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When scientists at a Maryland museum announced the discovery of the fossil of a whale skull on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia, they calculated the age to be approximately 15 million years old.

The age, according to a Washington Post report Monday, was determined by the geologic formation in which it was found, the Calvert Formation.

Scientists call this the relative method of dating, which assumes the fossils in a particular sedimentary layer are within the same geological epoch.

But how do scientists know the age of the formation? Most believe various methods of radiometric dating, based on the rate of nuclear decay of radioactive elements, provide a reliable estimate.

Georgia Purdom, however, a researcher with Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis who earned a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Ohio State University, contends research by creation scientists has shown that the decay rate is variable, making radiometric dating an unreliable method.

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“All radiometric dating methods are based on unverifiable assumptions about the past,” said Purdom, whose scientific research focuses on the roles of natural selection and mutation in microbial populations.

Not all skeptics of Darwinian theory agree on the age of the earth, however, and some don’t make it a point of emphasis.

“The most important question for those interested in origins is not how old this fossil is, but it’s whether the complexity of whales points to design, or chance,” said Casey Luskin of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the organization known for its promotion of the theory of intelligent design.

Luskin is the research coordinator for the institute’s Center for Science and Culture, which in its description of intelligent design says “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

“In my opinion, whale complexity points to design,” he told WND. “While I think whales go back millions of years, challenging their age distracts from the more important question of whether life is the result of unguided evolution, or intelligent design.”

Dating dirt

The whale skull, about six feet long and an estimated 1,000 pounds, was excavated July 20 at Stratford Hall, Va., on the grounds of the home of Virginia’s Lee family and the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

John Nance, the paleontology collections manager at the Calvert Marine Museum in Southern Maryland told the Washington Post the fossil’s age was based on its discovery in the Calvert Formation.

The Post said scientists who have been studying the Calvert Formation for more than 100 years have dated the various layers of rock, dirt and sediment, making it possible to determine the age of a fossil in relation to where it is discovered.

Purdom, a speaker this week at the International Conference on Creationism in Pittsburgh, which began Monday, told WND the consensus among her colleagues there is that the Earth is 6,000 years old, based on the Genesis account in the Bible and scientific experimentation she says is “consistent with the Earth being less than 4.5 billion years old.”

Walt Brown, who holds a doctorate from MIT, like most creation scientists concludes the global flood recorded in Genesis 7 is the mechanism that created the geologic, astronomical and biological phenomena witnessed today. What appears to be millions or billions of years of strata, he contends, was a landscape that was dramatically changed in a short period of time by a global deluge.

Purdom argues that any dating method is based on assumptions about the past. Hers, she acknowledges, is based on her reading of Genesis and her belief that the Bible is “the infallible word of God.”

“Evidence is always interpreted in light of your worldview,” she said, whatever one’s beliefs about God or convictions about how the Bible should be interpreted.

“When you’re starting with nothing, and your own ideas about the past, you can come up with whatever you want,” she said.

Purdom said creation scientists “have a starting point to calibrate some of these methods and figure out the times, whereas (other scientists) really don’t.”

“Is it God and his word which is correct about the past, or is it man, who wasn’t there?” she asked.

Many who believe in the authority of the Genesis account interpret it differently, however.  Evangelical Christian astrophysicist Hugh Ross, founder of Reasons to Believe, concludes life didn’t develop through a purposeless, random process, but he also believes the earth is billions of years old.

Ross earned a Bachelor of Science in physics from the University of British Columbia and an Masters of Science and Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto. He was a postdoctoral research fellow for five years at Caltech, studying quasars and galaxies.

Purdom, who concludes that the majority of fossils were formed as a result of the biblical flood approximately 4,500 years ago, has published papers in the Journal of Neuroscience (under her maiden name Hickman), the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research and the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. She is a member of the American Society for Microbiology and American Society for Cell Biology.

Brown, a former atheist, is a West Point graduate and a National Science Foundation fellow. He served as a tenured associate professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was chief of Science and Technology Studies at the Air War College.

Whale of a find

The specimen discovered in the Potomac, the Post reported, was identified as a baleen whale based on skull size and shape. Nance said it belongs to a family of whales that is extinct. However, its shape and appearance is comparable to a modern-day minke whale.

Nance said that scientists won’t be able to conclusively determine the whale’s species until the entire fossil is excavated, cleaned and examined.

Purdom commented that according to “the evolutionary worldview,” a whale of that purported age should look different than whales today.

“What we see in the fossil record is very similar to what we see today, and that’s consistent with the biblical worldview,” she said.

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