This is an old article (apparently, the only date on the website is the first publication in 1987) about how fast growing stalactites are consistent with a Young Earth Creationism (i.e. Noah’s Flood) hypothesis.
I think that this is an excellent example of the contortions that YECs (Young Earth Creationists) will go through to support their notion that the Judeo-Christian God created the world in 7 24-hour days and that Noah’s Flood subsequently wiped out all life on Earth, etc. There are lot of interesting points about this article that bear thinking on before coming to a conclusion.
One of the firs things I do when I get a new article is look at the references. This article, even if written in 1987, has some pretty suspicious references. There are three. I tend to use more references in blog posts and my references go to either peer-reviewed articles or Wikipedia which further links to peer-reviewed articles. The references here are the 1978 Encyclopedia Americana, a 1953(!!!) National Geographic article, and a 1973 YEC book written by John C. Whitcomb, Jr.
Now, this article is about stalactites. That’s a geological formation found in caves caused by water dissolving limestone, then chemically depositing it in the cave. Stalactites are the ones that hang from the ceiling. Does anyone besides me think it might be a good idea to have some actual geology references? You things like peer-reviewed work on how fast stalagmites (because of the bat) and stalactites grow. For example, here’s one from 1980 that should have been referenced “Deposition of calcite from thin films of natural calcareous solutions and the growth of speleothems”. Speleotherms is a fancy name for limestone cave formations like stalactites.
Now, let’s look at the article itself. The introductory bit is standard fare, but it’s very curious what they choose to mention… like that a particular cavern director in Alabama is a creationist. That’s a fallacy of argument by authority. So, the cavern director is a creationist. I also know dentists, biologists, and engineers who are creationists. It still doesn’t make them right.
I’d also like to point out that the growth rates of speleothems is HIGHLY variable. This article (Intra- and inter-annual growth rate of modern stalagmites) shows variations of growth rates of stalagmites from .15 mm per year to 1.2 mm per year. Not inches per year, which would be about 200 times faster than the previous article mentions. Now, I freely admit that I have no data for the particular cave that is described in this article… of course, the article doesn’t have any data either. This is an anecdote with zero supporting evidence. I guess we’re supposed to take their word for it.
Enter the Bat Cave
Here’s another anecdote. The 1953 article describes a bat that apparently died and fell into a stalagmite and then was entombed. (Link to recent image.) A little google-fu reveals that the only people who care are creationists. This anecdote is mentioned on many YEC websites and forums. It is not mentioned in the scientific literature anywhere I can see. You can see if you click on the link to the image, that the ‘bat’ is a dark blur inside the stalagmite.
Supposedly, this anecdote of a bat being entombed in a stalagmite is supposed to refute all the peer-reviewed literature on the subject. But let’s look at this. The average temperature in the cave is 68°F, but it can get as cold as 56°F. Is that enough to prevent rapid decomposition? Maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt. We also need to consider the chemical environment of the cave.
The bat couldn’t have fallen on a point or it would have fallen off. So, I think it safe to assume that the bat fell on a plateau or even in a shallow pool of water. The chemistry of speleothem formation means that the water must be highly acidic. Caves are also generally low oxygen environments, especially if there’s a lot of decomposing bat droppings around. Is there another environment that is cold, acidic, and low oxygen? How about a peat-bog? A bog in which several ancient specimens have been found almost completely intact.
Now, I’m not saying that caves are exactly equivalent to peat bogs, but I want to see some deeper explanation for why the cave environment should have normal rates of decomposition.
In other words, this anecdote is just that. A story. It doesn’t mean anything and we can’t draw any conclusions from it at all.
The growth rate of stalactites and stalagmites in many caves today is of course quite slow. But even in such caves the current slow rate of growth cannot be guaranteed to have always been this sluggish.
So what? Do you have evidence that, for any particular cave that the growth rate was 200 times faster than the fastest present system that we’ve looked at? No? Then we’re done with this line of hypothetical thinking. Evidence please.
This next bit is just great. Either the authors of this ‘paper’ (One of which is Stephen “Signature in the Cell” Meyers) are completely clueless about chemistry or they are being very, very dishonest in their delivery here.
A talking point at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the fact that stalactites are growing on the cement wall steps between the university’s Anderson Hall and Gladfelter Hall. Right below the stalactites, some stalagmites are forming. Although only several centimetres high, they have all formed since the concrete stairway of Gladfelter Hall was built in May, 1973.
This is great because it is known that the formation of concrete stalagmites and stalactites is a fundamentally different chemistry than limestone formations in cave systems. So, we literally cannot use this bit of (also anecdotal) information in our discussion of caves. It’s a bait-and-switch, a waste of effort… or a clever confusion for the non-expert.
Because of the evidence for fast-growing stalactites now becoming available, we can safely conclude that the world’s beautiful limestone cave formations may not have needed countless thousands of years to form. These spectacular formations could have formed quite rapidly in just a few thousand years—a time framework consistent with the view that they were formed during the closing stages of, and after, the worldwide Flood of Noah’s time.
I have only this to say about the conclusion.
Even if stalactites form 200 times faster than most scientists think they do. Even if stalagmites form so fast that they could entomb a bat before it could decompose. Even if concrete and limestone were the same thing… none of which I’m willing to admit.
Fast growth of stalactites does not mean that the Earth is young. Here’s an analogy to what they are doing. They are measuring the age of the ice in the freezer, then determining that the freezer was built 3 days ago.
This is NOT evidence or even support for a Young Earth notion. Is it consistent with a YEC notion? I’ll give you that, but it is also fully consistent with an Old Earth view of the planet. In other words, the age and/or speed of formation of speleothems is non-discriminatory between YEC and OEC and actual science. It doesn’t mean anything to the age of the Earth at all.