Scientific or Bible Chronology—Which Merits Your Faith?
MOST persons who read the Bible, even casually, know that the human race is about six thousand years old. But they may not know what Bible texts point to that age. Perhaps you have seen in some Bibles the date 4004 B.C., in the marginal column at the first chapter of Genesis.
Do you know whether that date is correct, or what reasoning it is based on? Then what if you see a news item about a new radiocarbon measurement showing that an archaeological site was occupied by primitive men eight or nine thousand years ago? Do you wonder how certain the Biblical date for creation really is? Or does the thought cross your mind that maybe the evolutionists are right after all?
Conscientious students of the Bible know that its Author is an exact, painstaking timekeeper. They have followed the texts that give the exact number of years from one outstanding event to another. They know how the ancient chronology of mankind, kept only in the Bible, links up with reliable historical chronology, so that accurate dates can be put on the happenings recorded from Adam’s creation in 4026 B.C.E. onward.
More than this, they know that the Bible, as a prophetic book, often linked time features with future events that came to pass exactly in the year foretold. Many now living have personally witnessed the fulfillment of the long-range prophecy of the “times of the nations,” which extended into this twentieth century. They saw the outbreak of World War I in the predicted year 1914, ushering in the period of distress from which this world is destined never to recover. They now look to this decade for the completion of the six thousandth year of man’s existence. They are confidently hopeful that the seventh 1000-year day will bring the millennial reign of the Prince of Peace.
Mature Christians are familiar, through their study and experience, with the accurate chronology of the Bible. To them the idea that God could have been mistaken in the time of man’s creation, or that he would have been so careless in providing and preserving the record that we today would not have this vital information, is incredible. When scientific chronologies that contradict the Bible chronology are introduced, they say with calm confidence that the scientists must be wrong, because ‘God cannot lie.’—Titus 1:2.
Now, you may be one who does not share this confidence. You may wonder: Can we really put faith in the Bible account of man’s creation, when it seems so out of line with what scientists are learning? If the radiocarbon dates for early human settlements are correct, then the Bible dates must somehow be wrong, and how do we know where we are on the stream of time? Worse yet, if the Bible timetable is not reliable, maybe other things in the Bible are not trustworthy either. So can we really depend on it?
If dating by the radiocarbon clock makes you hesitate to accept wholeheartedly the Bible promises of a new order, we invite you to consider carefully the information presented in the preceding two articles. Do not credulously accept the opinions of scientists as the ultimate truth in matters that so vitally affect your future. Remember how often scientific “facts” of one generation have been discarded by the scientists of the next generation. Look at the radiocarbon theory itself, how many of its basic assumptions have had to be modified to bring it in line with recent studies. Without the support (sometimes very questionable) of samples dated by other means, radiocarbon dating would now be a very uncertain business. Would you consider it wise to abandon your faith in the Bible only to replace it with faith in a scientific theory as unsettled as this?
Carbon-14 Dates a Rickety Structure
The scientists who participated in the 1969 symposium at Uppsala came away with a feeling that progress was being made in understanding and surmounting their many problems. They took particular satisfaction in comparing radiocarbon dating and tree-ring counting. Even though the tree-ring chronology has pushed the radiocarbon dates rather badly out of shape, their proponents did come to an agreement. They were able to construct a mutually consistent correction curve, and to give plausible explanations for the major trends of deviations.
However, it may well be that neither of these scientific chronologies are as independent as their supporters would like to believe. Perhaps they are depending on circular reasoning. Do the radiocarbon workers believe their dating is correct because the tree-ring laboratories verify it? And are the tree-ring researchers satisfied that their master chronology is correct because the radiocarbon dates fit on it? As long as they are within the channel marked by historical buoys, they both steer a reasonable course, but in the misty depths beyond, they sail away with no constraint but to keep one another in sight.
Lest you think this is an unfair judgment, just took at some of the crosswinds and countercurrents that the radiocarbon pilot has to face:
(1) The half-life of radiocarbon is not as certainly known as the scientists would like.
(2) The cosmic rays, never steady, may have been much stronger or weaker in the past 10,000 years than is generally believed.
(3) Solar flares change the level of radiocarbon—how much in the past nobody knows.
(4) The earth’s magnetic field changes fitfully on a short time scale, and so radically over thousands of years that even the north and south poles are reversed. Scientists do not know why.
(5) Radiocarbon scientists admit that an “Ice Age” could have affected the radiocarbon content of the air, by changing the volume and temperature of the ocean water, but they are not sure how great these changes were.
(6) They ignore all the evidence, both scientific and Biblical, for a worldwide deluge forty-three centuries ago, so they do not recognize the drastic effects that such a cataclysmic event must have had on the samples they measure from that period.
(7) Mixing of radiocarbon between the atmosphere and ocean can be affected by changes in climate or weather, but no one knows how much.
(8) Mixing of radiocarbon between the surface layers and the deep ocean has an effect, very imperfectly understood.
(9) The count of tree rings, used to calibrate the radiocarbon clock, is cast into doubt by the possibility of greatly different climatic conditions in past ages.
(10) The radiocarbon content of old trees may be changed by diffusion of sap and resin into the heartwood.
(11) Buried samples can either gain or lose radiocarbon through leaching by groundwater or by contamination.
(12) It is never certain that the sample selected to date an event truly corresponds with it. It is only more or less probable, in the light of the archaeological evidence at the site.
This is by no means a complete listing of the pitfalls that beset radiocarbon dating, but it should be enough to give a person pause before he throws out his Bible. Many of them would not seriously affect dates in the recent past, but their influence mounts up with time. So the method works reasonably well up to 2,500 or 3,500 years ago, but as we go farther and farther into the past the results become more and more doubtful. We could not expect that the radiocarbon clock would run the same before the Deluge as it does today. And it would be surprising if it could settle down completely within a thousand years after such a blow.
Note particularly the last point on the above list. Even if everything else about radiocarbon dating were correct, if some flecks of charcoal dug up at the site of Jarmo in Iraq are found to be 6,700 years old, does that prove the Bible wrong? Does it not rest on the interpretation of the archaeologist who collected the sample? Is he infallible? Even if he assured you that his sample is unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably genuine, is his belief a sound basis for your faith?
In weighing the evidence, do not overlook the most significant result of radiocarbon dating, namely: Of all the dates found for samples associated with man’s presence, the vast majority, perhaps more than 90 percent, have turned out to be less than 6,000 years ago.
If the evolutionists’ ideas about man’s having been around for a million years were correct, surely we would expect to find a much larger number of artifacts dated back 10,000 or 20,000 years, within the range of carbon 14. Why do nearly all the specimens fall within just the past 6,000 years? We do not expect a scientific measurement to speak with the authority of a trusted eyewitness. It can only offer circumstantial evidence. But statistically speaking, the radiocarbon clock throws the weight of its testimony overwhelmingly on the side of the creation account, and against the evolution hypothesis, of man’s origin.
Weak Links in Tree-Ring Chronology
On the face of it, the method of counting tree rings seems to be much more straightforward than carbon-14 measurements. However, we find on closer inspection that there are weaknesses in the chain of overlapping patterns. No two trees have exactly the same pattern of thick and thin rings. Missing rings have to be supplied to all the patterns, in order to fit them together. Are we to believe that the analyst’s judgment is always correct in deciding where to put the missing rings? If they were inserted in different places, is it possible that the overlap might fit better in another part of the record? We are told that sometimes a carbon-14 date already taken on the wood helps put it in the right place. Without being prejudiced by this information, or perhaps being prejudiced toward trying to fit the total record into a shorter time, is it possible that another analyst would accomplish an equally good match? These are crucial questions, if we are to decide whether to put more faith in a count of tree rings than in the count of years recorded by the writers of the Bible.
As with all scientific conclusions, there are limits to the reliability of tree-ring dating. It appears that some trees can count the years, allowing for some stumbling over missed rings and double rings, and they hold their count long after they have died. But dead trees do not, of themselves, tell when they started or when they stopped counting. The man who pieces the patterns together has to decide that, and his opinions and prejudices cannot be excluded from this subjective decision. Would you be willing to risk your life for the proposition that he had made no error?
Would you be willing to take the word of any scientist, however prestigious, that radiocarbon dating with the support of tree-ring counts have now made it certain that there was no flood in Noah’s time such as the Bible describes? Jesus Christ said there was such a flood. (Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26, 27) God himself has had this account recorded in his inspired Word. Whose authority would you rather accept in making a life-or-death decision?
Superiority of Bible Chronology
Compare these scientific systems of chronology with that in the Bible: “Shem was a hundred years old when he became father to Arpachshad two years after the deluge. . . . And Arpachshad lived thirty-five years. Then he became father to Shelah. . . . And Shelah lived thirty years. Then he became father to Eber.” (Gen. 11:10-26) This is a chronology kept by men who could count, without missing any years or counting any twice, and who could keep written records of their count. And we too can count, and we can add up the years in their record from the Flood until now, 4,340 of them. Is this not more credible than counting and correlating rings in trees long dead, or counting layers of sand, or trying to balance all the factors of uncertainty in a radioactive clock?
Bible chronology has a unique superiority over scientific chronologies. It goes into the future. The radiocarbon clock runs down, ever slower and slower, but without any end point. The tree-ring chronology stops with last year’s growth. But the Bible chronology directs our attention to a definite point, still future—the end of six 1,000-year days of man’s history, as counted by his Creator.
The Bible’s past record of forecasting future dates is impressive. Biblical chronology was published by Jehovah’s Christian witnesses’ foretelling 1914 as the date for the tremendous change in earth’s affairs that then took place. Said the New York World on August 30, 1914: “The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For a quarter of a century past, through preachers and through press, the ‘International Bible Students’ . . . have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914. ‘Look out for 1914!’ has been the cry of the . . . evangelists.”
That year 1914 was a date so plainly marked that modern historians cannot overlook it. And it is no mere coincidence that this decade is marked by many forward-looking scientists as the one that will see the world facing chaos and final disaster from a dozen inexorable forces that already are converging fatally upon it. What success of the radiocarbon clock can compare with this record of the Bible in pinpointing dates?
Dr. Säve-Söderbergh, of the Institute of Egyptology at the University of Uppsala, recounted this anecdote at the symposium:
“Carbon-14 dating was being discussed at a symposium on the prehistory of the Nile Valley. A famous American colleague, Professor Brew, briefly summarized a common attitude among archaeologists toward it, as follows:
“‘If a carbon-14 date supports our theories, we put it in the main text. If it does not entirely contradict them, we put it in a footnote. And if it is completely “out of date”, we just drop it.’
“Few archaeologists who have concerned themselves with absolute chronology are innocent of having sometimes applied this method, and many are still hesitant to accept carbon-14 dates without reservation.”18
Worldly scientists are still reluctant to accept the results of radiocarbon dating, when no more harm would be done than to upset their cherished theories. Then should not Christians with far stronger reason be reluctant to accept as truth a scientific chronology that is being revised constantly in its basic theory, leaning for support first on one crutch and then another? Why should they accept it when its results flatly contradict a Biblical chronology that has been maintained by scrupulous chroniclers and protected by divine supervision, that has stood the tests of both historical and prophetic accuracy, for thousands of years? Surely it is the Bible, which shows we are living in the “last days” of this wicked system and that God’s righteous new order is near—it is the chronology found in this book that merits our faith.
1. Radiocarbon Dating, by W. F. Libby, 1952, p. 72.
2. Nobel Symposium 12: Radiocarbon Variations and Absolute Chronology, 1970, p. 25.
3. E. K. Ralph and H. N. Michael, Archaeometry, Vol. 10, 1967, p. 7.
4. Radiocarbon Dating, p. 41.
5. Nobel Symposium 12, p. 522.
6. Radiocarbon Dating, p. 29.
7. Ibid., p. 32.
8. Nobel Symposium 12, p. 576.
9. C. W. Ferguson, Science, Vol. 159, Feb. 23, 1968, p. 840.
10. Ibid., p. 845.
11. Ibid., p. 842.
12. Ibid., p. 839.
13. Nobel Symposium 12, p. 272.
14. Ibid., p. 273.
15. Ibid., p. 167.
16. Ibid., p. 216.
17. Ibid., p. 219.
18. Ibid., p. 35.
[Picture on page 17]
The structure of carbon-14 dates was found to be so rickety farther back in time that it needed emergency support—tree-ring counting. Will you put faith in such a structure?