the universe is a computation of mathematical proportions that even Einstein couldn’t figure out. By Him and for Him all things were created!

  6. J.S. September 27, 2012 2:49 pm

    Dr.Wile, I am very familiar with the biological and geological issues, but much less so with the arguments from astronomy. Are there any problems with the concept of estimating the universe’s age from its expansion, or are all the arguments against an old age for the universe inferred from other evidences,and thus indirect arguments?

    • jlwile September 27, 2012 3:24 pm

      J.S., the problem with determining the age of the universe from its expansion is that you have to assume certain things about how the universe expanded in order to get a number. Thus, such an age is model dependent.

  7. Lawrence Dol September 27, 2012 2:55 pm

    Dr. Wile,

    Don’t you think it’s telling that the focus of the (largely/entirely Christian) audience was on the age of the earth and the arguments from design?

    This lends some credence to the idea that what concerns Christians is the (in my opinion false) dichotomy between the scientifically observed age of creation and the (again in my opinion false, or at least unlikely and definitely not Biblically required) idea that creation occurred only a few thousand years ago.

    Surely those creationists pursuing concordism have the advantage and pursue a higher goal of understanding *all* of the available evidence, revealed and observed?

    And, importantly, Christians *do* care about the evidence, in its totality – so those trying to present a harmonic view are important to the Body.

    • jlwile September 27, 2012 3:28 pm

      I am not sure how telling that is, Lawrence. I speak to a lot of Christian audiences, and I don’t find the age of the earth/universe coming up any more frequently than any other topic. Also, in the 2009 debate, I don’t remember any question about the age of the earth. I think the focus of the questions depends a lot on the audience as well as the topics upon which the speakers concentrate.

      I do agree that Christians do care about the evidence, and I also agree that views other than young-earth creationism are important to the Body.

  8. Isaac Kim September 27, 2012 4:52 pm

    I was reading up on cavitation and came upon this article about the mantis shrimp. Thought you might like it Jay.

    Amazing mechanisms we see that are far beyond the technology we have to day, and yet it is assumed to have evolved without question.

    • jlwile September 28, 2012 5:46 am

      Thanks so much for that link, Isaac. I knew about the mantis shrimp, but I had no idea it used cavitation. Very interesting.

  9. gracekalman September 27, 2012 7:37 pm

    Why is it that I, who was taught intelligent design, know more about the evidence for (and against) evolution than the kids I talk to at college? Do schools just present evolution as fact with no backup? I haven’t even heard the geological column used as evidence. It’s just, “all of science.” No specific examples. Actually, the Big Bang has come up a few times. I thought they had stopped teaching that. It’s rather frustrating trying to debate a topic with someone who has no clue about the side they’re arguing for.

    • jlwile September 28, 2012 5:49 am

      Grace, when you are taught both sides of an issue, you learn it significantly better than when you are taught just one side. I suspect that these students have been taught some evidence, but if they aren’t asked to critically examine it, they don’t remember it very well.

  10. Inazuma September 27, 2012 9:14 pm

    I like that Dr. Martin clearly stated that science cannot touch the issue of the existence of God in the 2009 debate. It falls outside of the field of science. That was great.

    Intelligent design seemed to be a big issue in the 2009 debate, and several people asked questions about it at the end. I understand the idea of finding intelligence behind design, but what I would reeeeally like to ask Dr. Martin is this: How can you possibly get living matter from non-living matter? Regardless of origin, I feel like this is the crux of creationism vs. evolution. They can’t talk about origin, it’s out of their reach, but they can talk about matter. How can you possibly get living matter from non living matter? It seems an impossibility to me. Evolution may be possible, though the data doesn’t support it. However, I can’t get over these two stages of evolution: Something coming from nothing. And something living coming from something non-living. It’s just. Not. Possible. You can add however many years you want to make mutations work in evolution. But you can’t add time to something coming from nothing, and something living coming from something non-living.

    • jlwile September 28, 2012 5:51 am

      Inazuma, most evolutionists are very careful to separate the origin of life from evolution. At one time, those concepts were grouped together, but as the problem of the origin of life became more intractable rather than less, evolutionists started distancing themselves from it. I suspect Dr. Martin would say that they are two separate issues, and that evolution is correct regardless of how life originated.

  11. Nelson September 27, 2012 10:22 pm

    Dr. Wile,
    Thank you for another exciting and encouraging post! How can you find time to speak, debate, write on your blog, plus answer comments from the internet?
    I am taking chemistry (using your curriculum, Thanks!) and one assignment in my course was regarding the Intelligent Design debate as presented in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Your material and blog posts have helped greatly with that.
    Again, thank you!

    • jlwile September 28, 2012 5:52 am

      Thank you so much, Nelson. I am glad that you are surviving chemistry! I have a lot of time right now because I am no longer running a business. Back when I owned a publishing company, I was busy all the time. Now that I don’t deal with that anymore, I have time to do other things.

  12. Mia September 27, 2012 10:24 pm

    Of course, I’ve heard of why creationists choose 6,000 years ago as the age of the universe, but I’ve never heard why some creationists choose 10,000 years old as an upper bound while keeping 6,000 years as a lower bound. All I usually hear is why any age significantly older is wrong. What is the positive case for 6 to 10k yo and why is there such a large error bar?

    • jlwile September 28, 2012 6:06 am

      Mia, different creationists have different ideas on how old the earth is. I personally think it is on the order of 6,000-10,000 years old because the earth’s magnetic field (here, here, and here) strongly indicates that the earth is in that range, as does dendrochronology and helium trapped in zircons. The error bars are large because any attempt at determining the age of the earth involves assumptions that are hard to pin down exactly. When some scientists say that the earth is 4.6 +/- 0.05 billion years old, the error they are reporting has nothing to do with the error in the actual age. It is only the error in the detection of the daughter products analyzed for the radiometric date. For example, when Zashu and his colleagues radiometrically dated diamonds, their answer was 6.0 +/- 0.3 billion years old. Since this is older than the assumed age of the earth, the dates were discarded. (Zashu, S., Ozima, M. and Nitoh, O., “K-Ar Isochron Dating of Zaire Cubic Diamonds,” Nature, 323:710-712, 1986). Note how the error bar makes the date look very exact, but even an old-earther would say it is wrong. That tells you how “reliable” the error bars on radiometric dates are.

  13. Keith September 28, 2012 9:54 am

    It’s refreshing to hear about an evolutionist who doesn’t use name-calling and sarcasm in such debates. What a contrast to your exchanges with Mr. Karlsson a few weeks ago!

    • jlwile September 28, 2012 2:10 pm

      Keith, I think that most people who rely on insults are simply trying to cover up the fact that they can’t produce evidence to support their position. Dr. Martin can produce evidence, and he knows that I can as well. As a result, neither of us needs to waste time on insults.

  14. D. Perrine September 28, 2012 6:14 pm

    That was a very interesting post about the the earth’s magnetic field (3rd ‘here’ in his earlier post for anyone interested). I have taken multiple physics classes, geology classes and astronomy classes which have all used the dynamo theory. It was just simply taken as a fact that was what produced planetary magnetic fields. I had never heard of the rapid-decay theory. That was very enlightening. It really makes me wonder about all that I have learned.

    • jlwile September 29, 2012 7:39 am

      D. Perrine, you’ve pointed to one of the pathologies that exists in science right now. You were taught as fact a model that can’t even reproduce the known planetary magnetic fields in the solar system, while a model that not only reproduces those fields but also makes predictions that are later confirmed by the data is ignored. That’s not science. It’s propaganda.

  15. Philip Bruce Heywood September 29, 2012 2:35 pm

    Quoting D. Perrine.
    “That was a very interesting post about the earth’s magnetic field ……. I have taken multiple physics classes, geology classes and astronomy classes which have all used the dynamo theory. It was just simply taken as a fact that was what produced planetary magnetic fields. I had never heard of the rapid-decay theory. That was very enlightening. It really makes me wonder about all that I have learned.”

    I invite you to take another learning experience. GOOGLE “Does the Bible Contain a Description of a
    Future Magnetic Field Event?” Also, “Climate Moderation through Magnetic Field Interaction, Sun-Earth”. You should not need my name in conjunction. I run the world’s leading publication under the search term, CREATION THEORY.

    Try Lunar Capture and/or, Lunar Origins. Top results, there. Try, Questions Arising, Species Origins. Etc., etc. Talk about a shovel. Men rely on shovels. Ham/Safarti on the one hand, and people such as Dawkins on the other, rely on shovels, exclusively. Keeps the circus running and the people paying.

    It’s all over, game, set. match. But knowing the Bible is technically correct never got me or anyone else healed or delivered. Keep up the good work.

  16. Philip Bruce Heywood September 29, 2012 2:55 pm

    Quoting mine host (I am not a takeover merchant — your broad mindedness is gratifying, you raise good points).
    “For example, when Zashu and his colleagues radiometrically dated diamonds, their answer was 6.0 +/- 0.3 billion years old. Since this is older than the assumed age of the earth, the dates were discarded. (Zashu, S., Ozima, M. and Nitoh, O., “K-Ar Isochron Dating of Zaire Cubic Diamonds,” Nature, 323:710-712, 1986). Note how the error bar makes the date look very exact, but even an old-earther would say it is wrong. That tells you how “reliable” the error bars on radiometric dates are.”

    Theoretically, it is not impossible under certain circumstances (but it is highly unlikely) that certain types of diamonds could be older than the Earth — only, if they formed in Space before Earth and arrived here as meteorite deposits. The Congo Diamonds presumably have the characteristics of Earth-formed diamonds? I know nothing of them. But do feel free to peruse my publications. Our surface precious metals, for starters, almost certainly arrived here in bulk, soon after the Earth coalesced. Signed and sealed, recent disciveries –Isotopy. I had already published the implicit prediction that it would be so. Try my name, plus, ‘Gold Comes from Small H Heaven’. Or, simply go to ‘Common Donor Moon Capture’ The era of the shovel to bury the obvious is drawing to a close! Regards, P.B.H..

  17. Mark September 29, 2012 5:13 pm

    I had an amusing and worrying debate online with a few evolutionists. They were capitalising and using exclamation marks everywhere and using mild abusive language against my plain and cited comments. I don’t understand why they get angry and can’t just have a good debate and relise that we have a theory that is backed by evidence and we have the right to show our view of such evidence.

    • jlwile September 30, 2012 6:26 am

      Mark, for some evolutionists, the very idea that creationists have evidence is incredibly frightening. As a result, they lash out so that they don’t actually have to think about the evidence.

  18. J.S. October 1, 2012 8:41 am

    While we’re on the subject of the earth’s age, I’m hoping I’m not out of line to ask here what your response might be to recent Kevin Nelstead’s post about your use of the salt chronometer:

    • jlwile October 1, 2012 11:58 am

      J.S., you are not out of line at all. Unfortunately, the blog posts to which Kevin links are not very good. For example, note that Kevin thinks one of the most important points in the blog posts is: “…there is absolutely no empirical evidence that seawater is indeed becoming saltier over time.” This, of course, is false. A common proxy that is used for chloride concentration in the ocean, for example, is the change in oxygen-18 levels. Using that as a proxy, we see that chloride concentrations have been increasing for quite some time. For example, this study uses that fact to model interstitial water in ocean sediments (see Figures 6 and 7). Obviously, the timescale is off due to the old-earth assumptions used. However, it is clear that the chloride concentration, on average, increases over time. This, of course, indicates that the ocean has gotten saltier over time.

      Also, Kevin says one other thing that is very odd: “If the concentrations of some elements in seawater are found to be decreasing over time, it would be unwise to use these as geochronometers either. Using the same reasoning that YECs have used regarding ocean salinity, these would demonstrate that the ocean was created sometime in the future.” That, of course, is utter nonsense. If a substance in seawater is decreasing over time, that means the influx is lower than the outflow. That tells us the oceans were initially created with some of that substance, and since it is leaving the ocean faster than it is entering the ocean, the concentration of the substance is decreasing. If we could measure the influx rate and the outflow rate and had some reasonable estimate for how much of that substance was initially in the ocean, we would arrive at a conclusion about how long ago the oceans were created. It would certainly not yield a date in the future!

  19. josiah October 2, 2012 1:42 pm

    “If we could measure the influx rate and the outflow rate and had some reasonable estimate for how much of that substance was initially in the ocean,”
    In other words, do exactly what Old Earthers do with radiation dating.

  20. D. Perrine October 2, 2012 2:38 pm

    Is there a table or graph somewhere which shows chloride concentration against years?

    • jlwile October 2, 2012 3:02 pm

      D. Perrine, Figure 6 in this study gives a graph of chloride concentration versus time using old-earth assumptions. As I said, the absolute time scale is probably wrong, but the increasing concentration with time is clear. That graph is an amalgam of two separate studies.

  21. D. Perrine October 2, 2012 8:34 pm

    I missed that, thank you very much.

  22. Kevin N October 2, 2012 10:42 pm


    The main thing that oxygen isotope studies tell us in regards to this topic is that the ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16 (expressed as δ18O) fluctuates over time (e.g. ). Figure 6 in the article you cite shows a general upward trend in seawater chloride concentration throughout the Pleistocene, when a considerable amount of water that was normally in the ocean was locked up in Northern hemisphere ice caps. Note the numerous ups and downs in the curve; these correlate to glaciations and inter-glacial warm periods. Chloride concentration in seawater should be lower right now compared to 13,000 years ago due to higher sea levels after the most recent glacial period, but the graph does not have sufficient resolution to show this.

    A similar oxygen isotope and chloride study to the one you cited does have a graph that shows the post-glacial trend, it actually shows decreasing chloride concentrations since the last glacial maximum ( , Figure 1).

    If one looks at oxygen isotopic data for a larger segment of geologic time, one sees longer-term fluctuations, as can be seen on a graph of δ18O for the entire Phanerozoic: If oxygen isotopes are a proxy for chloride concentrations, then one would expect the chloride trends to be similar.

    But of course it is not chlorine that we should be discussing; sodium is the main element discussed in the YEC literature. Continental crust has a rather low chlorine content, and not all that much chlorine is entering the oceans through rivers. Most of the chloride trend on figure 6 can be explained by sea level fluctuations during the Pleistocene ice ages. One would expect cation concentrations (such as sodium) to follow the chloride concentrations up and down.

    There are a number of good reasons to reject the use of seawater composition as a geochronometer, by either young- or old-Earth advocates. It is clear that ionic concentrations are variable; going up and down over time. These concentrations do not vary in a linear fashion as YEC seawater salinity calculations assume. In addition, using YEC reasoning, elements such as aluminum indicate that the oceans should be no more than 100 years old. This should raise a giant red flag for those who use the YEC seawater salinity argument.

    The “ocean was created sometime in the future” statement was made somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but would be mathematically consistent with the YEC sea salt argument.

    • jlwile October 3, 2012 6:32 am

      Kevin, I think you need to read the literature a bit more carefully on this issue, as you seem to have several different things confused. For example, the first graph you show is for the last (supposed) million years. If you look at Figure 6 in the study I cited, you will see that it is consistent with that figure. So in the end, the graph you link is just a small section of the graph in Figure 6. Obviously, that means the graph you link covers a short enough amount of time that it isn’t very sensitive to long-term changes in the salinity of the ocean. When you look on a large enough timescale, such as that shown in Figure 6 of the paper I cite, chloride concentration in the ocean does rise, despite your claim that there is no evidence for the ocean becoming saltier over time.

      The second study you link is interesting, but the paper makes absolutely clear that this is a local record of ODP Site 1063A on the Bermuda rise. Since it is a local measurement, it is influenced by many factors, as discussed in the paper. Thus, it doesn’t tell us a lot about the salinity of the ocean in general. Figure 6 in the study I cite is based on several different sites, which makes it a much better measure of global ocean salinity.

      The third graph you show is very interesting, but it does not tell us about chloride concentrations in the ocean. The problem is that the oxygen isotope ratios come from all manner of sources, such as animal fossils and coal. Since there is no consistency in the source, it is hard to know how much of the change in oxygen isotopes is correlated with change in salinity and how much is correlated with other factors. Figure 6 in the paper I cite is based on cores. That is a consistent source, allowing us to make a good inference between oxygen isotope ratios and salinity. Once again, then, there is strong evidence that ocean salinity is increasing, despite your claim to the contrary.

      You are quite correct that sodium is the main element discussed in the YEC literature. However, the chloride ion concentration is obviously also a measure of sodium ion concentration, since the vast majority of the salt in the ocean is sodium chloride. As you quite correctly indicate, you would expect that the sodium ion concentration would follow the chloride ion concentration. Thus, the increasing chloride ion concentration in sea water also tells us that the concentration of sodium in seawater is also increasing, in direct agreement with the sea salt chronometer.

      There are a number of good reasons to use the composition of seawater as a geochronometer. It is clear that the salinity of the ocean has been rising, which is also consistent with the analysis of sodium influx and outflow. In addition, this geochronomoeter has been studied longer than most. Also, sodium is a major chemical component of seawater, which makes it a good measure of how seawater has changed over time.

      I agree that there are some chemicals in the ocean that give a very poor indication of its age. However, the balance of such chemicals hasn’t been studied nearly as long as has the balance of sodium, and such chemicals make up a tiny fraction of the chemical composition of the ocean, unlike sodium. Thus, it is not surprising that they give odd results, and it says nothing about the value of sodium in the ocean as the excellent geochronometer that it is.

      Whether or not your “ocean was created sometime in the future” argument was made tongue-in-cheek, it is simply 100% false. It is not at all mathematically consistent with the YEC sea salt argument. Here are the mathematics involved: Sodium is entering the ocean faster than it is leaving. Thus, we know the oceans are becoming saltier over time. Given the rate of sodium increase, we can calculate how long it would take to build up from some initial concentration. To give the oldest possible age for the oceans, we assume an initial concentration of zero. If there were another chemical, let’s call it “Wileium,” that had more outflow than influx, that would tell us the concentration of Wileium is decreasing in the ocean. If we could measure the rates of influx and outflow well (like we can with sodium), then we would be able to calculate the rate at which the amount of Wilieum is decreasing. Now all we need is to assume an initial concentration. We can’t assume an initial concentration of zero, since we know that it is decreasing and is currently nonzero. Thus, to give the maximum age of the ocean, we could assume that seawater was initially saturated with Wileium. Then, based on the rate of decrease and the amount of Wileium in the oceans now, we could determine the maximum age of the oceans. If oceans that are saturated with Wileium would not support life (and how could they with such a vile chemical in them?), then we could assume an initial concentration that is more consistent with supporting life, and that would lead to a younger age for the oceans. That’s how the math works, and it would never produce a future date for the creation of the ocean.

      I know you don’t like the results of the excellent sodium geochronometer, Kevin, but it doesn’t advance your cause to mischaracterize how it is used by YECs.

  23. J.S. October 4, 2012 6:25 am

    It seems to me that the problem with equating mineral influx into the ocean with isotopic decay is that it’s much more problematic in the former case to assume a constant rate than it is for the latter. The influx of minerals would have to be dependent on such factors as source, climate, and tectonism, and I would think it would be non-uniform under any age scenario.

    • jlwile October 4, 2012 7:44 am

      J.S., it’s not that they are equating mineral influx into the ocean with isotopic decay. Instead, there is a known correlation between chloride concentration and oxygen isotope ratios in the interstitial water of marine sediments. Assuming that this known correlation existed in the past as well, the varying oxygen isotope ratios in the interstitial water should tell us how the chloride ion concentration varied.

      I agree that the influx would be non-uniform, but even non-uniform changes can exhibit long-term trends. That’s exactly what is shown in Figure 6 of the study I cited – a nonuniform function that shows a long-term increase.

  24. J.S. October 4, 2012 9:11 am

    I should have been more clear, Dr. Wile–I agree with you that the ratios can show variations over time. What I was referring to was Josiah’s comment about using influx and outflow rates to estimate the earth’s age. If the rates aren’t uniform, wouldn’t they then be unsuitable for use as a dating method?

    • jlwile October 4, 2012 9:34 am

      Sorry I misunderstood, J.S. If the rates are uniform over a long enough timespan, they still could be used as a dating method. Let’s say that the rates vary with the seasons, which they probably do. If you are determining the age in thousands (or millions or billions) of years, that kind of variance isn’t important. As long as the variations average out over a timescale that is still fairly small compared to the length of time you are measuring, the dating technique should produce a reasonable result. So to date something that is thousands of years old, you probably want rates that are consistent century-by-century. That’s all the uniformity you would need.

  25. cl October 9, 2012 3:40 pm

    Dr. Wile,

    I have a question. Elsewhere, and forgive me for not linking and relying on a paraphrase, you say that scientists should be “very, very, very careful with regard to extrapolation,” especially when the distance grows long (or something to that effect). Now, I fully agree with you there. However, upthread, you wrote:

    Here are the mathematics involved: Sodium is entering the ocean faster than it is leaving. Thus, we know the oceans are becoming saltier over time. Given the rate of sodium increase, we can calculate how long it would take to build up from some initial concentration.

    My question is, what makes your extrapolation less worthy of scrutiny than the Old Earthers? I’m not trying to instigate or accuse or anything like that. Rather, I’m trying to genuinely understand the principled distinction I assume you’re making.

    Thanks again.

    • jlwile October 9, 2012 3:55 pm

      Cl, a scientist does need to be very careful about extrapolation. All dating methods are high suspect because of this. However, the shorter the time over which the extrapolation takes place, the more likely it is to be valid. By that standard, then, an extrapolation over thousands of years is not nearly as bad as an extrapolation over billions of years. The other thing you have to consider is how well we know what we are extrapolating. The processes by which sodium enters and leaves the oceans are pretty well-understood. We most certainly could be missing some things, which would throw the whole chronometer off. However, the processes we know, we understand very well. Most old-earth dating techniques depend on extrapolating things that we are significantly less knowledgeable about, such as radioactive half-lives. Given these two considerations, I think the extrapolation in the sodium chronometer is significantly more reliable.

  26. cl October 9, 2012 4:30 pm

    Thanks much, Dr. Wile. I had assumed something like what you said, but I just wanted to hear the words from your own mind.

  27. Kevin N October 9, 2012 9:16 pm


    One can extrapolate sodium input and removal, but when there is clear evidence that these rates have varied considerably over time, the extrapolation becomes meaningless.

    If sometimes uranium decayed into lead, and at other times, lead decayed into uranium, no one would ever have thought to use this for radiometric dating. But that is analogous to what is going on with seawater ion concentrations. There is very clear evidence that these concentrations have been higher in the past, and lower at other times in the past. How one can say “I think the extrapolation in the sodium chronometer is significantly more reliable” is completely mystifying.

    • jlwile October 10, 2012 7:19 am

      Kevin, if there were clear evidence that sodium input and removal rates had changed, I wouldn’t use it as a chronometer. In fact, all available evidence indicates that they have been relatively constant, at least over timespans necessary for dating.

      You should probably study radiometric dating a bit more, as the key issue in radiometric dating is the half-life of the isotopes involved. Since there is clear evidence that these half-lives have not been constant over time, the idea of using them for dating is simply absurd. Moreover, the recent evidence that shows half-lives seem to vary with the seasons is clear indication that we don’t really understand radioactive decay, which means using it in wild extrapolations over billions of years is nothing short of scientifically irresponsible.

      This is, of course, why I can quite clearly say that the extrapolation in the sodium chronometer is significantly more reliable than the extrapolation in radioactive decay. While we know radioactive half-lives are not constant, and while we know we don’t truly understand radioactive decay, all available data indicate that sodium input and removal rates are reasonably constant, and we seem to understand them very well.

  28. Kevin N October 10, 2012 8:16 am


    You state that some half-lives vary with seasons, so you reject radiometric dating. If the evidence you have given in the past on this issue is correct, the magnitude of that variation is less than 1%. Let’s say that some catastrophic solar event caused that variation to be 50% instead. Then Earth might be only 2.3 billion years old, or it might be 9.2 billion years old. Interesting, but it doesn’t overthrow the old-Earth scenario. But the fact is that the variation is small. And geoscientists have never believed that the Earth is old because of radiometric dating; that issue was settled in their minds over 200 years ago. Radiometric dating is useful to give us some pegs to hang our hat on. But none of this would work (and it works well most of the time) if the process reversed from time to time (which no YEC is advocating, but is analogous to what you are doing with sodium).

    But with sodium there is clear reason to believe that there have been times of much lower sodium input in the past, such as when sea level was much higher in times like the Cretaceous or Mississippian, and times when massive amount of sodium was removed from the ocean to form halite deposits. Sodium input and removal rates over geologic time have been highly variable.

    • jlwile October 10, 2012 8:39 am

      Kevin, you need to read what I actually write. I said that the variation with the seasons shows us we don’t understand radioactive decay very well. Even though the effect is small, it is completely unexpected and completely unexplainable. As a result, it is absurd to use it in wild extrapolation scenarios. When a process throws completely unexpected surprises at you in the present, it is nonsensical to believe that it has been well-behaved through billions of years!

      I agree that there are other (faulty) reasons that scientists have used for believing that the earth is ancient. However, that’s not what I am talking about here. I am talking about comparing the salt chronometer to the radiation chronometer, and the data clearly show that the salt chronometer is significantly better.

      With the sodium, there is clear reason to believe that its input and removal have been relatively constant over time. That’s what the direct data tell us. You want to layer old-earth geology assumptions on top of indirect data to claim otherwise. I will take directly observed data over indirect data layered with faulty, old-earth assumptions.