Physicist staunchly defends biblical creation
Jonathan Sarfati chats with Dr Russell Humphreys
Dr Humphreys was born in 1942 in Wyandotte, Michigan, USA, and was raised in a scientifically aware but non-Christian household. Not surprisingly, Russell himself always had a love for science, and in 1959, he was one of the 40 winners of the Westinghouse National Science Talent Search.
He received a B.S. degree in physics at Duke University in 1963, and a Ph.D. in physics from Louisiana State University in 1972, on cosmic rays and ultrahigh energy nucleon–nucleon interactions. For the next 6 years he worked in the High Voltage Laboratory of General Electric Company. Then he worked 22 years at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, in geophysics, nuclear physics, and high-voltage particle beam accelerators.
Dr Humphreys and his wife Bonnie have three children and three grandchildren.
For the last four decades, Dr Russ Humphreys has been in the forefront of biblical (‘young-earth’) creationist research, in geochemistry, radiometric dating, and astronomy. We interviewed him back in 1993,1 before many of our current readers were born. But he has contributed so much since then that we thought it worth another interview.
Why would a busy physicist and family man devote so much time and energy to biblical creation? This actually goes back to when he first became a Christian, as a 27-year-old physicist studying for his doctorate. A major part of this was “exposure to the word of God.”
Russ and his wife were living in a log cabin in Frisco, Colorado, then a small mountain village of 200 people. Leaders of a nearby church presented a Bible study in their cabin. Russ says:
The Bible study prompted me to read the gospel of Mark, asking God to convince me if it was true. Within a few weeks, He did just that. For a few more weeks I was under conviction of my sins. Then in the woods near Frisco, I gave up and asked Jesus Christ to save me. He did that, too.
Science and the Bible
Like many people, Dr Humphreys was indoctrinated in evolution. As a teenager, he saw that evolution was totally incompatible with the Bible. And because he thought that evolution was true and the Bible false, he says, “I was a professing atheist until I was 27.”
He hasn’t changed his mind that evolution and the Bible don’t mix. But he strongly affirms that science is very compatible with the Bible. Even further, true science strongly supports the Bible and opposes evolution. In fact, he says, “scientific evidence for a young world is the best support for the Bible’s history,” and Dr Humphreys has worked on much of this himself. He explains why this is important, and some of the best evidence:
The age of the world is a critical issue for understanding the Bible and its history, and the idea of evolution over billions of years cannot tolerate a short timescale. Some of the items of evidence are: galaxies wind themselves up too fast, comets disintegrate too quickly, not enough mud on the sea floor, not enough sodium in the sea, the earth’s magnetic field is decaying too fast, biological material decays too fast, too much helium in minerals, and too much carbon-14 in deep geologic strata.
Dr Humphreys explains these lucidly in his book and video, Evidence for a Young World.2 I asked him for more detail on a few of them.
Magnetic field decay
The earth has a strong magnetic field, and all sides agree that it’s generated by electric currents. However, “Basic electromagnetic physics says that once a current has been set up, it should decay steadily.” Dr Humphreys explains that the data support this:
The energy of the electric current has been steadily decaying with a half-life of about 800 years. The amount of current (in amperes) has decayed with a 1600-year half-life. Note that the magnetic field intensity varies from place to place and behaved erratically at some times. Archaeomagnetic measurements (magnetizations of bricks and pottery) show that the field intensity has been decaying steadily for the past 1000 years.
Working backwards even only 30,000 years, the electric current would have been strong enough to melt the earth! So, as Russ explains, evolutionists have tried to come up with a self-generating ‘dynamo’ to keep the field going for billions of years. However, “Although they have used supercomputers and large laboratory experiments, they haven’t come up with anything more than sophisticated ‘hand-waving’.”
But there is more to the issue than the simple theory. Measurements of the magnetic field show that before the steady decay it “reversed direction every few days during the year of the Genesis Flood.” So in the 1980s and 90s, Dr Humphreys proposed a theory that would explain how God created the earth and other planets with an electric current and magnetic field that would decay. He also proposed how the catastrophic plate tectonics during the Flood would cause rapid reversals.3
One criticism of creation science is that it makes no successful predictions. This is especially amusing to Russ, because his theory most definitely did! One was that “the earth’s field reversed over a few days rather than over thousands of years.” This was vindicated by the discovery that the field had reversed in the few days it took a thin lava flow to cool top to bottom.4
Other predictions concerned the planets. Contrary to evolutionary ideas, Russ predicted that “Mars and the moon started with strong magnetic fields, but these have decayed now.” Later, planetary probes discovered magnetism in some of their rocks, possible only if they once had fields.
In 1984, he predicted the fields of the ‘gas giants’, Uranus and Neptune. The Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Uranus in 1986, and measured that the field was just as strong as Dr Humphreys predicted. This was “100,000 times stronger than the dynamo theory prediction. I couldn’t find specific dynamo theory predictions before 1986 for Neptune. But after that date scientists suggested that its field would be like that of Uranus. Voyager confirmed that in 1989, along with my 1984 prediction.” Likewise, “the Messenger probe in 2012 found that Mercury’s field was just what I had predicted.”5
Dr Humphreys makes it clear that these successful predictions would not have worked “unless the time scale was about 6,000 years and the original created material was what the Bible specifies, namely water.”
Radiometric dating—helium in zircons
Dr Humphreys was a part of the very important RATE project (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth). This helped to answer a major old-earth argument: radiometric dating. His work concerned small, hard mineral crystals called zircons, which often contain radioactive elements. As these decay, they produce helium. This is a gas we are familiar with, because it fills lighter-than-air balloons. But we also know that helium leaks out quite quickly, because its small, hard atoms just get through everything. The hotter the material, the faster it leaks.
Dr Humphreys measured amounts of helium in zircons, and compared it to the amount expected from the decay and helium leakage measured in the lab:6
Zircon crystals from a borehole in New Mexico have a ‘helium leak’ age of about 6000 years, give or take about 2000 years. In contrast, the uranium-lead age of the crystals is about 1.5 billion years, assuming that decay rate is the same slow rate we measure today.
The only way I and my RATE colleagues can resolve the discrepancy is by saying that God greatly speeded up nuclear decay during the year of the Genesis Flood, and possibly in another episode before the Flood.
Russ has answered a number of critics, and further corroborated his work by diffusion research with another inert gas, argon.7
Along with radiometric dating, probably the other leading argument for billions of years is the time it supposedly takes light to reach us from distant stars. Dr Humphreys has been working on models that start from the biblical text and invoke Einsteinian relativity. He says:
My third cosmology is still a work in progress. It is more biblical than the previous two, paying much more attention to Genesis Chapter 1. I’ve noticed three details of the account that strongly suggest the speed of light in the heavens until the end of the 4th day was much greater than today, while the speed of light on Earth during that period was what it is today. That means that time in the heavens then was much faster than time on Earth. Things became normal after the fourth day, and the change to normalcy turns out to take care of the problems (such as an enormous blue shift) we would otherwise see in the light coming toward us. So we can get the light here to Earth within the time allotted. In all this, I’m pretty sure about what God says He did, but I only have some vague scientific ideas about how He did it.8
Advice for Christian students wanting a scientific career?
Dr Humphreys says:
Go for it! In the US, there are still a few good Christian colleges that teach a young world and have a good science department. I would try to get my undergraduate education at one of those. Then you will have to go to a secular grad school, but with a good young-earth science grounding as an undergraduate, that should present no problem.
I wouldn’t try to advertise my young-earth background at grad school. Just tell yourself you’re there to learn good science, not to convert your professors. Almost all creation researchers went through secular grad schools. Trying to work in secular academia afterward could be tricky.9 I found that the industrial laboratories and some of the National Laboratories were not particularly concerned that I was a creationist. Or perhaps you could teach and do research at one of the good Christian colleges.
References and notes
- Wieland, C., Creation in the physics lab: An illuminating interview with physicist Dr D. Russell Humphreys, Creation 15(3):20–23, 1993. Return to text.
- Available here and here. He also generously recommends our article Batten, D., Age of the earth—101 Evidences for a Young World. Return to text.
- Dr Humphreys and electrical engineer Mark De Spain co-authored the illustrated non-technical book Earth’s Mysterious Magnetism, and that of other celestial orbs, available here. This has links to his technical papers. See also The earth’s magnetic field: evidence that the earth is young. Return to text.
- Despite the ‘retraction’ by one of the co-discoverers—see Dr Humphreys’ response Earth’s rapid magnetic field reversals, 30 Nov 2014. Return to text.
- Lamb, A., Mercury: more marks of youth, Creation 34(4):36–38, 2012. Return to text.
- Humphreys, D.R., Austin, S.A., Baumgardner, J.R. and Snelling, A.A., Helium diffusion rates support accelerated nuclear decay; 5th ICC, 2003. Return to text.
- Humphreys, D.R., Argon diffusion data support RATE’s 6,000-year helium age of the earth, J. Creation 25(2):74–77, 2011. Return to text.
- See his video, Light-Years? No Problem! Distant starlight in a young universe. Return to text.
- See articles at Education Questions and Answers—Discrimination. Return to text.