• Stalactites Are NOT Evidence of a Young Earth

    This is an old article (apparently, the only date on the website is the first publication in 1987) about how fast growing stalactites are consistent with a Young Earth Creationism (i.e. Noah’s Flood) hypothesis.

    I think that this is an excellent example of the contortions that YECs (Young Earth Creationists) will go through to support their notion that the Judeo-Christian God created the world in 7 24-hour days and that Noah’s Flood subsequently wiped out all life on Earth, etc.  There are lot of interesting points about this article that bear thinking on before coming to a conclusion.

    One of the firs things I do when I get a new article is look at the references. This article, even if written in 1987, has some pretty suspicious references.  There are three. I tend to use more references in blog posts and my references go to either peer-reviewed articles or Wikipedia which further links to peer-reviewed articles.  The references here are the 1978 Encyclopedia Americana, a 1953(!!!) National Geographic article, and a 1973 YEC book written by John C. Whitcomb, Jr.

    Now, this article is about stalactites.  That’s a geological formation found in caves caused by water dissolving limestone, then chemically depositing it in the cave.  Stalactites are the ones that hang from the ceiling. Does anyone besides me think it might be a good idea to have some actual geology references?  You things like peer-reviewed work on how fast stalagmites (because of the bat) and stalactites grow. For example, here’s one from 1980 that should have been referenced “Deposition of calcite from thin films of natural calcareous solutions and the growth of speleothems”.  Speleotherms is a fancy name for limestone cave formations like stalactites.

    Now, let’s look at the article itself.  The introductory bit is standard fare, but it’s very curious what they choose to mention… like that a particular cavern director in Alabama is a creationist.  That’s a fallacy of argument by authority.  So, the cavern director is a creationist.  I also know dentists, biologists, and engineers who are creationists.  It still doesn’t make them right.

    I’d also like to point out that the growth rates of speleothems is HIGHLY variable.  This article (Intra- and inter-annual growth rate of modern stalagmites) shows variations of growth rates of stalagmites from .15 mm per year to 1.2 mm per year.  Not inches per year, which would be about 200 times faster than the previous article mentions.  Now, I freely admit that I have no data for the particular cave that is described in this article… of course, the article doesn’t have any data either.  This is an anecdote with zero supporting evidence.  I guess we’re supposed to take their word for it.

    Enter the Bat Cave

    Here’s another anecdote.  The 1953 article describes a bat that apparently died and fell into a stalagmite and then was entombed.  (Link to recent image.)  A little google-fu reveals that the only people who care are creationists.  This anecdote is mentioned on many YEC websites and forums.  It is not mentioned in the scientific literature anywhere I can see.  You can see if you click on the link to the image, that the ‘bat’ is a dark blur inside the stalagmite.

    Supposedly, this anecdote of a bat being entombed in a stalagmite is supposed to refute all the peer-reviewed literature on the subject.  But let’s look at this.  The average temperature in the cave is 68°F, but it can get as cold as 56°F.  Is that enough to prevent rapid decomposition?  Maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt.  We also need to consider the chemical environment of the cave.

    The bat couldn’t have fallen on a point or it would have fallen off.  So, I think it safe to assume that the bat fell on a plateau or even in a shallow pool of water.  The chemistry of speleothem formation means that the water must be highly acidic.  Caves are also generally low oxygen environments, especially if there’s a lot of decomposing bat droppings around.  Is there another environment that is cold, acidic, and low oxygen?  How about a peat-bog? A bog in which several ancient specimens have been found almost completely intact.

    Now, I’m not saying that caves are exactly equivalent to peat bogs, but I want to see some deeper explanation for why the cave environment should have normal rates of decomposition.

    In other words, this anecdote is just that.  A story.  It doesn’t mean anything and we can’t draw any conclusions from it at all.

    Slow Growth?

    The growth rate of stalactites and stalagmites in many caves today is of course quite slow. But even in such caves the current slow rate of growth cannot be guaranteed to have always been this sluggish.

    So what?  Do you have evidence that, for any particular cave that the growth rate was 200 times faster than the fastest present system that we’ve looked at?  No?  Then we’re done with this line of hypothetical thinking.  Evidence please.

    This next bit is just great.  Either the authors of this ‘paper’ (One of which is Stephen “Signature in the Cell” Meyers) are completely clueless about chemistry or they are being very, very dishonest in their delivery here.

    A talking point at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the fact that stalactites are growing on the cement wall steps between the university’s Anderson Hall and Gladfelter Hall. Right below the stalactites, some stalagmites are forming. Although only several centimetres high, they have all formed since the concrete stairway of Gladfelter Hall was built in May, 1973.

    This is great because it is known that the formation of concrete stalagmites and stalactites is a fundamentally different chemistry than limestone formations in cave systems.  So, we literally cannot use this bit of (also anecdotal) information in our discussion of caves. It’s a bait-and-switch, a waste of effort… or a clever confusion for the non-expert.

    Conclusion

    Because of the evidence for fast-growing stalactites now becoming available, we can safely conclude that the world’s beautiful limestone cave formations may not have needed countless thousands of years to form. These spectacular formations could have formed quite rapidly in just a few thousand years—a time framework consistent with the view that they were formed during the closing stages of, and after, the worldwide Flood of Noah’s time.

    I have only this to say about the conclusion.

    Even if stalactites form 200 times faster than most scientists think they do.  Even if stalagmites form so fast that they could entomb a bat before it could decompose.  Even if concrete and limestone were the same thing… none of which I’m willing to admit.

    Fast growth of stalactites does not mean that the Earth is young.  Here’s an analogy to what they are doing.  They are measuring the age of the ice in the freezer, then determining that the freezer was built 3 days ago.

    This is NOT evidence or even support for a Young Earth notion.  Is it consistent with a YEC notion?  I’ll give you that, but it is also fully consistent with an Old Earth view of the planet. In other words, the age and/or speed of formation of speleothems is non-discriminatory between YEC and OEC and actual science.  It doesn’t mean anything to the age of the Earth at all.

    Category: CreationismGeologyScienceSkepticism

    Tags:

    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • Well I’ll be damned., I’ve only just connected you to OgreMK. I followed your old link on my blog! Enjoying it more here?

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Love it. Thanks!

    • sstar

      The “bat” is actually just a shadow of a horizontal calcite/ferrous deposit. Have you noticed that most of the photos are taken from a single angle with a torch illuminating the stalagmite from the rear? I found some photos that have higher ambient lighting and it is clearly visible that this is just a protrusion of the stalagmite, notice how ferrous oxide has flowed from this colouring the bottom halve of the stalagmite red.

      The photo can be seen here:
      http://afewdaysoff.com/tag/new-mexico/

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Thanks Southstar. That pretty much explains why there is no literature on the subject of the bat, but it dang sure appears in all the creationist websites.

      • michael

        I don’t see the same photo there.

    • Prepagan

      “In other words, the age and/or speed of formation of speleothems is non-discriminatory between YEC and OEC and actual science. It doesn’t mean anything to the age of the Earth at all.”

      Perhaps I’ve missed a nuance to your argument, but clearly the actual age/speed of formation of speleothems is evidence against the YEC position. Anything that takes hundreds of thousands of years to form will represent evidence allowing one to discriminate against YEC.

      If, on the other hand, the YEC movement is able to demonstrate that there is nothing on the planet that can be shown to have taken more than 10,000 years to form then, while it may not represent proof of their position, it will represent substantially more evidence than they currently have to support their claims.

      Not that they are really interested in weight of evidence, merely the odd opportunity to inject an element of doubt in the overwhelming volume of scientific knowledge on the subject to sustain the flock.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Hmmm… even a 6 foot stalagmite would only take about 1,500 years to form… at the fast rate listed. At the slowest rate listed it would take about 15,000 years.

        So, yeah a slow rate speleotherm would destroy YEC age of the Earth calculations. I was so busy thinking about how it doesn’t help them, I forgot that it would also destroy them. I was playing a game last night and I was so busy trying to keep them from winning, I passed up the chance to win twice in a row. Thanks!

        • Cornelius

          Please, give me evidence that those structures MUST be more than 10,000 years. I could not find above any proof to definitely support your view. Thus, if something cannot be proved to be true, it is a matter of assumptions: You believe they are very old, I believe they are not that much. This is not science, but faith; whether on Naturalism or Creationism.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            umm… no. This is called a disproof. It’s not possible to judge their age… probably. Their age is not evidence of a Young Earth… even if they are just a few thousand years old.

            Perhaps you should actually read the title. I would also suggest an introductory class on how science works, what proof is, what evidence is, and how significant evidence results in conclusions.

            Not every believes in things that they are told. Some people take the time to learn, perform their own experiments, do their own math, and study the evidence. Those people are then qualified to make logical conclusions based on the evidence.

            If you can provide evidence that something causes any effect in our universe that is not a part of our universe or understood natural laws, then you will be the first person ever to do so. Naturalism is not a belief. It is a conclusion from the evidence.

    • sinner_saved_by_grace

      Interesting that you never offer any evidence or proof that the generally accepted slow growth rates are correct nor do you present any evidence that the hypothesized faster growth rates are incorrect. You simply attack sources and question methodology. This is not sound science.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Because that’s not the point of the article. The point of the article is to show that the claims in this case are wrong.

        They are. I’ve provided evidence and links.

        I COULD describe modern chemistry from the basic fundamentals, but that’s a book. I COULD do the same for modern astronomy, but that’s a whole nother book. I AM doing the same for evolution. It’s about 70,000 words and I’m just past a basic understanding of genetics that the reader needs to move forward.

        Finally, I’ll point out that I’m not doing science. I’m criticizing others science, which is a perfectly valid thing to do. The actual growth rates are immaterial because they used false information to generate their overly quick ones.

        And finally, I’ll quote from the conclusion
        “Fast growth of stalactites does not mean that the Earth is young. Here’s an analogy to what they are doing. They are measuring the age of the ice in the freezer, then determining that the freezer was built 3 days ago.”

        So it doesn’t help them even if it were all 100% correct.

        • kurteren

          There are up to 60 – 70m Chinese and Vietnamese stalagmites in giant caves. First the caves have to be formed; they are typically the result of a multilevel cave collapse followed by a washout of material by an underground river. So not only are those stalagmites vastly older than 10,000 years, the cave system is far older than the age of the stalagmites. Active Caves are always in the process of collapse, they will eventually form sinkholes or “dolines” and the collapse is not necessarily sudden. Cave formation in karst is extremely well understood by geologists. Imagine how long the 70 m stalagmite would take to form by the fastest possible rate you mention, 1.2 mm/year: more than 50,000 years!

    • 24gfcquinoa

      What about the stalactites under the Lincoln Memorial?