Sunday, October 21, 2007

Second-RATE science

More creation comedy

Larry Vardiman, Ph.D., is the professor of atmospheric science and director of research at the Institute of Creation Research. The October 2007 issue of ICR's Acts & Facts provides us with some of Vardiman's keen insight into science the way it is done by creationists. His topic is the RATE project (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth), which was launched by ICR to try to reconcile the evidence of radioisotopes with the notion of a young earth. The existing proportions of radioactive isotopes and their decay products indicate an earth billions of years old, but this will never do for Bible literalists.
Could the study of the rates at which radioactive decay had occurred in the past solve this issue? Success by this approach meant that the decay of parent isotopes and the production of daughter isotopes would have occurred at rates many orders of magnitude greater than the conventional view. The RATE team knew it would be breaking new ground.

The concept of so-called accelerated decay was highly controversial and would not be easily accepted by the scientific community without strong supporting evidence.
Vardiman has a gift for understatement. If he were not a creationist, I would suspect him of also having a talent for deadpan humor, but creationists tend to be in dead earnest all the time, even when they are using so unnatural a word as “evidence.”

While Vardiman is able to brag that “the response within the creationist community has been generally positive concerning the quality of the work and the significance of the findings” announced by the RATE project participants, RATE has been singularly unsuccessful in persuading the scientific community at large. RATE is simply one more sermon being preached to the choir.

ICR insists, however, that RATE was a scientific endeavor. Observe how Vardiman portrays the deep thinking of the RATE participants, as they considered possibilities other than accelerated decay:
While literature review and research design were progressing, two additional hypotheses were considered. They were: (1) Large initial concentrations of daughter isotopes in the mantle that were mixed into the crust on Day 3 of Creation week, and (2) large concentrations of daughter elements produced during the six days of Creation week that were later mixed into the crust by the Genesis Flood. Both required supernatural action by the Creator, occurring either at the very beginning of time or during the early events of the Creation week. Processes subsequent to these supernatural events could be studied by conventional scientific methods and would be less controversial.
That is, RATE would study the aftermath of the miraculous event, since miracles themselves are beyond our comprehension. Exactly how does Vardiman figure the RATE team could persuade any neutral observer that “A miracle happened!” is a good explanation for natural phenomena?

Vardiman is aware of the problem:
Of course, any reference to supernatural intervention is strictly taboo according to the conventional definition of the scientific method today. Even scientists who are Christians often react negatively to such suggestions.
Fortunately, at least according to Vardiman, evidence-based research came to the rescue:
Accelerated decay during several periods of earth history became the primary hypothesis because evidence had accumulated that a large amount of nuclear decay had occurred in the rocks after the initial Creation. Some of the decay may have occurred during the Creation events, but a large amount must have also occurred during later periods, such as the Genesis Flood. Some accelerated decay had apparently occurred during and following the Flood, even up until recently, with evidence seen in the presence of fission tracks, radiohalos, and residual helium in rocks containing uranium and other radioactive elements associated with Flood rocks.

Most creationists who had previously considered this problem believed that the large quantity of daughter isotopes present today were formed primarily during Creation and that the concentration of daughter isotopes was non-zero when time began. If this were true, then the problem could be solved simply by resetting our clocks to account for this non-zero starting point. However, the evidence said otherwise.
The evidence said otherwise? Perhaps if we troubled to read all of the RATE publications (none of it in peer-reviewed journals, by the way), we could examine this “evidence” for ourselves, but what is more nonsensical than miracle-mongers arguing about “evidence”? If God in his infinite wisdom said “Shazam!” and created decay-product isotopes by a minor application of his omnipotence, then who dares to pile up “evidence” that he did not? That doesn't sound like an honest day's work for true believers.

Vardiman's concluding remarks juxtapose “evidence” and Bible credulity in a perfect illustration of the oxymoronic nature of the ICR's so-called research:
Thus, the RATE research was bound by two major constraints—the clear statements of Scripture that the time since Creation was only thousands of years, and the evidence that a lot of nuclear decay had occurred since Creation.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. No doubt!


Anonymous said...

The whole "A miracle occured" reminds me of a cartoon by Sidney Harris.

Anonymous said...

"... the clear statements of Scripture that the time since Creation was only thousands of years, and the evidence that a lot of nuclear decay had occurred since Creation."

At least he recognizes there's a conflict between old manuscripts and the evidence. And of course it's possible that all properties of matter have changed in systematic, random, or even chaotic ways over the course of time. But why oh why would you ever suspect it? Only to support the claims made in the old manuscripts!

This reminds me a bit of the attempts early in the 20th century of scientists trying to justify the social inequalities between races by reference to inherited characteristics, so well debunked by Gould in The Mismeasure of Man. It seems to me that the innate inferiority of certain races was simply taken for granted; scientists were only trying to find out why it was so. Vardiman assumes the old manuscripts are correct and wants to find out what laws of nature would need to be broken to allow it.

Occam would be screaming.

Anonymous said...

Thus, the RATE research was bound by two major constraints—the clear statements of Scripture that the time since Creation was only thousands of years, and the evidence that a lot of nuclear decay had occurred since Creation.

How would they even know their god is infallible? Even if their god yelled out of the sky and said it created everything, why take its word for that? How ridiculous.