LETTER TO MOTHER ******
About the Age of the Earth
[Published in the CALVINIST CONTACT, St. Catharines,
(unofficial newspaper of the Christian Reformed Church) May 24, 1991]
From your latest letter I gather that there was a young man at the ladies'
auxiliary meeting who said that the earth is only a few thousand years
old. Interesting! I trust you spoke up and told him your son is a geology
professor with years of field experience and that he is convinced that
earth is very old.
Whether you did or not, let me provide you with a few points for the
In 1795, James Hutton, a resident of Edinburgh, published his book THEORY
OF THE EARTH. Your great-grandmother was born there at about that time.
Like her, Hutton was a Presbyterian. He trained as a medical doctor but
never practised. He farmed southeast of Edinburgh near the English border.
In his spare time, he examined rocks in the area, especially along the sea
coast. His conclusions started modern geology.
The book he wrote was so difficult to understand that his friend, John
Playfair, mathematics professor at Edinburgh University, wrote another
book, published in 1802, entitled ILLUSTRATIONS OF HUTTONIAN THEORY OF
THE EARTH. I have a paperback copy. That text is also difficult, but
Playfair clarifies one of Hutton's important conclusions: "We find no
vestiges of a beginning, no prospect of an end." What is the message?
EARTH MUST BE VERY OLD! Remember, Hutton examined the rocks and recorded
Consider Adam Sedgwick, an Anglican minister who was interested in
geology. In the 1820's he explored north Wales, where he found tremendous
thicknesses of slates, sandstones,and lavas, with lots of fossils. I have
shown you rocks like those. He concluded that the earth is old. Remember,
he was an Anglican theologian! He named these rocks the Cambrian, the
Welsh name for Wales, and the name is still used by geologists.
Eventually Sedgwick was appointed professor of geology at Cambridge
University, even though he had never taken any courses in geology. You ask
why not? Because geology was not taught in school at that time.
Closer to home, consider William Logan, born a Presbyterian in Montreal
1798, and educated in Scotland. In the 1830's he mapped the south Wales
coal field while he was manager of a copper smelter. He also was a
self-taught geologist. His maps were so accurate his name is still on the
modern geological maps of Wales. In 1842 he was appointed first director
of the Geological Survey of Canada.
His field studies began at Joggins, Nova Scotia, on the south shore
Chignecto Bay at the east end of the Bay of Fundy. We should visit the
place sometime. Logan had heard that coal can be found in the cliffs at
Joggins and wanted to compare it with the south Wales coals. The rocks are
sandstones and shales, and he measured 14,570 feet and 11 inches - a
continuous sequence. He recorded 72 thin beds of coal, none thick
enough to mine, and petrified tree stumps at 90 levels in the section.
Some tree trunks are upright in the rock. Logan published the 60-page
description in the first annual report of the Geological Survey. Is there
a connection between being a Presbyterian and thinking that the earth is
So let's be logical. Could 14,570 feet(that's 4415 metres) of sandstone
and shale with 72 coal beds and 90 levels of stumps be deposited in a few
thousand years? You think that is possible?
HOW OLD IS THE GORGE?
Okay, then, let's consider a tourist attraction which everyone knows
many have seen - the Niagara gorge, which, at the falls, is 55 metres
deep and from 100 to 130 metres wide. Downstream from the falls the river
curves around to the whirlpool. There, the river makes a right angle turn,
and again curving around emerges from the escarpment at Queenston. The
distance from the falls along the gorge to the escarpment is roughly
10,000 metres, Experts have examined old records and maps and calculated
the rate of erosion at about one metre a year. Yes, I know, Mother, the
rate of erosion can vary from year to year, but let's not quibble.
Consider the whole story. Do you wish to read the technical reports?
So if the gorge is 10,000 metres long, and the rate of erosion is one
metre a year, how old is the gorge? That fellow said a few thousand years
FOR THE WHOLE EARTH?
But there is more! At the whirlpool, the wall of the gorge in line with
the river coming from upstream is covered with trees. THERE IS NO ROCK, as
in the other walls along the gorge. That wall is loose soil.
A few years ago, geologists drilled some holes in that area and discovered
a buried gorge which runs all the way to the village of St. David's. The
location coincides with the CN rail line coming up to the top of the
escarpment. If that loose soil were excavated there would be a gorge as
big as the existing gorge. It was eroded a long time ago and filled in
before the present gorge was eroded. That buried gorge is 4000 metres
long. So, after you add 4000 metres to the existing 10,000 metres, how
long would it have taken all of it to erode?
|St. David's Gorge-------------------->>>
What age did that fellow suggest for the whole earth?
But there is still more! Consider the rock exposed in the walls of the
gorge. If you look down into the gorge, say, at the Beck generating
station, you can see at river level a red shale, then above that a grey
sandstone, then a green shale, another red shale, a thin limestone, a
thick black shale, and at the top a thick yellowish limestone. The total
thickness is about 100 metres. All have lots of fossils, especially that
But one final point. If a drill hole was put down starting at river
the drilling would go through 700 metres - yes, 700 metres - of shale,
sandstone, limestone, and even some Cambrian sandstone, below which is
granite. Do you think that fellow gave any thought to the granite in his
determination of the age of the earth? Just a few thousand years? I think
it is much more logical to conclude that the formation of the rocks in the
Niagara gorge area took a lot longer than that. I will be glad to give you
a table showing specific dates.
Mother, the next time one of these young-earthers comes around, remember
your son, the geologist, who has looked at rocks across Canada and
elsewhere in the world. Believe me, Mother, the earth is very old!
Love you as always,