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home : opinion : opinion August 19, 2014

12/2/2012 6:01:00 AM
Editorial Column: The world is old - get used to it

Alan Choate
News Editor

There's been much ado about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's recent comments that the age of the Earth is "one of the great mysteries."

In fact, in this very space a few days ago, columnist and WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah mocked the L.A. Times and science in general for not being able to say how old the Earth is, and further opined that our planet is 6,000 years old, which would place the Earth's creation at about the time that people in Mesopotamia created bronze relics that have been found.

The L.A. Times' story was drawn from a longer profile of Rubio in GQ magazine in which he said, among other things, that the age of the Earth is "a dispute among theologians." Neither article mentioned the Earth's age as established by science, about which there is little actual dispute - the Earth is at least 4.5 billion years old.

That's billion, with a "b." And then there's that other little phrase: "At least."

Both concepts can make anyone's head spin. Stretches of time that long are unfathomable to my brain, and the lack of absolute certainty (and the fact that it might be as precise as we're going to get) is frustrating for anyone who likes to pin things down.

But I'll take that any day over backward-looking, magical-thinking appeals to explain the natural world through references to the Old Testament, especially since relying on Genesis for scientific guidance is like asking my dog to do your taxes.

Here's the deal: A couple of hundred years of study and techniques such as radiometric dating, which measures the steady decay of radioactive elements contained in rocks, have arrived at the 4.5 billion year figure. Before that, the rocks on still-forming Earth were subjected to intense heat and pressure and were essentially "recycled," so only rocks that formed after the eventual cooling can be measured. That's why only a minimum age can be established.

As for the billions of years ... well, how do we conceive of billions of years? Our life spans are measured in blips of 100 years or less, and it takes intense study to understand a few thousand years of history. That's just a fraction of a blink of an eye in geologic time.

This is why people struggle with the concept of evolution. We see each other, we see our older family members, we see pictures or paintings of those who came before us, we see depictions of the natural world from human history, and it's all familiar to us.

The idea of gradual changes accumulating over billions of years is counterintuitive, and yet the proof of it has been found up and down the fossil record and in a little something called DNA, which hadn't been discovered when Charles Darwin did his landmark work.

But wouldn't you know it? Here I am defending science, and a bunch of damn scientists come along and make my job harder.

Late last week, a team of Colorado and California scientists released a study suggesting that the western side of the Grand Canyon, contained within the Hualapai reservation, was carved 70 million years ago. That's a far cry from the accepted history that the Colorado River eroded the canyon about 5 million to 6 million years ago.

70 million years go, what we know as desert was a lush landscape possibly populated by dinosaurs, and the river that would've carved the canyon flowed in a direction opposite to how the Colorado flows now. That itself is not a not a new idea; apparently older canyons carved by such a river are known to geologists. And it's conceivable that both ideas are true - parts of the canyon were created a very, very long time ago, and the rest was eroded during a different era when the landscape had changed.

So did God create the universe? I don't know. Neither does science. It's not something we can quantify right now. And I'm not knocking the Bible, which is an important book that should be actively read and studied as a source of culture, wisdom and spiritual truth.

It is not, however, a science textbook. No, science doesn't have all the answers, and it probably never will; it's a discipline in which the answer to one question usually spawns 10 more, and sometimes we lack the wherewithal to answer those new questions, at least for now.

That's not a weakness. Knowing what you don't know is the first step toward new knowledge. And yet segments of our national leadership, including a man being talked about for the 2016 presidential ticket, is comfortable dismissing a discipline that's given us space travel, medical miracles and the iPhone.

And that, truly, is one of the great mysteries.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Article comment by: So You Say

@ Capt. Nice

Since Palin was one of three picks to run against Obama, the right did their own damage by picking Romney. As for Rubio, pretty funny how he has changed his tune in light of Romneys defeat. Can the Republicans ever make up their mind? The only people destroying the Republicans are themselves, the Dem's will provide the nail in the coffin.

Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Article comment by: Capt. Nice

Now that the left who completely destroyed Sarah Palin, but yet it is the right who hates women, now they are after Marco Rubio who evidently they think may have a chance to become president...I guess you start early with your hate and distortions!
I guess the left is on the right track as we still have the worst president of my life time and if he has his way, he will be president forever.
These clowns who write in that will argue anything, anytime, just to get their name in print. All they ever say is prove it or racism and they think they win.....what a sorry excuse for people who have not got a clue
Evidently it is the rich who are the bad guys but how many of you ever got work from a poor guy?.....I'm sure there is some lefty that will write in and tell us that he works for a poor guy....sure he does!

Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Article comment by: Ya Know You Can Only Lead the Horse to - Water

Alan, get ready for the barrage from the wackadoddles that make Mohave County their home.

Thanks, Alan for attempting to spread intelligence.

Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Article comment by: Frank Lee Speaking

@Ansons Nephew

"watch The Flingstones...."

And then there are the ones who never miss a chance to "fling stones" at others religious beliefs because it makers them feel superior somehow.

Hey, I'll bet the ones you are mocking could at least spell the name of that show correctly.


Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Article comment by: Nick Schmidt

The conclusion here is that careers in politics and science demand com-
pletely different capabilities. A good scientist has achieved power in the tiny empire which he understands and "controls". He is happy to be acknowledged by the
community of his science field.
In politics you seek power over
people (and their money). You may
not be intelligent or educated, but
you must be smart enough to ex-
ploit the folly of the many. And
scientists, however brilliant in their
field, may act foolish outside their

Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012
Article comment by: Anson's Nephew

The only people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old also watch The Flingstones as a documentary.

Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012
Article comment by: You're a Reporter, not a scientist!

As a person whose passion as a child and young adult was science, I studied geology, biology, genetics and evolution. So Alan, I found the following statement to be absolutely hilarious:

"The idea of gradual changes accumulating over billions of years is counterintuitive, and yet the proof of it has been found up and down the fossil record and in a little something called DNA, which hadn't been discovered when Charles Darwin did his landmark work."

In fact, in just the area genetics contradicts your words so overwhelimingly as to make your statement completely ridiculous! Stick to editing, I'm not so sure commentating is your 'forte'.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: Edward Tomchin

Loud and long applause, Editor Choate. Thank you for a very sensible and well-written piece along with some very accurate facts.

Let's hope you don't suffer under the oncoming onslaught of accusations about being the anti-christ and other such prejudicial slander against rational thought and factual statements.

Keep up the excellent work. You have my vote for next Editor-In-Chief.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: Lori Gabriel-Dane


Great article. Science is important for the progress and preservation of the Earth, but many people base their beliefs soley on the Bible. Even though I'm an Atheist, I did a lot of research of the Bible's contents when writing my book. In defense of the Bible, I would like to point out something I found most interesting in the Bible.

Through interpretation of the original Bible, it is thought that God created the Earth in the year 4004 B.C., thus today's belief that the Earth is only 6,012-years-old. Scientists have now proven that the Earth is much older than this, so who should we believe? Well... maybe both are correct.

In the Second Book of Peter, Chapter 3, Verse 8, the ancient scribes wrote this: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." So my theory is this: if each DAY of our 6,012 years (4004 B.C. to 2012 A.D.) is the equivilant of 1,000 years, that would make the Earth 2,195,840,000 years old according to God's timetable. Did the ancient scribes simply guess how old the Earth was, or did they actually know? In 1956, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 6, pg. 646, claimed that "the origin of the earth began well over 2 billion years ago." This coinsides with the Bible's timetable. Scientists have larned much more about the age of the earth since 1956, and now believe the earth may be 6 billion years old. Either way, today's scientists and the ancient Scribes basically agreed that the Earth is much older than many people believe. Perhaps Rubio should trust the word of those much wiser than himself.


Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: You Did It Again

You've done it again, writing an article with no clear picture of what you are trying to convey. I'm not an atheist nor am I a bible thumper but I did, and will again, vote for a President that supports science. I haven't been to church since I was a kid and I'm not going to shove religion down my kids throat as some parents do. If they choose to believe in the bible and prayer, then they can make that choice themselves. I see the bible as I see other non-fiction books, a perception and interpretation of one's person view. As for how old the earth is, I believe it's pretty dang old.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: Michael Caspers

Thank you Allen for a great insightful article. It is nice to see something in the Miner that makes sense. I'm sure that Marco knows how old the earth is but that would be at odds with his Christian suporters thinking and I think he wants to keep them on board until the next election.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: Head Scratcher

Well Alan, it appears that your buy-in level with biblical-based creationism is virtually nonexistent.

How can that be?

Obviously you and Rich are now on a required regimen of Sunday morning creationism and I, for one, stand in awe at what just the two of you can wrought in a mere 6 days -- sorta earth-like, huh?

But, I'm often left scratching my head in wonderment at the powers in the universe that give rise to such utter destruction of cellulose fiber and carbon molecules.

Must be the old adage "Nature brings balance to all things" -- lest we wind up buried in black stained fiber.

Keep up the good work.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: harris stein

The fact that the republican party will put up a man to run for president in 2016 who dismisses scientific inquiry into a whole smorgasborg of subjects doesn't say much for the republican party.

The goal of scientific inquiry is to solve all of lifes great mysteries. Contrary to what Christian fundamentalists say or believe, scientific inquiry doesn't diminish their beliefs, it can only strengthen them.

What the religious fundamentalists are afraid of is that scientific inquiry might actually prove that the Earth is on a warming climate trajectory and that it is caused by our over consumption of fossil fuels.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: Patriot WES

a simple statement of truth, "the age of the earth is one of the great mysteries" and you want to make a big deal out of it! Your liberalism is starting to show!

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: Leadership Why

Maybe we need to take care of our inner-space before we can be strong enough to successfully branch out to our outer-space?

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: pl .....

I would probably accept a President who believed the world was flat, if he didn't support murder of the unborn (at least let the children get a little older, without Big Pharma's destructive vaccines and psychotropic drugs, before giving them the choice to be chopped up and fed into meatgrinders, in some cases). And then there's the Federal Reserve, whose Board of Governors basically double as CEO's of that organisation's member banks - wolves guarding the chicken coup! And then we have the endless wars against ethereal enemies whose claimed figurehead was business partner to our last hero President. I care about reclaiming our sovereignty as a nation with regards to the money supply, and our rights, which have been brutally thugged from us by deceitful and monstrous government crimes.

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

We have folks right here in Mohave county who live in delusions of grandeur, believe in silly conspiracies such as the birthers, tea party looney tunes who think destroying america is a good thing, some still do not believe we have been to the moon, some will forever till their dying day believe the earth is only 6,000 years old! No hope exists for them, they have issues no one can fix!

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