They say diamonds are forever, but for geologists this saying doesn’t make much sense. They would agree that diamonds are for a long time—hundreds of millions if not billions of years—but not forever. Many lines of evidence reveal that one must go deep (more than 150 km) into the mantle of the Earth to find pressures sufficient to account for the origins of most diamonds. Since their formation they have waited to be brought to Earth’s surface through volcanism, being found in volcanic structures called kimberlite pipes.
Under exceptional conditions some types of diamonds may have formed in geologically short periods of time—hundreds of thousands of years—or even more quickly—just seconds—in the case of meteorite impacts though the diamonds created by these events are exceptionally small and not likely to endear you to any woman whom you might give one to.
Given the value we place on them, it is not surprising that humans have found ways to produce objects that look like diamonds or more recently to produce objects that are geochemically near-copies of nature-made diamonds. These lab-grown diamonds are good enough to fool anyone but an expert.
Lab-grown diamonds seem to have fooled young-earth apologist’ Ken Ham as well. Recently he shared the following observation on several social media outlets: “Many gems thought to take millions of years to form can be made in a lab quickly. Petrified wood can be produced in a lab quickly. As biblical creationists have stated over and over–there’s nothing in observational science contradicting a young earth.”
In this tweet we see Ken Ham is attempting to use the existence of lab-grown diamonds as evidence that the earth could be much younger—only 6000 years—than 99% of geologist’s have concluded. Though not stated explicitly he is applying a common young-earth creationist’ (YEC) syllogism:
Scientists say that it takes millions of years to make X
We have made X in a short period of time
Therefore all X could have been made in a short period of time.
He has plugged diamonds into this well-trod YEC formula. No doubt much of his audience will find this to be a compelling argument. Ken Ham and others YECs add an additional element to further cement their argument in the mind of the reader. He adds the odd sounding, at least to the majority of scientists, reference to “observational science.” YECs are told over and over again that “observational” or “experimental” science can be trusted in contrast to “historical” science which in their minds can’t be trusted because it requires seeing something that can’t be “observed.” So what Ham is doing here is adding a further reason to doubt that gems require millions of years to make because no one was there to “observe” the process. By contrasting the unknowable past with observed fact of lab-grown diamonds he can create considerable doubt in the reader’s mind thus leading them to the conclusion that the geological context in which diamonds are found might not be in opposition to a young earth.
It all might sound very plausible to a scientifically naive audience but remember the conclusion, that all diamonds could be produced in a short time, is only as good as the truth of the premises. And this is where the argument falls apart for Ken Ham.
The diamonds in the two premises are not equivalent
Let’s start with the biggest problem that, by itself, renders Ham’s argument moot. The conclusion only works if the diamonds of the first premise are the same as diamonds of the second premise. For the fast and recent production of diamonds to have any relevance to the time required to make them outside of the lab the latter has to reflect conditions that could realistically occur in nature in the past or present.
The article that Ken Ham links to is very short on details but there is enough there to know what method was used to make these lab-grown diamonds: the chemical vapor deposition method (CVD). Here is a description from another site of this process:
“While natural diamonds form under intense heat and pressure under the earth’s surface, synthetic diamonds are obviously grown in a lab. At IIa Technologies, each diamond begins with a “seed”—a previously grown or natural diamond that’s about the thickness of a fingernail. This seed is placed in a vacuum chamber where microwave rays, methane and hydrogen gasses rain down to build layers of carbon bonds that form a diamond. “At correct conditions, correct temperature, the crystal growth actually starts and the diamond just starts growing,” said physicist and IIa technique inventor Devi Shanker Misra. These differences show distinctive growth patterns that you can detect with a machine.”
We might ask Ken Ham if he thinks that during a global flood 4350 years ago that diamonds were formed in a vacuum chamber with microwaves in a mixture of methane and hydrogen without heat and pressure. If these conditions were not prevalent in the rocks where diamonds are found how can he know that diamonds found in nature were formed very quickly?
The diamonds in the link that Ken Ham provided* were not produced the same way as they are in nature and thus his claim that fast-growing diamonds in the lab explain natural diamonds in the context of a young earth is unfounded.
I should add, that the story of diamonds is more complex than Ken Ham acknowledges. It is the geological context of where we find diamonds that must be accounted for. The types of rocks that diamonds are found in have been shown to be very old by many independent methods. What geologists therefore have concluded is that most diamonds are very old not that diamonds have required billions of years to form. They may form at a variety of rates depending on the specific conditions. This results in many different types of diamonds. The young-earth advocate can’t simply point to a single diamond being made quickly in a lab as if it explains how all different types of diamonds might have formed quickly. Rather the very fact that diamonds are made under very different conditions in history and location is this evidence that the young-earth advocate must account for.
“There is nothing in observational science contradicting a young earth”
I can image that professional scientists will find this assertion laughable—and it is. What they may not understand is young-earth creationists have created their own language to talk about science. In many cases the terms they use sound like terms that you might hear in the standard scientific literature but they apply different, very strict or inconsistent definitions to them. Observational science is one of those terms.
We have written about the misunderstanding of historical science by YECs and the fact that they ironically accept most of the conclusions of historical science without realizing it. I will just refer you to the following articles for examples:
Are petrified wood and diamonds made in the lab the same as those found in nature?
Not only are the conditions for making lab-grown diamonds not replicated in nature and thus don’t tell us how long diamonds take to form in nature, but the very characteristics of lab-grown diamonds do not match those found in real diamonds. The same is true for claims of lab-made petrified wood. Both lab-grown diamonds and petrified wood are said to be very similar to their natural cognates according to popular press articles. But when one reads the original research papers where the process of making them and the exact chemistry of the final products is described one finds that the lab-grown versions are not identical to the natural products. An expert can always tell a difference between the two even if the average person may perceive them to be the same.
In the case of petrified wood, an impressive amount of “petrification” can be obtained in the lab but to do so requires far higher temperatures than any wood would have experienced in nature even over millions of years. What scientists have done in the lab is greatly sped up the process by increasing the heat and pressure and concentration of the chemicals over that found in nature. How then can Ken Ham say that lab-grown petrified wood is evidence of a young earth? If anything the fact that we have to greatly exaggerate natural conditions to speed the process up should suggest that both petrified wood and diamonds are observational evidence of an ancient earth.
Maybe this is an example of what Rudy Giuliani meant when he said that “truth isn’t truth.” I might not be a very stable genius—though I did pass my doctoral prelims on the first try:-)—but I’m smart enough to recognize when someone doesn’t know what they are talking about. And with respect to his tweet and FaceBook post we can conclude that Ken Ham’s truth isn’t truth.
(A reader pointed me to a cartoon at the Answers in Genesis website that illustrates the logic of the YEC very well and used diamonds as we have seen here. You can see that cartoon HERE.)
*There is another method of producing synthetic diamonds that is closer to what happens in nature. It is called the HPHT method for high pressure and high temperature. This method tries to mimic the conditions found deep in the crust of the earth. Although it produced diamonds very quickly these diamonds are not identical to nature-grown diamonds and thus still do not provide the evidence Ken Ham is looking for that diamonds can be formed and distributed to their current positions within a 6000 year time-frame.