Diamonds Are Forever

….or at least for a long time. A very, very long time.

A couple of weekends ago, I visited the Nature of Diamonds exhibit currently showing at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Being a science-geek, I was more interested in the chemistry and geology displays than in the jewelry. Of course, my Inner Creationist (an imaginary friend I acquired from reading way too much back in the mid-90s) kept cringing every time a placard matter-of-factly referred to some rock or formation as being so many hundreds of millions, or billions, of years old. Because diamonds are really old: they form deep beneath the oldest chunks (called “cratons”) of continental crust, because it is only there that both temperature and pressure are right for carbon to crystallize in that particular way, and are later erupted to the surface by volcanoes. We find diamonds in the solidified remnants of the magma column. Mining them often involves digging enormous circular pits, crushing the rock and separating out the tiny fraction that is wanted. The yield of gems is miniscule — on the order of grams per tonne of rock excavated.

The Big Hole, Kimberley, South Africa

So you can see how finding diamonds depends on understanding the processes by which they form and are emplaced. It’s a historical narrative, placed within the larger context of plate tectonics and earth history. And of course, similar tales can be told for all the other economically important minerals — the ores of gold, silver, copper, aluminum and iron; for petroleum; etc, etc. Tectonic action; long periods of heating and compression; penetration by hydrothermal fluids; exposure to weathering at the surface, followed by deep burial — these are the processes that form the diverse minerals of which the crust is made, and concentrate them to the point that we can extract useful materials.

Now, young-earth creationists are always talking about their “alternative” view of earth history; about how both creationists and evolutionists are looking at the same evidence, but interpreting it differently due to their respective presuppositions. I’m not clear on what the creationist view is — as far as I know, there isn’t a single worked-out account accepted by a broad consensus of “creation scientists”, but they all seem to agree that the Genesis Flood played a big part in it. But surely, there should be some test we could perform that would tell us which general paradigm was the right one!

However, for a cautionary tale on what happens when young-earth assumptions meet the reality of field work, read the account of Glenn Morton, an evangelical Christian and young-earth creationist who went to work in the oil business — and almost lost his faith entirely, when the raw data he was looking at, of subsurface geological structures, could not be reconciled with the flood geology he had been taught:

This was where I first became exposed to the problems geology presented to the idea of a global flood. I would see extremely thick (30,000 feet) sedimentary layers. One could follow these beds from the surface down to those depths where they were covered by vast thicknesses of sediment. I would see buried mountains which had experienced thousands of feet of erosion, which required time. Yet the sediments in those mountains had to have been deposited by the flood, if it was true. I would see faults that were active early but not late and faults that were active late but not early. I would see karsts and sinkholes (limestone erosion) which occurred during the middle of the sedimentary column (supposedly during the middle of the flood) yet the flood waters would have been saturated in limestone and incapable of dissolving lime.

So, here’s my challenge to young-earthers: find some mining or exploration company that’s making big bucks finding diamonds, or oil, or gold, or whatever, using Young-Earth Creation and Flood Geology as guiding principles, and then you’ll have something to brag about. Note: this must be a case where the young-earth/flood theory makes different predictions than the standard view. You don’t get to just say: “Same processes, only magically speeded up a million times”. You have to show that your “theory” produces, in at least some cases, better results than “main-stream” science. Put your money where your mouth is.

13. November 2008 by stevewatson
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