There Hasn’t Been Enough Time

Yes there has. Period.

This particular anti-evolutionist argument pops up in two variations: “4 billion years isn’t long enough”, and “Millions of Years is a hoax”. Both are different arguments, and require different rebuttals.

The former is an argument that evolution as we see it today is too slow a process to result in the amount of biodiversity we see on earth. While this may seem respectable on the surface, the only way it can be made is to completely ignore the incomprehensible amount of time that is “four billion years,” and the similarly incomprehensible amount of area that is “on earth”.

To attempt to put that into perspective, that’s an entire planets chemical and biological ecosystem running for fifty million times as long as your entire life, for four-hundred thousand times as long as human civilisation itself, or for thirteen hundred times the amount of time it took us to evolve from tree-dwelling apes. In the face of such extreme time spans, the only real response to “not enough time” is “wait, you’re serious?”.

The speed of evolution we’ve directly observed in nature is most assuredly not too slow for such a massive amount of time: here in reality, the speeds we’ve seen are quite a few orders of magnitude faster than what common descent would require. The reasons for it being so much faster are a combination of selective reporting (we only see evolution that happens fast enough for us to record in our lifetimes, which is the very fastest sub-group of evolution), and genetic variation (modern, sexual species can adapt very fast simply by leveraging the variation within their population and the power of recessive genes).

What this argument usually boils down to is not “four billion years isn’t long enough”, it’s “no amount of time is long enough,” aka the Argument from Incredulity. Aside from being a logical fallacy, this particular argument would require some mechanism that will prevent the accumulation of mutations from resulting in large amounts of macroscopic change over enough time: the elusive “kind-barrier” for which anti-evolutionists never seem to be able to produce evidence of existence.

The second and far more common variation on this argument is a religiously motivated one. Several religions, including Christianity and Islam, have creation narratives that imply that humans were created early in the piece, and started going through the whole “civilisation” phase very shortly after that, which rather contradicts what science has to say on the matter and caps the maximum age of the planet at somewhere between 6 and 15 thousand years old.

Now before I go into the reasons this is untenable on a level that puts simple evolutionism-denialism to shame, I want to draw attention to the word “narrative” above. Religious creation stories are stories, they were written as stories, and I have heard highly convincing theological arguments from religious individuals that they should be read as such. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to go into those arguments, but suffice it to say I don’t think being a Christian means (or should mean) being a Young Earth Creationist (and likewise for Islam, and any other religion with a Young Earth subset). Young Earth Creationism might be religiously motivated, but it is not religion, and by trashing it here I mean no offense to the actual religious views it parasites off of (on the other hand, if you want to offend religious viewpoints that’s absolutely fine by me too. Total apathy means I’m pretty easy to get along with).

Shorter me: I don’t believe any religion is perfectly compatible with an acceptance of reality, else I’d belong to that religion, but I do believe many of them are not incompatible, double-negative notwithstanding.

Now, there’s lots of reasons Young Earthism is flipping bullcriminy: far too many for a single post on the matter, so I may intersperse Young Earth arguments with my anti-evolution misinformation posts in future. But for now, I think I’ll take some advice and go with Meteorites. (This is actually an argument I’d been using long before I read that post, but it has an awesome moon picture, hense the link)

That’s a map of the major meteorite impact craters on earth… well, the ones we know about and can positively identify as impact structures. As you can see, there’s loads: 160, to be exact. And they’re almost all on land, because it’s a lot harder to find underwater craters. Not taking into account erosion and tectonic plate movement or the fact that a water impact doesn’t leave a mark, 450 impacts would be a very conservative estimate.

Here’s an even more dramatic illustration of what I’m getting at:

That’s the far side of the moon. The moon has 1/6th of our gravity, so it’s likely only been hit by 1/6th the number of meteorites as us. There are over 250 craters with a diameter of 100 km or more on the moon. The math isn’t terribly difficult, and it gives a number 3 times larger than 450 (using a huge cut-off, too. 250 OVER 100km wide), giving us a good idea of how thoroughly erosion has affected our plant.

Now, on a young earth, even the tiny value of 450 impacts is one impact every two decades or so. And yet we’ve only seen a small number of confirmed meteorite strikes in all of recorded history, and never of the size we’re talking about here. So that doesn’t make sense for a start.

The other option for Young Earthers, and one a few denialist organisation have gladly clung to, is that the impacts all occurred all at once in some sort of global catastrophe. Indeed, a few creation stories conveniently describe catastrophic events that can be have meteors shanghaied in with a bit of imagination. But many of these impacts would be enough to cause a dramatic local extinction: several are big enough to cause a global extinction, and one or two are large enough to scythe all life bigger than an insect off the planet. All of these at once would make the earth completely unliveable for millennia. Bacteria would have a hard time surviving. Roaches wouldn’t stand a chance.

(And of course there is the question of why the creation narratives failed to mention the country-sized rocks falling from the sky. You’d think something like that would elicit comment)

Life on a young earth would have been pummelled into submission years ago. The earth is old. More than old enough to support evolution and common descent.

And unlike biological evolution, which requires a bit of thought to understand, the evidence for an old earth is as simple and incontrovertible as “Rocks Fall Everyone Dies”.


“Assuming nothing catastophically stupid happens, the third Dev Video should be up by this time next week, week after that at the latest.”

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  1. #1 by janeyqdoe on February 13, 2012 - 4:46 pm

    Long story short- giant rock from sky is incompatible with life.

    Really, if 4 billion years isn’t long enough for evolution, then what is it long enough for? And how damned long do they expect evolution to take? Maybe the ‘4’ at the front confuses them into thinking it’s just a wee, small little number.

  2. #2 by Gravel on February 14, 2012 - 2:04 am

    It doesn’t seem long enough to me either, at a gut level, but that’s not really the sort of thing that guts are good at deciding. Guts aren’t really very good at aggregate statistics or large probabilities (especially of things we don’t really understand on a deep, intuitive level). They’re better at the immediate, the personal, and the subjective – basically, the exact opposite of evolutionary biology. (I do think there’s a place for guts in science, especially in “smell tests” for bigotry in assumptions or methods. Like that study that “showed” that 37% of women’s suicides can be attributed to abortions. That’s so ridiculous you don’t really need to break out the data.)

    I would have guessed longer for the start of life, and slightly longer for the evolution of impressive macro animals. That is, if I were given the evolution timeline, without numbers, I’d have expected it to take 6-7 billion years for *any* life to show up, and then I’d expect to see longer development periods for eukaryotes, especially big ones. But this isn’t based on anything *real*, just a sense of unease with the dizzying parade.

    But the more I learn about the big phenotypic changes that can emerge from eensie genotypic changes, the less weird it feels, so if it’s any consolation, science makes it better. Whereas more YEC just requires more and more fabrication to keep the “theory” together.

  3. #3 by Gravel on February 14, 2012 - 4:34 am

    Er, “you don’t really need to break out the data *before getting suspicious*.” You do need to break out the data in order to dissect what torture was done to get to those conclusions.

  4. #4 by blah d blah on April 15, 2013 - 1:01 pm

    Am I missing something? This article said nothing about how all life on earth could have evolved in only 4 billions years… NOTHING! But hey, if you want to believe everything arranged itself from a goo or a rock – GO AHEAD!

  5. #5 by ququasar on April 18, 2013 - 12:52 pm

    I’m sorry, I kinda figured “random mutation + natural selection” was the obvious response to the question of “how”. Y’know, since we’re talking about evolution. This article was penned to deal with the idea that those processes weren’t fast enough, given the age of the earth.

    However, since you made me laugh by responding this article with the statement “only 4 billion years”, I’ll respond in more detail on the main page.

  6. #6 by on April 20, 2013 - 7:06 pm

    Popyt na usługi detektywistyczne jest we współczesnym świecie agencja detektywistyczna warszawa wybitnie wysoki.

  7. #7 by Maddison on April 26, 2013 - 11:39 am

    Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.
    Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! However, how can we

  8. #8 by Chady on June 18, 2013 - 11:21 pm

    The article doesn’t include the hypothesis that Noah could have built a giant diamond umbrella that sheltered all animal species.

  9. #9 by слуховые аппараты киев on December 17, 2013 - 5:15 pm

    Привет , Аккуратные сообщение .
    Там в проблема наряду с ваш сайт в веб исследователь, мая тест это?
    IE еще является площадка лидер
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    этой проблемы.

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