Saturday, July 02, 2011

Punctuation for thee and me

Bringing reason to a full stop

The back page of a recent Answers Update (Vol. 18, No. 6) carries a bright little apologetic nugget by Ken Ham himself, the strikingly australopithecine leader of Answers in Genesis. Ham is talking about the earth's effing magnetic field. How does it work?
[G]eophysical and archaeological evidence indicates that 1,000 years ago, the magnetic field of the earth was 40% stronger than today. This field is actually decaying at a rate of 5% per century.

The decay rate may not sound like much, but it's a very important factor in determining the age of the earth. Using the current rate of decay, it's been calculated that just a million years ago, the magnetic field would have been so strong that it would have melted the planet! ...

Creationist physicists declare that the magnetic field is a very strong indicator that our planet cannot be any older than 10,000 years. This, of course, confirms the roughly 6,000-year timeline in the book of Genesis.
Please don't be distracted by Ham's use of amusing little oxymorons like “creationist physicists.” We can easily detect what he is up to. There's a useful word to describe the theoretical foundation for Ham's argument:


Obvious. Right? Ham is assuming that conditions affecting the earth's magnetic field have remained exactly the same throughout history. What else is that besides uniformitarianism? Of course, Ham might beg to differ. Let's see how he described uniformitarianism in the 1987 edition of his book The Lie: Evolution:
Geologists have the idea that the processes we see operating in the present world have been going on for millions of years at essentially the same rate, and will probably go on for millions of years into the future as well. The technical word used in geology for this belief is “uniformitarianism.” For example, the desert museum in Tucson, Arisona, not only has a display for people to see what supposedly has happened over the past millions of years, but it also has a display of what many scientists believe will happen to Arizona over the millions of years yet to come!

Evolutionists, atheistic and theistic, use the phrase “the present is the key to the past.” In other words, they say that the way to understand the past is to observe what happens in the present.”
Bingo! Ham's magnetic-field argument for a young earth is a page ripped right out of the uniformitarianism playbook. He stands self-accused.

One imagines that Ham might wish to quibble. He could claim that he was using a reductio ad absurdum argument—or proof by contradiction—having demonstrated that the assumption of uniformitarianism leads to an impossibly high level of magnetic flux in the prehistoric past.

Sorry. That won't work. He is not just arguing that an old earth is impossible. Ham explicitly declares that some simple computations provide evidence consistent with a young earth. He is making a “pro” argument for his position every bit as much as he is making a “con” argument against his opponents (which constitute 99% of the scientific community).

Ham may not like uniformitarianism, but he is certainly willing to use it when it suits him. Perhaps he needs to create a new label for it. May I suggest “punctuated uniformitarianism”? He can use it to argue that physical laws and natural processes are uniform between occasional catastrophes—like his magnetic-field argument.


Kathie said...

Sounds as though Ham never made it beyond linear functions in the first semester of 9th grade Algebra -- not even to quadratics, let alone exponential and logarithmic. He's likely to answer a resounding "NO" to the title question in that parody Miss USA Q&A, "Should Math be taught in schools?" since a little more math knowledge would cause Ham's sheeple to start being skeptical of his pronouncements.

Kathie said...

BTW, is it just my imagination, or does Ham moonlight as the Geico caveman?

Zeno said...

You may find this hard to believe, Kathie, but Ken Ham participated in a Geico commercial parody a few years ago ("Creation: so easy a caveman can get it"). The tricky part is telling Ham apart from the caveman when they appear on the screen at the same time.

Pretty amazing!

ERinSTL said...

Besides all the wrong you've mentioned, Ham's math skillz aren't what he thinks they are, either.

He commits the classic high-school error of assuming that the ratio of (40% greater in the past):today is equivalent to the ratio of past:(40% less today).

Applying his decay rate of 5% per century over 10 centuries takes us to 0.95^10, or 59.9%, which is suspiciously congruent to a magnetic field that is 40% less today than it used to be. Not at all congruent to the situation he bases his calculation on: a magnetic field that was 40% stronger 1000 years ago. He should have stated a decay rate of about 3.3% per century.

Probably nit-picking, given all the rest of his errors. But still, clear evidence that he did it wrong.

Kathie said...

ERinSTL -- analogous to, ahem, Zeno's Paradox, no?

ERinSTL said...

Well, Kathie, I had to do some research, as I was ignorant of Zeno's Paradoxes. But, no, I don't think Ham's Goof--as it will henceforward be known--is in the same category with Zeno's Paradoxes. That is, unless our host blogmaster has some different paradoxes than the ancient Zeno. Disclaimer: I am not a mathematician; there may very well be a relationship between Zeno's Paradox and Ham's Goof that I am too blind to see.