Sunday, September 25, 2016

Going Dark For a Bit

My surgery is 8:00 in the morning and I will be out of commission for at least a few weeks. I will post more when I can.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Scientifice American: "Creationism Invades Europe"

Scientific American is sounding an alarm that creationism is gaining support in Europe. Stefaan Blancke and Peter C. Kjærgaard write:
We are used to thinking about creationism as an exclusively North American phenomenon. It is not. Although it originated in the U.S., organized creationism has gone global. But in Europe creationism does not represent a united community; it varies strongly from one country to the next. In some countries creationism provides an identity to smaller local religious communities, and has little impact. This is the case in Scandinavia. In other places creationism is tied to substantial and well-organized subcultures. We find this in the Netherlands. And in some places creationism exists among religious elites that have considerable political power. Russia is a notable example.

For years, although creationists were growing in number in European countries and gradually developing an influence in schools and local communities, they mostly kept under the radar and were not a major concern. Not until, at least, about a decade ago, when the Council of Europe issued a warning against the growth of creationism and the potential threat to the educational system it posed. At that point, creationism became a matter of public and political debate. Polls were taken all over Europe to determine public opinion. Some online polls were hijacked by creationists in Turkey to alter the outcome. Books, pamphlets and Web sites were launched and circulated. And the media loved it.
While one does tend to think of young earth creationism as a uniquely American phenomenon (after all, it sprang from the Seventh Day Adventists in the early 1900s), it is important to note that the currently reigning king of creatonism, Ken Ham, is Australian by birth and upbringing.

The authors remark that the scientific community got caught flat-footed and now are scrambling to catch up to the wave of web sites, pamphlets, magazines and TV programs that are being sponsored by the young earth creation groups.  This is similar to what happened here in the United States.  It was only dimly understood that creationism was making inroads in society, despite the high-profile cases involving the public schools.  The home school community is almost lock-step creationist, a situation that has caused no small amount of grief in our household.  The post below this one is but one example of this. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Answers in Genesis' Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

Answers in Genesis now has a “Check this Out” feature where they tackle a scientific claim which argues for an old earth and try to debunk it.  Recently, much to my dismay, one of the home school teachers sent out a link to one of these videos on radiometric dating.  Aside from the mistakes inherent in the video, itself, it betrays a deep misunderstanding of how science works.  Here is the short video.

We will take this bit by bit.
  • 0:28 – the narrator states that most scientists regard the age of the earth as between 4.55 and 4.6 and then remarks that, if this is so accurate, why the 50 million year discrepancy?  He then states “That seems like a lot.”  50 million divided by 4.55 billion is 1.09%.  That is the standard error. This date range is made up of thousands of individual dates. The speedometer on your car is less accurate than that (standard error of 2.5%).  In fact, in any statistical test a 1% standard error is considered is equivalent to saying that you are 99% confident that the results you have are accurate. 1% is not a lot of anything. Also carefully omitted from the narrative is that these dates are derived from at least five different kinds of radiometric isochron dating: 
    • Lead-Lead isochron
    • Samarium-Neodymium isochron
    • Rubidium-Strontium isochron
    • Rhenium-Osmium isochron and 
    • Argon-Argon isochron.  
All of these dating methods have different decay states, decay rates and half lives and yet all give dates to within 1% error
  • 1:52 – After a reasonably straightforward description of radiometric dating, the narrator then, while admitting that it is true that a decay rate can be measured using “observational science,” it requires “historical science” to tell how old the rock actually is. He states that in order to get accurate measures from rocks, one would have to know both the decay rate and the initial conditions of the rock, otherwise we cannot directly measure the ages of rocks.  He asks “how do we know what the initial conditions were in the rock sample?”  and “How do we know the amounts of parent or daughter elements haven't been altered by other process in the past?” and How does someone know the decay rate has remained constant in the past?"   He then says “They don't.” This is false.
  • Timothy Heaton, Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences & Physics at South Dakota State University writes this about the parent/daughter ratios:
    Isochron dating bypasses the necessity of knowing the quantity of initial daughter product in the rock by not using that value in the computation. Instead of using the initial quantity of daughter isotope, the ratio of daughter isotope compared to another isotope of the same element (which is not the product of any decay process) is used as the comparison for isochron dating. The plot of the ratios of the number of atoms of the parent isotope to the number of atoms in the non-daughter isotope compared to the number of atoms of the daughter isotope to the non-daughter isotope should result in a straight line that intersects the vertical y-axis (which is the ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes). This point of intersection gives the initial ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes, which would also be the ratio in a mineral that crystallized without any parent isotope present.
    Here is a web site that shows how this plot works in graphic fashion. The narrator's  hourglass analogy is, therefore, inaccurate.  We don't need to know how much sand was in the hourglass to begin with, nor did we need to observe the process.  The decay rate is well-known and invariate, which leads to his second statement.
  • As far as the variation in decay rates of radiogenic isotopes goes, they have been shown to vary only  0.1% in response to outside influences (here, and here) and have been shown to vary significantly only under extreme laboratory conditions not found on earth.
As noted above, buried deep in this video and others that Answers in Genesis puts out is a particular philosophical bent that sees “observational science” as real science and “historical science” as not. Ken Ham is often quoted as rejecting historical science by rhetorically asking “Were you there?”  In other words, we cannot know historical processes because we did not observe them.  Consequently, when the narrator of this video says “we don't” in answer to how we can know how some of our assumptions about radiometric dating are correct, it is this philosophical bent in action.

Such a perspective is facile, as it completely disregards the fact that we reconstruct past events every day at all levels, from the simple act of encountering a broken glass on the floor with ice and water beside it (someone dropped a glass of water) to complex murder investigations in which no one but the murderer was present.  No one questions the validity of these assumptions and they form the basis for much of what we do in life, including our entire criminal justice system.

Secondary to this notion that we can reconstruct the past is that the processes that occur today also occurred in the past.  If I am digging in a field and encounter, at a depth of three or so feet, a series of horizontal metal beams that are four and a half feet apart with ties in between them, because I know that distance is the standard railway gauge, I can reasonably assume that what I have uncovered is part of an old railway.  Was I there when they built it?  No, but I didn't have to be to have a pretty good idea of what it is.

This is true not just of human constructs but also of natural formations.  Because we have modern floods, hurricanes, meteorite craters and so on, we can identify these formations in the past.

This puts historical science and all of its reconstructive observational power on level footing with observational science.  While Ken Ham and others at Answers in Genesis might say otherwise, it simply is not so.

It is amazing how much damage to scientific and academic integrity one can do in a three-minute video.  Answers in Genesis is, apparently, up to the task.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Creationism Not To Be Taught in Ohio Schools

World Religion News is reporting that the kerfuffle going on regarding the use of the Adnan Oktar (nee Harun Yahya) video on creationism has prompted the CEO of Youngstown, Ohio schools to issue a statement that creationism will not be taught.  Elisa Meyer writes:
The Ohio school curriculum has required that teachers show a creationist video as part of the tenth grade education program. The video, “Cambrian Fossils and The Creation of Species“, depicts the creationist theory of the origin of life.

However, things are going to change across Youngstown schools with the new decision made by Mohip. The CEO said they will follow a curriculum that will be completely in line with the guidelines as laid down by the Education Department of Ohio. Ohio has directed schools and institutions to base their education completely on a scientific approach and to avoid religious and pseudo-scientific beliefs and theories altogether.
World Religion News paints it as an ‘iconic’ victory for atheists, which is fundamentally myopic but indicative of how this disagreement is being framed these days.

A Personal Note: Of Life and Prostates

Funny thing about the prostate gland.  It is absolutely essential for procreation.  Put simply (and I know some people who did not know this), the prostate gland produces semen, without which the sperm would have nothing in which to travel.  Not prostate, no children.  On paper, it is a somewhat elegant solution except for the fact that, as Robin Williams once quipped: “The human body was designed by a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a recreational area?”

The sad fact of the matter is, however, once the children have been conceived and borne, and middle age descends like a ton of bricks, the prostate becomes not just irrelevant, it actually becomes a hindrance  to every-day life.  I have many friends who are dealing with prostate problems of one sort or another.

Where am I going with this?  On September 26, I will have surgery to remove stage three cancer from my prostate.We are told, as men, that if we live long enough, 75% of us will get some form of prostate cancer.  For most men, it strikes late in life, and they typically die from something else.

My cancer is different.  I am only 54.  As I remarked to my fellow church members, this is the Dan Fogelberg, Bill Bixby, Frank Zappa kind of cancer.  It is the kind that kills. For those of you familiar with such things, it has a Gleason score of 7.   Fortunately, for me, all indications are that the cancer has not spread, so this should take care of it.  It will result, nonetheless, in some somewhat unwanted life changes.  Oh well. Can't be helped. 

Long story short: that is why the posting has been somewhat spotty.  I have been trying to get ahead at work and working long hours to that effect.  I have also had one stinkin' medical test after another (some not so fun at all) and am worn out.  I hope to be back in the saddle soon.  My doctor seems confident that I will be back to work in four weeks.  One of the things that complicates things a bit is that I have type 2 diabetes which will prolong the healing process.  As soon as I am able, I will begin posting again. 

Please forgive the personal nature of this post but if you are a believer, please pray for me and my family.  Thanks.