Creationist Wisdom #312: A Fool’s Errand

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Herald of Rock Hill, South Carolina. The letter is titled Fossil record is not evidence of evolution. Here are a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. As we usually do, we’ll omit the writer’s name and city. Okay, here we go:

I apologize to William Rogers (“Creationism has no place in a science classroom”). It was not my intent to use the term Darwinism as a pejorative, but merely to designate the various manifestations of scientific endeavor that were launched by Charles Darwin.

That refers to this earlier letter, which was written by “a professor of biology at Winthrop University,” which is in Rock Hill. Today’s letter continues:

While Darwin was a biologist, his claims, to be valid, must reach far beyond biology. In other words, if there is no designer, there must be a seamless transition from the genesis of the universe to the present.

Darwin must have been an idiot to undertake such a task. It’s no wonder that he failed miserably. Let’s read on:

He [Rogers, the earlier letter-writer] acknowledges that chemical evolution has made no headway concerning how life began, which is a bedrock principle required for evolutionary biology to be true. All other changes that biologists have observed or tested can just as easily and often better be explained through creation. For example, the claim that the DNA of similar organisms being more closely aligned than those that are significantly different doesn’t support evolution any more than creation.

So many errors, so little time. Chemical evolution of the first living things is something that hasn’t been figured out yet, but there’s little doubt among scientists that it occurred. Even if we never figure it out (which is unlikely) evolution from that point forward is what Darwin’s theory addresses. And yes, the evidence that all organisms are related is something that can be “easily explained” as a miracle. Anything and everything can be “explained” that way, but if it’s a miracle then by definition we know nothing about it and we can’t do anything with that “understanding,” so there’s no sense in which it’s a better explanation. The letter continues:

Rogers isn’t entirely accurate with his claim that “since Francis Bacon …science has worked to get out from under the yoke of supernatural explanation.” Until the 20th century, most scientists were strong believers and secure in their understanding of why the universe operates. Their quest was to uncover natural explanations and devise scientific principles of how the universe operates. Those are two entirely different questions, but modern scientists incorrectly treat them as one.

Huh? What did he say? It doesn’t matter; we won’t worry about it. Here’s more:

Rogers chided me for using the term “higher life forms,” but I thought lower to higher was the reasoning behind biological evolutionary thinking. His claim that the fossil record shows a clear line of transitional forms from fish to amphibians (lower to higher?) is more a tribute to the drawings of artists than the fossil remains themselves. Rarely is an entire fossil found, so scientists fill in the unknown pieces from what they believe them to be by using artists’ drawings. With such additions it is difficult to determine where science ends and imagination begins. The gaps in actual fossils recovered remain annoyingly unchanged.

Gaps. It’s all gaps. Moving along … we’ll skip a couple of paragraphs of discussion about a protein. It’s not worth the effort. Here’s more:

Rogers’ assertion that scientists are free to question prevailing scientific ideas is somewhat disingenuous. It is true you can challenge one prevailing opinion with something else, but it must fit within the parameters of evolutionary thinking to be taken seriously. A group of scientists recently completed a five-year study on radiometric dating that met all the criteria Rogers laid out for serious scientific challenge. They have been able to demonstrate through field study, rigorous testing in the lab and peer review that decay rates of all the various elements used for dating are not constant. Because this study challenges old earth cosmology, a basic tenet of evolutionary dictum, no mainstream scientific organization was even willing to look at it.

Does anyone know what the letter-writer is talking about? We certainly don’t. And now, at last, we come to the end:

Evolutionary theory rests on the premise that it is possible to change from chaos to organization through time and energy. While there are some small instances of this, the overall change of the universe is toward disorder and decay. Evolutionary science is a fool’s errand that allows man to say there is no God! How do I know? I’ve been there myself.

Wow — he was there! That’s how he knows evolution is a fool’s errand.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #312: A Fool’s Errand

  1. Does anyone know what the letter-writer is talking about?

    Not me, but I’d be interested to find out! (sub to comments)

  2. Vainglorious

    A group of scientists recently completed a five-year study on radiometric ……. They have been able to demonstrate through field study, rigorous testing in the lab and peer review that decay rates of all the various elements used for dating are not constant.

    The Institute for Creation Research’s RATE Project? .
    http://www.icr.org/rate/

  3. Typical religious (almost used religidiot there) BS.
    I always use my religious verses truth test on this stuff.
    Most secularists with give citation when making a basic fact statement (Usually in blue on a blog). the religious just make silly statements and we are suppose to believe him again on faith.
    But it would not matter as everything he stated was wrong and debunked over and over. No citation needed as you can google any REAL biologist. Try Dawkins and PZ and many others.

  4. retiredsciguy

    The letter writer claims, “A group of scientists recently completed a five-year study on radiometric dating that met all the criteria Rogers laid out for serious scientific challenge. They have been able to demonstrate through field study, rigorous testing in the lab and peer review that decay rates of all the various elements used for dating are not constant.”

    Ha! If this were true (and not just some creationist ersatz “research”), it would have been such big news that we would have ALL heard about it, as would all the creation cult writers such as Ken Ham, David Klinghoffer, and all the other IDiots at DI and CRI. Those guys would have been harping on this non-stop.

    Besides, as Gabriel Hanna pointed out on this blog a while back, if decay rates were not constant, nuclear reactors wouldn’t work. They are, and they do.

    So all I’ve got to say to the letter writer is, “You don’t know BS from Shinola!” (And that *really* dates me.)

  5. In other words, if there is no designer, there must be a seamless transition from the genesis of the universe to the present.

    Yeah, that would be the default assumption.

    If the writer is claiming otherwise, where are the disconnects the interruptions in the sequence of events from the big bang to the present? Too bad the writer did not give examples.

  6. thearchaeopteryx

    It does indeed sound like ICR’s “RATE” project. What’s interesting is to see the critiques of this study by Christians (the “Old Earthers”):

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/helium-diffusion-in-zircon-a-response-to-questions-by-the-rate-team
    http://www.oldearth.org/RATE_critique_he-zr.htm

    and, of course, our beloved Talk Origins has analysis on the “science” as well:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/rate-critique.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/helium/zircons.html

    Citing the RATE studies is pure bias confirmation. At best the results are very different from those of other scientists and ought to be reexamined.

  7. If the letter writer in fact was referring to the creationist RATE project (I have no better explanation), then he is wrong in several particulars.

    It’s not “recently completed”, it was several years ago.

    They [RATE?] have been able to demonstrate through field study, rigorous testing in the lab and peer review that decay rates of all the various elements used for dating are not constant.

    Bull. Obviously all “peer review” was by creationists who only care about the conclusion, not the experimental method nor results.

    “Field study”! What a joke. They did no “field study”! Ridiculous!

    What they actually did was try to cast doubt on radiometric dating by other dating methods, not radiometric, which allegedly give a young age for certain minerals. Thus, if the Earth is young, and if there are large amounts of radiogenic daughter isotopes, then that logically *implies* that there must have been a period of super-accelerated radioactive decay. It’s not like they’ve got actual *evidence* that super-accelerated radioactive decay happened.

    So what “dating” methods did they use to show old minerals are apparently young? One method often cited was helium diffusion from zircon crystals. The helium is produced by radioactive decay, but if the zircon is old, it should (with the most naive assumptions) leak out of the crystal. RATE found zircon crystals with a lot of helium, so they say “Aha, these must be young,” which, yada yada, proves that super-accelerated radioactive decay occurred.

    But that involved a bunch of assumptions, for example, that the crystals had no cracks through which the helium might escape, and that they were for billions of years at the same temperature. Of course they were temperatures would vary over billions of years, so that invalidates their assumptions.

    At one point, somebody at RATE might have committed scientific fraud. In order to get their work to match up with the 1960’s work on polonium radiohaloes by creationist Robert Gentry, one of Gentry’s old numbers was returning the wrong age, 60,000 years. So RATE and Gentry simply announced that Gentry’s old number from his previous paper was a typo, and multiplied it by 10. Bingo, the Earth is now 6,000 years old. That was easy. (Unfortunately, many of Gentry’s numbers have to change if that number changes, but let’s not worry about consistency!)

    Kevin Henke, a geologist, gives a semi-technical, thorough debunking of the helium diffusion argument here.

    TalkOrigins gives a shorter rebuttal here.

    Russel Humphreys, the creepy old “creation physicist” who worked on the RATE project, attacks Henke here. This is worth reading just for insight into the creationist mind. Humphreys is a horrible person; Henke does him a big favor by catching all his errors, and Humphreys flat out employs ad hominem and armchair psychoanalysis.

  8. @Diogenes

    Many thanks for the excellent explanation.

    One bit confuses me (this before I go read Henke’s piece). You say that “But that involved a bunch of assumptions, for example, that the crystals had no cracks through which the helium might escape”, but surely that’s explain there being less helium in the crystal than theoretically predicted, not more.

  9. JG,

    You’re right. I wasn’t being very clear! It’s been a while since I read that stuff. I was referring to the debunking by Gary Loechelt here. It’s technical so I’ll have to review it before I attempt a better summary.

    If you look at that very long post by Henke at TalkOrigins (which I incorrectly called “brief”), Henke has updated and expanded his piece a lot. He’s found a few more outrageous examples of Humphreys outrageously making up numbers without a clear explanation. I hesitate to say “scientific fraud”, but Humphrey’s numerbers are non-reproducible, and a scandal.

  10. @Diogenes

    Thanks again, and for the further link.

  11. I would like to issue a further errata on what I wrote this morning in haste.

    Me: In order to get their work to match up with the 1960′s work on polonium radiohaloes by creationist Robert Gentry, one of Gentry’s old numbers was returning the wrong age, 60,000 years. So RATE and Gentry simply announced that Gentry’s old number from his previous paper was a typo, and multiplied it by 10. Bingo, the Earth is now 6,000 years old.

    Well, first of all the disputed numbers are from a paper Gentry did in 1982, not the 1960’s. Gentry is however famous for his work on polonium radiohaloes starting in the 1960’s.

    Q is the amount of helium in the zircon crystals now. Q0 is the amount you’d expect from radioactive decay from all the uranium, thorium etc. So Gentry wants Q/Q0 to be high, to make the zircons young.

    Basically, both numbers Q and Q0 are non-reproducible, and there is a possibility that Gentry made them both up. There are problems with other factors also, like the size of the crystals which Gentry didn’t measure, so he guessed.

    All those things are then put into a mathematical model intended to estimate how long it took for the missing helium, the difference between Q0 and Q, to diffuse out of the crystal. Gentry wants that time to be young, so he wants a low Q, a high Q0, and a fast rate of diffusion.

    The trouble is these mathematical models are extremely sensitive to small changes in the numbers that go into them. As Henke emphasizes, small changes in the numbers produce huge changes in the age estimates. And zircon crystals are of all different types, some are damaged, some intact. Some have been kilometers under the ground and subjected to great pressures that likely slow down the diffusion of helium.

    The problems and bad assumptions behind Gentry’s mathematical models of diffusion are discussed by Loechelt here while Henke emphasizes the dubious means by which the factors were obtained. Loechelt’s point is “garbage in, garbage out”, and Henke’s point is to prove that the numbers that went in are, in fact, garbage.

    I will briefly summarize problems with just one factor, Q. I emphasize Q is only one factor that’s non-reproducible– all the others are as well.
    Note there are two versions of Humphreys (2003). Humphreys gave his preliminary results at a creationist conference, copying Gentry’s 1982 values for Q without alteration. Later Humphreys seems to have realized it didn’t give him the results he needed, so in a post-conference 2003 version he changed Gentry’s Q values, dividing them by 10.

    Gentry justifies this on the grounds that he changed Q0 as well as Q, and he feels his changes to Q and to Q0 leave the ratio Q/Q0 unchanged.

    Henke quotes Gentry: “But after discussing the matter with him [R. V. Gentry], I’m inclined to think that even if he [R. V. Gentry] had an error in Q0, the error canceled out when he calculated the ratio Q/Q0, which is the crucial quantity in this analysis.”

    This is nonsense, not proven mathematically, and scientifically unethical. You can’t get away with changing one number because you changed another too.

    Focusing just on the Q values, here is Henke’s criticism of that problem: “Gentry et al. (1982a) contains helium (Q) measurements of zircons from their Fenton Hill samples 0-6. While Humphreys (2000) simply listed the helium measurements from Gentry et al. (1982a), Humphreys et al. (2003a, post-conference version) in consultation with YEC R. V. Gentry concluded that the helium measurements in Gentry et al. (1982a) had “typographic errors” (see my Table 1). Their undocumented “corrections” to the measurements in Gentry et al. (1982a) usually included lowering most of the Q values by 10 times (my Table 1).

    As others (e.g., Isaac, 2008b) and I have noted, Dr. Humphreys has yet to reveal adequate details on how these “typographic errors” in Gentry et al. (1982a) were discovered and reliably corrected, and how the associated Q/Q0 values could remain unaffected. An unknown writer(s) at CreationWiki makes the following interesting statement about the discovery of the “typographic errors” in Gentry et al. (1982a):

    [CreationiWiki]: “The errors were discovered when Humphreys was doing the retention calculations for RATES [sic, RATE’s] sample. He noticed an order of magnitude discrepancy in the absolute helium amounts. When he contacted Gentry, Gentry agreed that they probably were typographical errors.”

    …If this account is true, R. V. Gentry agreed that his paper “probably” contained typographical errors after Dr. Humphreys obtain his results and noticed a discrepancy between his results and the data in Gentry et al. (1982a). Humphreys (2005a) also admitted that:

    [Humphreys]: “Gentry’s original calculations are no longer available.”

    If Dr. Humphreys and R. V. Gentry did not have R. V. Gentry’s original calculations or laboratory notes, how do they know after more than 20 years that typographic errors had been made in Gentry et al. (1982a)? [Source: Henke at TalkOrigins]

    Then there are problems with other factors as well. And Humphreys also changed the numbers from a Russian paper by Magomedev, which is another scandal, and to cover Humphreys’ @$$, CreationWiki published (and still displays) a ridiculous plot that they falsely claims has a “best fit” line they pulled out of their @$$.

    I haven’t even started on all the problems with the diffusion models discussed by Loechelt.

  12. @Diogenes

    Golly! Thanks again for all this.

  13. Errata from my previous comment:

    Several times in this comment I say Gentry when I should have said Humphreys. Humphreys (2003, 2004) is copying but altering the Q values of Gentry (1982).

    Gentry wants that time to be young, so he wants a low Q, a high Q0, and a fast rate of diffusion.

    Should be: Humphreys wants that time to be young, so he wants a high Q, a low Q0, and a fast rate of diffusion.