Human Population Growth as a Creationist Clock

By Frank Leibfarth

"Where are all the people?" is the title of Dan Batten's research article published in Creation in June, 2001. In his article, Batten establishes the fact that the world's current population of 6 billion people is actually a relatively small number and works to answer the rhetorical question which he proposes in his title. Batten's research relies on the growth rates of many modern countries and attempts to put the current population growth rates in a historical perspective in order to prove that the amount of time which scientists claim that humans have been on the earth would equate to a number far larger than 6 billion for the current population of the earth. Batten also questions the number of human remnants in the fossil record if humans have supposedly been around for a million years or more. By bringing into question the very facts that science takes for granted to be true, Batten attempts to discredit population analysis and anthropology in order to provide evidence to a Christian audience for a young-earth.

By discrediting the common belief about world growth trends, Batten (2001) hopes to give readers of his paper a timeline, or "clock," within which they can fit the Christian notion that life on earth began no more than a few thousand years ago. Batten begins by discussing population growth rates. He states that the current growth rate for the world's population is 1.7% per year, which means that if 1 billion people were present on the earth at a given beginning point, and a year was allowed to pass from that point, approximately 1.7 million more people would be around the following year. He next mentions Noah's flood, which is assumed to have occurred some 4,500 years ago. Batten claims that if, 4,500 years ago, there were Noah, his three sons, and their three wives, and these people were left to rebuild the human population, then an annual growth rate of less than 0.5% per year would be adequate to obtain a human population of 6 billion people in the present day. Noah's family, thus, becomes an initial condition on which Batten bases his Christian clock. By contrast, Batten claims that if the human population evolved about 1 million or more years ago, as scientists claim, it would take a growth rate of only 0.01% per year to reach a population of 1043 people inhabiting earth today.

The first process in validating any argument is to determine if the assumptions on which the argument is grounded make sense. Batten's argument seems to center on the assumption that the growth rate of the modern world is a rational estimate of the growth rate of individuals living hundreds to thousands of years ago. He assumes only small adjustments need to be made to the modern growth rate for factors such as increases in medical care, a decline in the number and cruelty of wars, and a longer life expectancy for humans. From those small adjustments, Batten believes an accurate growth rate for humans over the past few thousand years can be determined from modern growth rates.

In contrast to Batten's beliefs, the Population Reference Bureau (2005), a private organization supported by national and international organizations such as the United States government and the United Nations, asserts that humans evolved some 3 million years ago and that the large majority of the human existence was spent as hunters and gatherers with a total population below 10 million. As agriculture was introduced, communities began to be able to accommodate more people. By A.D. 1 there were about 300 million humans inhabiting the earth. In a simple calculation, if one assumes the population of humans was around 10 million about 500,000 years ago, a relatively young age for the evolution of humans, and it rose to 300 million only 2,000 years ago, the growth rate for the population of humans over that time period was only 0.00006%. Jumping ahead to the eighteenth century, the industrial revolution took hold and with it came the "black plague." During this terrible epidemic, 30-40% of the population in Europe was wiped out, greatly setting back growth rates. The industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, however, caused the first and only documented exponential explosion of the human population. Cities developed infrastructures that could safely accommodate many people, and the majority of the population moved away from agriculture. In the 20th century alone the world saw its population increase from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion, equating to an average growth rate of 3.81% per year! The growth rate has only begun to slow in the last 20 years.

Clearly, with these surprising facts, Batten's assumptions become questionable. From the evidence, it appears that growth rates were very minimal for the majority of humans' existence, around 0.00006%, fell below zero during the time of the plague, and have skyrocketed in the last 150-200 years. By these accounts, Batten's assertion that one can assume a constant growth rate over hundreds to thousands of years to account for an increase in population seems absurd. Without a constant rate, Batten's Christian clock becomes an unreliable method to prove that the earth or its human population is only a few thousand years old. Also, Batten appears to be misguided when he argues that humans could have sustained a growth rate of 0.01% over a million or more years. Clearly, in conservative estimates, Batten's growth rate is too high by 3-4 orders of magnitude compared to the 0.00006% estimate, and his assertions that humans would have crowded themselves off the earth are absurd.

The other argument that Batten presents in his paper is that, if humans evolved early and have been around for a million or more years, there should be many more human fossils in the fossil record than currently found. He says that scientists claim there was a stone age that lasted for about 100,000 years where 1-10 million humans inhabited the earth. If this is true, Batten claims, there should be billions of human fossils from that time period available in the fossil record. The lack of a large number of fossils is evidence, Batten claims, for a shorter human existence.

Once again, Batten's assumptions about fossilization can and should be questioned. Batten claims scientists should "expect the skeletons of the buried bodies to be largely still present after 100,000 years, because many ordinary bones claimed to be much older have been found." First, Batten does not mention that many fossils from that time period have been found, just nowhere near the number he expects. Secondly, the fact that bone fossils have been found that are older than the "stone age" has no relevance whatsoever to the number of fossils expected to be available from that age. Lastly, fossilization is not a constant or reliable process. The reason scientists do not know the entire history of all the species ever to live on the planet is because so few of their bodies ever meet the necessary conditions for fossilization immediately following their death. One of the primary conditions which needs to be met for fossilization to occur is a quick burial, usually occurring under sediments at the bottom of the sea or a lake, stream or river, under sand during a sand-storm, or under ash from volcanic eruptions (Abedon 1). Batten states that it was a common practice for people to "bury their dead" in these ancient times. Burial under top-soil, however, does not constitute the proper burial for fossilization. Top-soil may protect a body from scavengers and ultra-violet radiation, but it is not an adequate substance in which the organic parts found in a body can associate with sediments and mineralize in order to eventually turn to stone. Top-soil is also slightly acidic, usually at a pH of 5.5-6.5 (Hue and Ikawa), which can increase the rate of decay. Insects and other organisms which thrive on the consumption of dead and decaying material can also disturb the fossilization process in top-soil. Batten, however, may be right in his assertion that millions of fossils of early humans are preserved somewhere in the rock strata. Finding and removing fossils from rock is very difficult, however, and a great majority of the fossils of early humans may simply not have been discovered because of the inadequate or difficult work conducted on finding the fossils. Regardless of how many humans lived in the past million or so years, the fossil record for humans and large mammals in general will invariably be small because of the great improbability that a human will be buried in a suitable medium for fossilization and that modern scientists will have discovered the fossils. Batten's assumption that there should be billions of fossils remaining from these earlier humans is simply unrealistic and grounded in the assumption that fossils readily form for a majority of the life forms that die in a given historic time period, and that those fossils are discovered by modern scientists.

In his paper "Where are all the People?" Batten makes two claims: that the population of people currently living on earth does not fit with the belief in a human population older than a few thousand years and that the fossil record of humans does not support the notion that humans have been around for millions of years. Batten's claims can easily be refuted by investigating the assumptions that Batten makes in his claims. Also, without a constant rate for population growth, the Bible based clock Batten attempts to construct quickly falls apart. After investigating Batten's claims and assumptions through historical and scientific means, the flaw's in Batten's theories become evident, and belief in them relies on blind faith more than a sound basis in science.

Sources:
  1. Abedon, Stephen T. Supplemental lecture: Fossilization. 2005. http://www.mansfield.ohio-state.edu/~sabedon/biol1520.htm. Ohio State University. Last Updated: July 4, 2005. Accessed: October 26, 2005.
  2. Batten, Dan. 2001. "Where are all the People?" Creation. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v23/i3/people.asp
  3. Hue, N.V.; Ikawa, H. Acid Soils in Hawaii: Problems and Management. Department of Agronomy and Soil Science, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~nvhue/acid.html Accessed: November 6, 2005.
  4. Population Reference Bureau. 2005. Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth Population Growth and Distribution. http://www.prb.org/Content/NavigationMenu/PRB/Educators/Human_Population/Population_Growth/Population_Growth.htm. Accessed: October 26, 2005.