ONCE MORE, dear reader, your Curmudgeon brings you the view from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. They’ve posted an article dealing with a problem they have concerning tree ring chronology. This subject has the fancy name of Dendrochronology. The Wikipedia article says:
[T]ree-ring dating is the method of scientific dating based on the analysis of tree-ring growth patterns.
For the entire period of a tree’s life, a year-by-year record or ring pattern is formed that reflects the climatic conditions in which the tree grew. … Trees from the same region will tend to develop the same patterns of ring widths for a given period. … Following these tree-ring patterns from living trees back through time, chronologies can be built up, both for entire regions, and for sub-regions of the world.
Fully anchored chronologies which extend back more than 10,000 years exist for river oak trees from South Germany (from the Main and Rhine rivers). Another fully anchored chronology which extends back 8500 years exists for the bristlecone pine in the Southwest US (White Mountains of California). Furthermore, the mutual consistency of these two independent dendrochronological sequences has been confirmed by comparing their radiocarbon and dendrochronological ages.
Putting this in our own words, consider two long-lived trees that each lived in the same area. The Bristlecone pine is ideal for this, because they can live to be 5,000 years old, and are among the oldest living organisms. Lets assume that each tree lived for 1,000 years, one after the other; but before the first tree died the second tree had begun its life. Assume further that there was an overlap period of 50 years during which they were both alive — the first tree being almost 1,000 years old when the second tree was young. But now both trees are dead.
A core can be taken from each tree, on which the rings will appear as stripes. The cores are then compared. If the last 50 rings of one tree can be matched up with an early set of 50 rings from another tree, then the cores of the two trees can be considered as one long core (with a slight overlap), providing a continuous tree-ring record of nearly 2,000 years.
As the Wikipedia article says, reliable chronologies have been established that go back several thousands of years. This is a problem for creationists, which brings us to the article at the website of Answers In Genesis: Biblical Chronology and the 8,000-Year-Long Bristlecone Pine Tree-Ring Chronology.
The author is John Woodmorappe, M.A. Geology, B.A. Biology. We aren’t told where those degrees were awarded, or when. Wikipedia has an entry for John Woodmorappe — can there be more than one? — which says:
John Woodmorappe (born October 1954) is the pen name of an author who has published several articles and books with the creation science groups Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. His main works are Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study and The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods. He has also written several articles in creationist journals.
Okay, now you know something about the topic of the article and the author. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
A literal understanding of the biblical chronologies places the Flood no earlier than about 2,500 B.C. and the creation no earlier than about 6,000 B.C. (Allowance for unlisted names in the biblical chronologies pushes back these dates, but not much). Yet the Bristlecone Pine (hereafter BCP) long chronology, comprised of hundreds of live and dead trees, is over 8,000 years long. The presence of fossiliferous sediment under the BCPs rules out any of them being pre-Flood. So, unless we choose to push the Flood back many thousands of years, effectively disregarding biblical chronologies, how can the conflicting chronologies be reconciled? I have studied this question for many years.
He lays out the problem fairly well. There are too many tree rings — far too many for the limited number of years since the Flood. The observable facts appear to contradict a literal interpretation of scripture. How does Woodmorappe handle it? In our experience, most creationists just ignore such problems and stick with scripture. But this author is different. First he discusses how tree-ring chronology works. He does that reasonably well. Then he tries one approach to resolving his dilemma:
The over 8,000 years of BCP [Bristlecone Pine] chronology presuppose that no more than one ring ever formed per year.
But he abandons that, admirably enough, because all the evidence is that those trees produce only one ring per year. Then he takes another shot:
Could the weather patterns right after the Flood, probably quite different from those of recent decades, have triggered flushes of multiple ring growth in the BCPs of the White Mountains, California — the ones that form the inferred 8,000 year chronology? This seems unlikely, as BCPs already grow in a variety of montane environments in the western U.S., yet none of them is known to have ever produced more than one ring per year.
So he gives up on that. Then he flirts with another idea:
Could the genetics of BCPs, nowadays so strongly resistant to multiple ring growth per year, have allowed for such growth in the early post-Flood period? It would not be easy to test this hypotheses, if only because BCP generation times are so long.
Wow! He abandons that because it can’t be tested. What kind of creationist is this? Then he says:
The challenge is not simply to reduce 8,000 years of rings to 4,000 years of actual time. … [T]here must have been over 5,000 BCP rings generated in under 1,000 years after the Flood, followed by the remaining 3,000 rings generated in the expected 3,000 years. This would have required 5 rings consistently per year for the first post-Diluvian millennium, which, on a sustained basis, is almost impossible.
Another dead end. But he tries again. And again. Then he presents an idea we have difficulty understanding — something about re-interpreting carbon-14 data. That’s the one approach for which he has hope. He concludes the article by saying:
The 8,000-year-long BCP chronology appears to be correctly crossmatched, and there is no evidence that bristlecone pines can put on more than one ring per year. The best approach for collapsing this chronology, one that takes into the account the evidence from C-14 dates, is one that factors the existence of migrating ring-disturbing events. Much more must be learned about this phenomenon before this hypothesis can be developed further.
What we find interesting about this article is that the author not only understands that tree-ring dating presents a genuine problem for the young-earth chronology, but he also pursues an evidence-based approach to solving the problem. And, most remarkably, he drops a line of inquiry when the evidence goes against him. In the end, Woodmorappe candidly acknowledges that he doesn’t have it all worked out yet. This attitude is most unusual to find in creationist literature. It may even be unique.
But how will Woodmorappe handle it if his carbon-14 hypothesis doesn’t work out? That should be the real test. For the moment, he has hopes. Woodmorappe seems like a decent fellow, and we wish him well.
See also: Tree Rings Are Proof of Noah’s Flood.
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