Oldest Tree

How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?
A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims
by Dave E. Matson
Copyright © 1994-2002

Young-earth "proof" #27: The oldest tree in the world is 4300 years old.

What does the age of a tree have to do with the age of the earth? If, in fact, the oldest tree is 4300 years old, so what? Perhaps Dr. Hovind is impressed by the fact that such a tree would have sprouted at about the time Noah's flood ended. If that is the case, then it is time for a reality check.

It might interest you to know that trees go back at least 8000 years without being disturbed by Noah's flood! Dr. Charles Ferguson of the University of Arizona has, by matching up overlapping tree rings of living and dead bristlecone pines, carefully built a tree ring sequence going back to 6273 BC (Popular Science, November 1979, p.76). It turns out that such things as rainfall, floods, glacial activity, atmospheric pressure, volcanic activity, and even variations in nearby stream flows show up in the rings. We could add disease and excessive activity by pests to that list.

Different locations on the mountain also affect tree growth in that factors such as temperature, moisture, soil thickness, soil type, susceptibility to fire, susceptibility to wind, and the amount of sunlight received vary, sometimes dramatically. For example, a tree growing near a stream would be less susceptible to the effects of drought. Even the genetic inheritance of a tree plays a role in that it will magnify or retard the above factors. Thus, even trees on the same mountain, of the same species, don't always cross-date as nicely as one might think.

Creationists sometimes seize upon such isolated facts in their desperate bid to discredit tree-ring dating. They either don't understand--or don't want to understand--that careful statistical studies have settled the issue beyond a reasonable doubt.

Creationists will even quote statistics for species of trees which no dendrochronologist would ever think of using! Some species of trees are not sensitive enough to the year-to-year climatic changes whilafter 158 generations, e others sport such an irregular growth rate as to be worthless for precise tree-ring dating. We hear horror stories about how easy it is for a tree to produce two or more rings in one year. What their readers don't hear is that such problems are minimal for some species of trees. Dr. Andrew E. Douglass, who pioneered the field of dendrochronology, found that ponderosa pine and douglass fir are especially excellent for dating purposes. In such species spotting a double ring was "...easy to do by eye after a very little training..." (American Scientist, May-June 1982).

In the case of the bristlecone pine, the problem of double rings is hardly any problem at all!

The dendrochronological check on radiocarbon dating is not without its own problems, the main one being that some species of trees may, under certain climatic conditions such as late frost, produce more than one ring per year [Glock and Agerter, 1963]. Fortunately, however, this has been "extremely rare" in the carefully checked history of bristlecone pines [Ferguson, 1968, p.840].

(Bailey, 1989, p.101)

Dr. Charles Ferguson goes on to say that the growth-ring analysis of about 1000 bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains, where these tree-ring studies are done, turned up no more than three or four cases where there was even a trace of extra rings. In fact, the case for partially or totally missing rings is much more impressive. A typical bristlecone pine has up to 5 percent of its rings missing (Weber, 1982, p.25). Thus, if anything, one is likely to get a date that is too young! A careful statistical study, of course, minimizes even that problem. That's why statistics were invented!

Other species of trees corroborate the work that Ferguson did with bristlecone pines. Before his work, the tree-ring sequence of the sequoias had been worked out back to 1250 BC. The archaeological ring sequence had been worked out back to 59 BC. The lumber pine sequence had been worked out back to 25 BC. The radiocarbon dates and tree-ring dates of these other trees agree with those Ferguson got from the bristlecone pine.

(Weber, 1982, p.26)

The great Sierra redwoods have a different tree-ring pattern than does the bristlecone pine, and the other two cases mentioned by Weber probably have yet another pattern. Thus, because of the completely different environments in which these trees live, their tree-ring patterns do not directly correlate with each other. However, as Weber notes, the carbon-14 dating method bridges these differences. In other words, a specific date, say 200 AD, can be located in a redwood, a bristlecone pine, and a douglass fir by counting their tree-rings. A carbon-14 test can then be made on the wood of each of those three tree-rings to see whether they really do point to one date, namely 200 AD. (Actually, carbon-14 dating is not that precise, so a carbon-14 date really corresponds to a small range of tree-ring dates.) Thus, since this test has been passed, we not only have a partial check on the carbon-14 method, itself, but we have additional proof of the accuracy of tree-ring dating. We now have several species of trees whose ring counts agree with each other.

Our confidence in tree-ring dating is, therefore, established beyond a reasonable doubt. Dr. Hovind must now explain how it was that groves of bristlecone pine trees were living in the White Mountains before Noah's flood! Did all the antediluvian bristlecone pines just happen to collect in the White Mountains after the flood, perhaps to miraculously take root? Even that straw is fatally flawed. A new generation of bristlecone pines, starting from scratch as it were, would have no overlapping tree-rings with respect to their antediluvian cousins. Overlapping tree-rings means a shared environment, and any tree which has grown in both the antediluvian environment and the modern environment is a tree which has survived Noah's flood.

Thus, we begin with trees that are supposedly designed for a tropical, lowland, pre-flood environment. Those poor trees are then uprooted and churned about in salt water for a year, in a flood loaded with grinding sediments--a flood that was violent enough to rip up the earth's crust and pulverize great rocks. Those trees then float around, at least those that can still float, buried in mats of decaying vegetation for weeks or months. Unlike other mats of vegetation, which are buried and become instant, coal seams, they are dumped on mountain peaks where extremes of temperature, harsh winds, and desert-like conditions now prevail much of the year. Finally, enough of those trees survive to produce scattered forests, which grow nowhere else to this very day. Fortunately, that is something best explained by creationists. While at it, they might also explain why there is no dramatic difference between the antediluvian tree-ring pattern, supposedly grown under lush, tropical conditions, and the present day tree-ring pattern which reflects a harsh, dry environment. One would expect to see a dramatic change between big, fat tree-rings and thin, hard ones upon crossing that boundary in the tree-ring sequence! Nothing of the sort is found in the 8000-year-old, tree-ring history of the bristlecone pine.

Nor are the bristlecone pines the only plants with a history refuting Noah's flood!

The King Clone creosote bush, today a patch of shrubbery 70 by 25 feet in the Mojave Desert about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, goes back 11,700 years! (This item comes from The Washington Post, December 10, 1984 and was noted in the Creation/Evolution Newsletter of November-December, 1984.) The evergreen shrub is called a creosote bush because it has a pungent odor like that of creosote, an oily liquid produced from coal tar.

Frank C. Vasek, a botany professor at the Riverside campus of the University of California, who found the bush, has determined that the patch of shrubbery originally began as a single plant sprouting from one seed. As the plant grew outward the interior portions died out, thus leaving a huge ring with each clump becoming a clone of the first growth. I guess Noah's flood didn't bother this desert shrub any! Did I say "desert shrub?" What is a desert doing in the supposedly tropical antediluvian world?

The government (the Department of the Interior) puts out a booklet entitled "Tree Rings: Timekeepers of the Past," which is a highly readable presentation of the basic facts of tree ring dating. (Look under "U.S. Government" in the bibliography.)

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