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I previously posed the question Does Young Earth Creationism presuppose Biblical inerrancy?, an answer to which contended that one doesn't need to rely on Biblical inerrancy or a specific exegetical method to assert a young Earth. Instead, it suggested that the purportedly ample scientific evidence is enough to support this conclusion.

To substantiate its position, the linked answer cited the article titled The 10 Best Evidences from Science That Confirm a Young Earth published on Answers in Genesis.

The article opens by asserting the following:

The earth is only a few thousand years old. That’s a fact, plainly revealed in God’s Word. So we should expect to find plenty of evidence for its youth. And that’s what we find—in the earth’s geology, biology, paleontology, and even astronomy.

Literally hundreds of dating methods could be used to attempt an estimate of the earth’s age, and the vast majority of them point to a much younger earth than the 4.5 billion years claimed by secularists. The following series of articles presents what Answers in Genesis researchers picked as the ten best scientific evidences that contradict billions of years and confirm a relatively young earth and universe.

The article then proceeds to list ten lines of evidence supporting a young Earth:

  1. Very Little Sediment on the Seafloor
  2. Bent Rock Layers
  3. Soft Tissue in Fossils
  4. Faint Sun Paradox
  5. Rapidly Decaying Magnetic Field
  6. Helium in Radioactive Rocks
  7. Carbon-14 in Fossils, Coal, and Diamonds
  8. Short-Lived Comets
  9. Very Little Salt in the Sea
  10. DNA in “Ancient” Bacteria

Are there published responses from Old-Earth Creationists and/or Theistic Evolutionists addressing the Young-Earth Creationist interpretation of these ten lines of evidence? I'm particularly interested in understanding why OEC and TE advocates do not find the scientific evidence presented by YEC advocates compelling. References to books or other authoritative publications are welcomed (and encouraged).

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  • @HoldToTheRod what definition would let you be in scope? I'd be happy to disambiguate to let you be in scope.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 26 at 22:13
  • @HoldToTheRod Since OEC is an umbrella of beliefs, some of which I don't hold - For example?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 29 at 17:16
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    @HoldToTheRod Oh, you are totally right, I completely forgot about theistic evolution. Question edited.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 30 at 5:21
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    The simple answer is that they reject them for exactly the same reasons that all mainstream scientists do - they're all fatally flawed arguments and not "evidence" at all.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented May 2 at 16:22
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    @OrangeDog Would you mind explaining how in an answer?
    – Mark
    Commented May 3 at 2:34

3 Answers 3

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I find the following model instructive.

God reveals truth through (at least) 3 means:

  • The prophetic channel of revelation. Inspiration given through an authorized spokesperson intended for a larger audience, e.g. 2 Timothy 3:16
  • The person channel of revelation. Inspiration given to individuals specifically for their edification, e.g. Luke 24:32.
  • The creation. He created a universe that obeys laws and endowed us with the ability to test and comprehend those laws.

My view is that what is revealed (and correctly understood!) via one channel will not conflict with what is revealed (and correctly understood!) via another channel. Incomplete information can, of course, create the illusion of conflict. In this post I'll consider the natural world to be a form of revelation from God.

Perhaps another user will write the long post responding to all 10 of the arguments listed in the OP. I'll offer feedback on the first 2, and then some general thoughts on how someone who believes in an old earth may think about these questions.


Ocean floor sediment

On the old-earth view, the seafloor is recycled through subduction on the scale of tens of millions of years, not billions. Those who believe the earth is billions of years old do not believe any part of the ocean floor is billions of years old, so nobody on either side of the argument expects billions of years of sediment on the ocean floor.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gives a handy summary here of the scientific consensus, helpfully acknowledging some of the unknowns. But the basic concept of plate tectonics is not particularly controversial among people who study the crust of the earth.

The data supports the subduction model -- there is very little accumulated sediment on the portions of the crust that has recently formed; whereas there is considerably more sediment on the portions of the crust that are tens of millions of years old. The argument linked in the OP used the average sediment accumulation, which is unhelpful for predicting sediment on a given part of the ocean floor, as the age of the ocean floor varies considerably depending on the part of the plate that is being investigated. Additionally, the size of earth's tectonic plates varies considerably from plate to plate, so the distance covered between formation & the subduction zone (and therefore the time available for sediment to accumulate) varies considerably by plate as well.

The accumulated sediment on the ocean floor is consistent with a tectonic model in which the ocean floor is recycled through subduction. The pattern of variation in the sediment on the ocean floor (thicker on older portions, thinner on newer portions) is very difficult to explain via a single, monumental catastrophe.

I am certainly willing to acknowledge that I lack expertise in the YEC view of plate tectonics, but the available data in the field of plate tectonics appears highly consistent with an earth that is several orders of magnitude older than 10k years.

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Bending rocks

The plasticity of rocks is discussed here. There is also an article on Old Earth Ministries discussing the plastic deformation of rocks here. With the right combination of pressure, temperature, time, and solutions, significant plasticity of rock has been observed and experimentally tested (Though no laboratory has been able to test on the scale of the Grand Canyon. That would be a fun grant proposal to read) -- rocks can and have been bent to a degree which, absent the right pressure, temperature, time, and solutions, would have resulted in fracture.

The article linked in the OP presents a false dichotomy in claiming that heat and pressure would produce metamorphic rock, but it isn't all or nothing. Sufficient heat and pressure will result in metamorphosis, but there's a middle ground wherein sedimentary rock exhibits plasticity.

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Weighing the evidence

We regularly encounter circumstances where not all of the evidence clearly points in the same direction, and adopting a burden of proof that all evidence must be explained before a theory is considered plausible would eliminate all theories on most subjects. It would destroy scientific inquiry.

In coming to the conclusion that the earth is old, I am not waiting in limbo for all the evidence to be in (scientific inquiry will continue to discover things long after I'm gone); rather, I am considering the question using a preponderance of the evidence standard.

While I do not claim to have the breadth of knowledge necessary to respond to every objection to an old earth, I see that the body of accumulated human knowledge provides far more reason to conclude that the earth is old than that it is young.

The evidence that the earth is specifically 4.6 billion years old comes from measurements of radioactive decay that have been repeated many times with consistent results. There are many other lines of evidence which, although they do not point to the specific age 4.6 billion years, they do point to a figure well above 10k years.

One example (of many) is found here: 100 reasons the earth is old.

Even granting that there's ambiguity in X piece of evidence, I see that old earth has far greater explanatory power and creates far fewer problems than an earth that is 10k years old.

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Science is not dogma or doctrine

Nuclear engineer Richard Scott gave a discourse about truth, and how it is accessed through scientific and theological methods: Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions.

Revealed truth has the advantage of coming from an Omniscient source, making such information (if we believe in a truthful Deity--which I do) the most reliable data accessible to non-omniscient beings such as ourselves. The Omniscient source can rule out all competing possibilities and declare absolutely that X is true.

The scientific method seeks for truth, but can never rule out all competing possibilities. Thus, if used properly, it will draw ever-nearer to absolute truth but never definitively arrive there.

Where God has spoken clearly I consider the matter settled. Where God has not spoken clearly, I conclude that He is allowing us to discover something for ourselves.

If scientific inquiry overturns a previously held theory, this is not a shortcoming of science -- this is the scientific method doing exactly what it was supposed to do. In my view, the age of the earth has not been settled because God has not revealed it. He has left us to study the matter, and I am comfortable believing (non-dogmatically) that the prevailing hypothesis among contemporary geologists is the best explanation of the evidence. I remain open to future hypotheses with greater explanatory power.

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Uniformitarianism

Uniformitarianism is "the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe".

Ironically (see my prior section), uniformitarianism is not something that can be demonstrated by science. It is something that is assumed (or not) in conducting scientific inquiry. Like cause-and-effect, it is something that we can never logically prove. I discuss some of these limiting factors in science and the danger of scientism in my post here.

At best, uniformitarianism can be supported by an inductive argument showing consistent results. However, many consider this inductive argument adequate grounds for accepting uniformitarianism unless/until faced with strong contrary evidence.

When we appeal to our repeated and uniform experience, we are applying uniformitarianism and demonstrating our belief that the same laws that applied during a past experience also apply now. If we abandoned uniformitarianism entirely, we couldn't do science at all, and none of the empirical evidences for or against a young earth would have any standing.

Uniformitarianism does not hold that exceptional or catastrophic events do not occur. A uniformitarian can look at a dried lava flow and conclude that an exceptional eruption occurred. But this conclusion is based on knowledge of volcanic forces operating in the present day. A flood of global magnitude is difficult to assess in a uniformitarian model, since no such flood can be directly observed today. However, smaller floods do occur and if their effects are scaled, one can grant that a massive flood did occur a few millennia ago, and still evaluate through a uniformitarian lens whether everything YEC attributes to the Biblical flood could realistically be produced by the flood (that's a separate, lengthy discussion on its own).

My view is that a large flood is not the best explanation of ocean floor sediment patterns or bent rocks.

I do not take issue with the idea that constants today may not have always been constant in the past, but the consistency I see in the universe leads me to accept presently-existing constants until presented with evidence to the contrary.

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Acknowledge ambiguity

There are some things God does not want to leave ambiguous -- e.g. that Jesus Christ is our Savior. This can properly be described as essential information.

There are some things He has left more ambiguous -- e.g. who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. This can properly be described as non-essential information.

I see that the chronology of the creation falls nearer the latter camp. We do not know how much time passed (if any) between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. There are a variety of competing theories seeking to explain the "multiple phases of creation" that appear to be described by Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2. We do not know how long Adam & Eve were in the garden. We do not know the precise place & time where they exited the garden. The Masoretic & Septuagint texts of Genesis disagree in their chronology in multiple places. I do not see that the Bible has provided us with enough information to succeed in Ussher's goal of calculating the date of the creation.

In concluding that the Bible leaves this question ambiguous I am not faulting God in any way, I just don't think this is something He wanted to tell us.

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Conclusion

I do not believe God has revealed the age of the earth through the prophetic channel of revelation (more thoughts on that here).

God has not revealed the age of the earth to me personally.

What God has revealed through the creation leads me to the conclusion that the earth is old.

I do not believe that accepting X conclusion on the age of the earth is relevant to my salvation, and so I am willing to follow the preponderance of currently available evidence, and I am not bothered if later investigation proves current theories wrong. If tomorrow overwhelming evidence were discovered which demonstrated beyond any possible doubt that the earth is much younger than I thought it was, this would have no consequential impact on my theological beliefs.


Disclaimer - groupings such as Old Earth Creationism and Theistic Evolution describe a variety of viewpoints, and I do not claim to be a strict adherent of any of them. There's enough overlap between my thoughts and these views that I considered it appropriate to answer this question.

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  • "We do not know how long Adam & Eve were in the garden." True, and irrelevant. We know how old Adam was when Seth was born. We can also be reasonably certain that Adam and Eve didn't spend all that long hanging around in Eden and wantonly disobeying God's command to 'be fruitful and multiply', since that would be contrary to them not being sinful before the Fall.
    – Matthew
    Commented May 1 at 16:38
  • @Matthew we have different theologies regarding the Fall, which is a bigger question than will be resolved here. Is Adam's age counted from Genesis 1:27, 2:8, or 3:24? I don't see that the genealogy in Genesis 5 clearly answers this. Commented May 1 at 17:00
  • First, why would it be counted from 3:24? Sure, you can make a case for it, but it's not the obvious thing to do. I'm a firm believer that when there's a clear difference between an obvious meaning of Scripture, and one adopted in order to argue for some other point, the first is more likely correct. (The latter, BTW, is the heresy of Gnosticism.) Also, a long time elapsing between 1:27/2:8 and 3:24 is a problem for the other reason I mentioned.
    – Matthew
    Commented May 1 at 17:31
  • @Matthew and HTTR, I'm very curious about your views on this.
    – Mark
    Commented May 1 at 20:40
  • @Mark this argument cuts both ways - if the earth/universe was created with the false appearance of age, that could be interpreted as deception as well. Commented May 2 at 2:18
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To put it simply, because none of those scientific evidences are remotely compelling. All ten of these examples are, at best, things which surprise scientists. They are by no means sufficient to throw out the overwhelming evidence for an ancient earth which is virtually universally accepted by scientists. Scientists generally do not take YEC claims seriously, so it'd be difficult to find specific responses to those articles you mention. Nor do I find that doing so is very helpful, as YECs hold just as strongly to their view even when any one piece of evidence is unequivocally shown to be faulty (e.g. the Paluxy footprints or the Ica stones). Because of the huge number of arguments used on both sides, one must find a way to cut through and address the big picture before asking about minutia.

One higher-level question that invariably comes up in discussions with YECs: If YEC evidences were so compelling, why would they not be accepted by scientists? The YEC explanation is that scientists have an assumption of naturalism or atheism which precludes believing in a young earth. So I must ask the question: Does a global flood, recent extinction of dinosaurs, or an earth younger than 4 billion years old, threaten a naturalistic worldview? Not at all! Imagine for a second that there were compelling geological evidence for a global flood. Do you really think that scientists from a naturalistic worldview would not be able to imagine a naturalistic explanation for that event? They believe that at one time the entire earth was covered with ice! There is good geological evidence that the amount of water within and under the earth's crust would easily cover all the land area of the globe were it let out; all that is needed is some mechanism to get it back under the crust. If materialistic scientists are so creative as YECs suppose, do you really think they would be unable to think of such a mechanism and accept it as scientific fact? Regarding dinosaurs, scientists readily accept the existence of many kinds of fantastical creatures that went extinct only recently. They're not arbitrarily saying that dinosaurs went extinct tens of millions of years ago while sabre-tooth tigers, glyptodons, woolly mammoths, and terror birds persisted to (geologically) modern times. As far as the age of the planet itself is concerned, I find it difficult to conceive how this could be used as evidence for a creator. Were it proven that the earth was only a few tens of thousands of years old, the naturalists would simply propose some explanation for the diversity of life that does not require such a large timescale. Furthermore, while theists are no doubt a minority among scientists, they (we? I'm a theist but not a scientist) are not such a tiny minority that they could be as completely ignored as the YECs suggest that they are.

In short, I do not find the YEC meta-narrative about science plausible.

Of those evidences you list, all but point 7 propose that, based on our models of some complex systems (the sun, the earth's magnetic field, etc.), they could not exist for as long as the old earth models suggest. This style of argument is common among YECs: Assuming that we do understand well how these extremely complex and difficult-to-observe processes work over long scales of time, the ancient earth looks implausible. The exact opposite argument is also used by YECs: Propose that things such as the speed of light or decay rates of atoms are not well understood, so they cannot be used to date the universe or the earth. It looks to me, as a non-scientist, that YECs are doing science backwards here: They propose that the complicated, hard-to-understand objects such as the sun or the magnetosphere must closely match our models and extrapolations, while relatively simple things like the speed of light and radioactive decay may deviate wildly from our best models.

The case for YEC looks even worse when I examine those pieces of evidence where I do have some actual knowledge. I'll give three examples, where my knowledge in mathematics and paleontology came in handy:

  1. Feathered dinosaurs: YECs often try to argue that there were no feathered dinosaurs - all such claims are either misidentified feathers or misidentified dinosaurs. With some knowledge of paleontology, this comes accross as rather silly. There are dinosaur fossils with unambiguous feathers, such as Microraptor, and when YECs claim these are actually birds, they aren't helping their case. Where do we draw the line between birds and dinosaurs? Ignoring the feathers, this is pretty tough to do on skeletal features alone. Had Archaeopteryx skeletons been found with no impressions of feathers, it's quite likely that it never would have been classified as a bird.

  2. Power laws: A creation scientist once did a presentation at my church, and included a slide on the decline of ages since Creation, something like this article from creation.com. Now, this age decline from Adam is something clearly documented by the Bible, so I won't dispute the factual accuracy of it as such. But, from my mathematical expertise, something is very wrong here: They used a power law (y=a x^b) to draw a curve through the datapoints. Power laws are used for scaling relationships or frequency distributions. I've never seen one used with time on the x-axis, nor can I imagine why this was chosen here, other than ignorance of the correct usage of this mathematical model.

  3. Behemoth = Sauropod: YECs frequently claim the Behemoth of Job 40 is a sauropod dinosaur, on the basis of v.17: "Its tail sways like a cedar..." Now, admittedly, that is difficult to square with a hippo, the most commonly suggested living animal for the Behemoth's identity. And sauropods did have impressive tails! However, the rest of the description in Job 40 is clearly not compatible with sauropods: v.21-22 suggest that the Behemoth hides in the water under lotuses and among reeds. Sauropods, on the other hand, had a density much lower than water, and would have floated in the water, totally incapable of submerging themselves. Fossil footprints confirm that sauropods in the water pushed themselves along with their front feet while floating in the water. Verse 23 says that the Behemoth is secure when the river rages against its mouth. Sauropods had famously tiny and fragile skulls, which makes this rather difficult to square with v. 23.

In these, and other examples, I find that creation scientists seem to be quite ignorant when making claims about fields of knowledge that I do know something about. So, why should I trust them when they're talking about things where I lack expertise?

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    Sure, buckle up for some math and statistics: Deciding to try to fit an equation is a choice the analyzer make. Data doesn't come with suggested models. Looking at the scatterplot, there is clearly a decreasing trend. You want to model that trend with an equation, something like y=f(x), to capture the relationship. So far so good. The trick is to pick an f(x) that makes sense. It's not good enough for it to follow the data. For example, their dataset has 29 points, so you could perfectly fit a 28th degree polynomial to the data... Commented May 4 at 4:00
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    ... To understand the problem here, you've got to grasp why having a curve that actually passes through all the points might not be a good idea. This is called overfitting en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overfitting c.f. "house of cards" in xkcd.com/2048 . To draw a curve y=f(x) through the points, we need to pick a type of function that has some properties we expect the system underlying the data to have. For example, exponential functions have the property that their rate of change at x is directly proportional to their y-value at x. This makes them a good model for systems where... Commented May 4 at 4:06
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    ...the rate of increase (or decrease) is proportional to how much you have at a given moment. Think compound interest or uninhibited population growth. Power laws, f(x)=a x^b, on the other hand, have the property that f(2x) = c f(x) for some c. This is a bit of an abstract relationship, but it comes up fairly naturally in scaling relationships. For example, the volume of a solid cube multiplies by a factor of 8 if we double the side length (f(2x) = 8 f(x)) so a power law would be a good function to try for something where we expect y to scale with x. E.g. modeling y=weight and x=height... Commented May 4 at 4:09
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    ...IRC's model has y=c x^(-2.91) for the lifespan vs. AM birth date, which would suggest that if person A lived twice as long after creation as person B, then person A's life expectancy should be 13% of person B's. Processes unfolding in time very rarely, if ever, work like that. I don't know of any examples. This is because it requires the lifespan of person B not to simply depend on the circumstances of his birth, but somehow the accumulation of years AM has an effect on his life expectancy. Using this y=a x^b model here suggests some complex process which I'm struggling to really grasp... Commented May 4 at 4:29
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    ...Perhaps there is a way to make sense of it. But the article doesn't even attempt to do so; it simply points to the 'niceness' of the fit. That's not a very scientific way of looking at a dataset. First we must think of which models might make sense before we look at which ones fit the data. I just don't see evidence that this kind of care was taken here. Especially since, looking at the comments, in the original draft the author erroneously called this an exponential fit. Those are two very different models, though the mathematical formal (y=ax^b vs. y=ab^x) look superficially similar. Commented May 4 at 4:40
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Because rocks collected from the earth and the moon all return approximately 4.6 billion years as the age of their respective planet bodies and scientific methods are very reliable. The scientific method used to calculate the age of the earth is reliable as the scientific method used to develop the computer your typed this post on. Those who project that the earth is around six to ten thousand years old assume that the creation of the light on the first day took immediately after the creation of the heavens and the earth. One fact that must be considered when discerning these events of creation in Genesis is that the creation of the heaven and the earth is not measured in terms of day and night. The word of God states that God created the heaven and the earth in the beginning but unlike other works of creation in Genesis, this event is not time stamped with a day as the object of measurement. It just says in the beginning God created his dwelling and the earth, it does not say there was morning and there was evening, first day or second day. This opens up the possibility that the earth was created and prepared for creation of man billions of years before the second act of creation which was calling the light out of the darkness. Earth was like planet Mars now, if God decided to create life on Mars now then if the rocks of Mars are subjected to dating to determine their age then it would return billions of years but life was just established recently.

  • In the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth- this act of creation is not stamped with a day, so time passes here that cannot be measured
  • After billions of years then God calls the light out of the darkness and completes the other works of creation

There is a possibility of a time gap between the creation of the heavens and the earth and let there be light that spans close to 4.6 billion years.

The Bible states that the foundations of the world were laid before even life was established on earth. God asks it as a question that where were we when he laid the foundations of the earth.

Job 38:4-11

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, 7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

There is the laying of the foundations of the earth and then billions of years pass but in the heavenly realm one day is equal to 1000 days so God allowed close to 4.6 million heavenly years to pass. During this time, the angels sing with joy for God's works of creation.

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    Ignoring all the evidence that radiometric dating isn't reliable, I don't see how this answers the Question in any meaningful way. You say "scientific methods are very reliable", but you pick and choose which scientific results to uphold, and nowhere do you rationalize your decision as to which results to accept and which to reject.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 15:43
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    Some citations would greatly improve the quality of this answer. Addressing directly the 10 lines of evidence mentioned in the question, or at least citing sources that address them, would also make this a much better answer.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 25 at 16:25
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    Just because some test gives a consistent result doesn't mean it gives a correct result. Also, appeal-to-majority fallacy; some scientists believe radiometric dating is reliable. Others disagree. Also, what Mark said. 🙂
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 16:41
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    "all return approximately 4.6 billion years as the age of their respective planet bodies and scientific methods are very reliable" - How is that calibrated? Do scientists know for certain of any event that happened, such that training and validation data samples can be supplied from such distant points of time in the past? "The scientific method used to calculate the age of the earth is reliable as the scientific method used to develop the computer your typed this post on" Where can I see computations performed by this science every second that are 100% accurate, transparent and verifiable?
    – pygosceles
    Commented Apr 26 at 15:22
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    @Matthew I was going to say, the assertion that they are accurate because the same transformation yields consistent results is a fallacy of conflating precision with accuracy. You can keep hitting the same soda can every time you pull the trigger but if the target is the barn in the opposite direction, it's not really impressive or useful. There are many processes that give a consistent result, but are not inherently revelatory in answering the intended question. If one applies a different algorithm or a different set of assumptions to the data, one gets a wildly different answer.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Apr 26 at 15:26

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