Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Creationists at Skeptic Night

(Last updated: May 23)

I've finally completed the many hours required to write about an event that happened on April 17. On that date, the Seattle Skeptics meeting was packed with science enthusiasts eager to hear members of the Creation Association of Puget Sound talk about why they think that the earth is only thousands of years old.
` We were disappointed that they didn't have any "new evidence" for a young earth, as had been promised, but at least we were thoroughly amused: This photo is of Neil Huber (who earned a real Ph.D. in biology), deluging us with bass-ackwards bible logic that has nothing to do with evolution, while the audience tries hard not to laugh out loud:

apr 141 Creationist #3

You can see why we would be disappointed when you take a look at the description for this event from our group's Meetup page, at which point in time there was already a waiting list. Here's the beginning:
Konnichiwa Seattle Skeptics!!
 Ok, well I've never updated an event that was actually full to capacity while I typed- so either I am really late with this update...or holycrapthisisgoingtobeapopularevent!
  (This month I'm going to keep my skeptical pre-soak banter to a minimum to give our guest speakers as much time as possible to present.)
 This month our speakers are from the Creation Association of Puget Sound (CAPS) and they are here to give a talk titled:
 "The Young Earth Hypothesis"
Just after this event, my Creationist Roommate (or "CR") left me some commentary on a Facebook post of mine, saying that I am too proud and not scholarly enough to actually take a good look at "creation science", the assumption being that if I had, then I would begin to doubt the fact that the modern theory of evolution is one of the best-supported scientific theories of all time and is the only way ever known to explain or understand all species ever discovered, and is consistent with (if not supported by) everything we know, not only in all of biology, but in chemistry, geology, astronomy and even nuclear physics.

Of course, CR has admitted to not exposing himself to the subject of evolution past the level of children's books -- and that was around 20 years ago -- so I doubt he could have any real or accurate memory of even that.
` As for me, I've spent over ten years off and on studying evolution at a college level (sometimes even at college!), all the while reading creationism articles of varying levels, and have recently been shaking off the rust.
` Part of this has involved many months of asking CR for suggestions in the creationist aspect of my research (heaps of which I showed to him). He said that a lot of the sciencey stuff went over his head, and thanked me for having so much more enthusiasm for such research than he did.

In a nutshell -- which I shall expand upon in other posts -- he shows a very incomplete understanding of what the scientific method is, as well as basic scientific concepts and theories. Yet, he also seems to think that he knows more than enough to be certain that I'm wrong, despite his admissions that science is not his strong point.

Why is he so certain that I am wrong, to say nothing of almost all of the world's scientists? I am willing to bet that it's because, he claims, God Said So, personally telling him of the world's six-day creation less than 7,000 years ago. Because pretty much all scientific fields show a distinct story that is obviously different from What God Said, that means that science must be an anti-God conspiracy/satanic religion led by the devil, instead of actually science.
` Therefore, the reason that I, Spoony, think that science makes sense must not be as much because of my understanding of it, but because I prefer to be led by sin and temptation. He says that's because there are only two paths to life, and if you don't believe that everything in the bible is literally true, then by default you're following the path to Satan.
` And as for the majority of Christians in the world who accept the earth's long history and the evolution of species? They're not really Christians because they don't believe that the entire universe originated many millennia after humans had begun domesticating plants and animals -- and yes, many of them don't believe in the Jesus-or-hell thing, either. For those sinners, presumably, Jesus will not be clicking the 'save' icon.

So, when you look at it that way, that would seem to make it sensible to call me proud and accuse me of not having done my homework, right?
` But, I digress -- this post is about the creationists from CAPS and their presentations (which they seemed to have copied and pasted from creationist websites), so let's take a look:

Our meetup organizer (Paul Case) maintains that there are no announcements today, despite Sam Wise Gingy's insistence, which is that he is only 1/3 the criminal he was last month. This, in reference to his getting arrested for videotaping hucksters at the state fair. (Long story -- and the creationist sitting across from him agreed that selling snake oil is something to be exposed.)
` Basically, the judge threw out the Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Officers, since the entire incident was caught on tape. Now it's down to Criminal Trespass, and since it's on public property I highly doubt that will stand in court.
` That's "Sam Wise" on the right, to his left is Heidi, and on the far left is Jon Greene, who is actually an Old Earth Creationist. I guess I can see why he isn't giving a presentation of his own today....

apr 138 Also across from Samwise Gingy

To my left, by the way, was my 'cool' roommate Brianade, and to his left was John Johnson, Tom Greene and Neil Huber, the young-earth creationists.

apr 137 Creationist Night at Skeptics Meeting -- hilarity!

So, what all did they say? A lot of different, and sometimes contradictory, things. Was it anything we hadn't already heard? Not really. Should I have bothered to take all of it down? I didn't see the point -- this stuff is all over young-earth creationist websites, practically word-for-word.
` Still, I did write down some bits and pieces, each segment of which I shall preface with Case's Meetup summary because, well, it's just that fantastic:
CAPS will present their evidence that probability is better than 50% that the earth age’s is within 15,000 years old and their reasons why they feel the probability increases rapidly above that.  They also claim that Creationists are free to use logic to interpret the data of earth’s age, the materialists are biased to show only data of billions of years and suppress other data."
Taking it from our perspective, of course, this young earth idea is just one of countless religion-based concepts of the universe. For instance, many Hindus claim that there is a bias in science because it doesn't show that the earth is old enough: Their religion tells them that humanity alone has been around for billions of years, therefore, scientific observations can't be right.
` So, in other words, different religions have their own ideas about how old the earth should be. The point of science is to figure out the age of the earth independent of religious doctrine of any kind. They all come up with the same age for the earth, which is the same age as the rest of the solar system, and so-called conflicting data is basically a product of propaganda, as we'll see a bit of in this post.

The first speaker up to bat was John Johnson, PhD in applied math -- here's his blurb:
History of the earth-age conundrum. The computation of the earth age should use logic to integrate philosophy, history (Bible is history) and science without bias, not a one-option materialistic bias. Charles Lyell fudged erosion data to compute Niagara Falls age as 35,000 years instead of under 10,000 years. A bias caused layers of fossilized trees at Specimen Ridge (at Yellowstone ) to be interpreted as eons in spite of lack of roots. Biased Erroneous Data was presented at Scopes Trial (Piltdown Man, Embryology).

apr 139 Creationist #1

The only "new" thing this guy pointed out was the fact that Saturn's rings will eventually collapse. Well, of course Saturn didn't always have rings -- they come and go. I asked what his point was, and he said that astronomy agreed with creationism in that the rings are unstable and won't be around in the far future, not that it was evidence for creationism.
` In other words, the rings of Saturn being temporary structures is evidence for is the rings of Saturn being temporary structures.

Later, he says that people began to accept an old earth because Charles Lyell fudged his data, showing that Niagara Falls was older than it is. Indeed, according to Niagara Falls Live, the Niagara River is only about 12,000 years old, beginning to flow just as the ice sheet was retreating, and the falls came much later.
` The important question is, what could Lyell and Niagara Falls possibly have to do with whether or not the earth was old? Just because one geological formation is young does not mean the entire earth is young! Besides, that was before most of our modern geological dating methods had ever been developed, so it's not as though there were a lot of tests for accuracy back then.
` Johnson's point was that Lyell used this argument to get the scientific community thinking that the earth is old, thus causing a 'paradigm shift' (boy am I sick of this term, what with living with a creationist myself!). I'm not sure of the impact of this particular case, but whether or not this is true, it is completely irrelevant because today's scientists cross-reference data from literally the entire earth (and, actually, the rest of the solar system) in order to determine its age and the ages of its various bits.
` What I do know is that Lyell's entire book had an impact, and that it influenced Darwin. But, just because one (probably more) of the arguments in his book proved to be wrong doesn't discount the rest of the book, nor the idea that the earth is many millions of years old.

Then, Johnson says that the moon would have been so close to the earth 550 million years ago, in the Cambrian Era, that early multicellular life would have been seriously affected by the tides. Would it have?
` As it turns out, the tides affect the laying-down of mud, sand or silt on the ocean floor, and especially in deltas, creating layers that show the timing of the moon's orbit. Appropriately enough, these are called rhythmites.
` Annual cycle rhythmites are often called varves, although over longer periods of time they record distinct and regular patterns of climate change known as Milankovich cycles, which are caused by the regular wobble of the earth (26,000 years), the change of its rotational tilt (41,000 years), and its being pulled on by the gravity of other bodies (100,000 years).

The Moon's cyclical patterns are part of what affects the thickness of these sediment layers, and the ratios between the different cycles can be measured. From this, one can calculate the ratio for the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which tells you how long the month is, as well as what the tidal forces and heights would have been.
` The current distance of the moon from the earth is 238,855 miles, so what was it in the past? The Geological Society of Britain, for example, mentions that geologists working on this problem have found that 620 million years ago, the Moon was roughly 230,495 miles away, whereas 2,450 million years ago it would have been 216,402 (Williams, 2000) which still isn't that much different from today.
` This also shows that the Moon has, on average, been speeding up its gradual, spiraling flight from the Earth over millions of years. Also, work by Williams, along with Varga et. al. (2006), led to the current consensus that the the earth and moon would never have been less than 20% closer than they are currently.
In terms of tides, if the Earth-Moon distance has never been more than ~20% less than the present value, then tidal forces have never been much more than 40% greater than current values. Since tidal heights today vary far more than this, from less than 1m in the deep ocean (and much less in confined seas such as the Mediterranean) to 17m in the Bay of Fundy, it seems unlikely that tidal heights, even at unusual locations such as Fundy, or at any point in the past, were significantly more extreme than those seen today.
Not only did the sea not slosh noticeably more only 550 million years ago than today, but even if it did, it would not have affected sea life that much, since it rides along on the waves, much as we ride along on the continents without noticing that the land has tides.
` Naturally, the Moon's rate of getting farther from earth changes over time because the earth's pesky continents don't hold still -- at this particular moment, it's slowing down slightly -- and it will not be noticeably farther away in the next 500 million years.

Then he goes on about this really old bristlecone pine not being older than 4,900 years or some such. And the significance of that is...? So, there were no global cataclysms (like floods) after that tree had sprouted. And? The King Clone Creosote bush in the Mojave Desert, which has grown to a diameter of 45 feet, has been carbon-dated at 11,700 years old, meaning that there couldn't have been any global cataclysm after that time, either.
` I think someone actually brought that up, but of course he didn't agree with this. As far as I can tell from the internets, there was one guy who speculated that King Clone was only some 7,000 years old, and that's still a lot older than when Noah's flood was supposed to be.

And of course, that brings us to the tired old "discrepancies" with Carbon 14 dating. Okay, crash course: The unstable carbon isotope, Carbon 14, naturally forms when Nitrogen 14 is struck by cosmic radiation in the upper atmosphere.
` The percentage of Carbon 14 in the atmosphere is fairly constant, and thus it is also constant in living plants, which breathe in both forms of carbon via carbon dioxide. When the plant dies, its Carbon 14 decays into Nitrogen 14 at a specific, known rate, and the age of, say, an ancient piece of wood, can be determined by measuring the ratio of Carbon 12 vs Carbon 14.
` The same goes for animals and other organisms that feed on these plants, although it is well-known among geologists that there are stores of already-decayed carbon that circulate in more closed ecosystems, for example the cold waters that sink to the bottom of the polar seas.
` Thus, animals such as penguins have less Carbon 14 in them because they are eating fish whose carbon isn't fresh from the atmosphere. This is called the "reservoir effect", and is well-understood, both ecologically, and as a limitation that nature imposes on Carbon 14 dating.

The scientists who actually do radiometric measurements (of any kind) are not told what date the samples are already thought to be, and also samples are divided up and sent to different labs for independent dating.
` So, if the lab gets a wildly different date from what is expected, or if different labs get different dates, then there is sure to be a problem somewhere. In general, this doesn't happen, and to believe that there's anything really unreliable with Carbon 14 dating, you have to ignore almost all the data, which is consistent.

Consistencies include dating different pieces of the same object and getting the same results, accurate dating of historical artifacts of known age, and tree ring samples, which essentially tell their own age. Besides tree rings, C-14 also agrees with all other dating techniques which tell the ages of objects less than 60,000 years old, which is the time at which the C-14 has decayed to negligible amounts.
` As for the data that are commonly called inconsistent by creationists, there are many causes. These include:

* Using C-14 to date items over 60,000 years old (which creationists often do).

* Using it to date items covered in organic substances (i.e. Tyrannosaurus fossils coated in resin).

* Using it to date materials since the Industrial Revolution began to tip the balance of carbon.

* Using it to date remains from animals that lived in the water where 'dead carbon' had built up via the "reservoir effect" (i.e. freshwater snails and mummified seals).

* Contamination from another carbon source.

* Claiming that two different carbon dating samples from two different sources (i.e. two different mummified mammoths) are from the same source.

Then, Johnson goes onto the Specimen Ridge fossil forest in Yellowstone that shows trees without root structures and trees buried in layers of sediment, which he says are because they were buried in Noah's flood. Or maybe, it's a little more complicated than that:
` Now, when you look at trees that had been washed into Mount St. Helens' Spirit Lake via mud flows, they were mostly horizontal, but on Specimen Ridge, more than half of the trees were buried upright, and according to Arct, 1991, their rings show that they did not all die at the same time.
` More compelling, however, is the fact that there are a lot of abraded trees and stumps with extensive root systems embedded in sandstone on the lower ground, sometimes with remains of soil. They have been buried by high-energy ash and mud flows from the mountains that contain other dead trees without root structures.
` Although we tried to tell him about this, I think he should just see Fritz 1980, 1983, and 1984; Retallack 1981, and Yuretich 1984a and 1984b.

Anyway, I think that's all he had time for, as my notes don't show anything else. And if there was anything else -- judging by his blurb -- it probably had to do with the Piltdown Man hoax (which not many people ever took seriously to begin with).
` Also would have had to do with Ernst Haeckel's crazy idea where embryos are supposed to resemble adult forms of ancestral species (rather than resembling the embryos of ancestral species), which was based on his unscientific idea that today's species did not share common ancestors.
` Whether or not these points were used as evidence in the Scopes Trial is irrelevant to modern science, or I would think, science back then. After all, a court case is not science. Next:

Tom Greene Ph.D. in astronomy/physics:
He will present evidence for what caused the ice age and how it is related to environment change after a global flood, evidence that global flood explains geological column, historical evidence for Noah and his sons. All fossils must be buried suddenly to allow fossilization. Gradual sedimentation will not work. Polystrate fossil trees show sudden burial.

apr 140 Creationist #2

He says that nautiloids were swimming in a current because they were buried upright in the Grand Canyon, therefore it was one giant flood that buried them?
` Okay, for one thing, the nautiluses were not buried whole, just their shells, along with the remains of corals and other tropical sea life. The particular layer they're in was a shallow sea when they were buried, and fossils that wouldn't be expected to be seen in a shallow sea are not found there.
` For another thing, the Grand Canyon has the winding, meandering path of a slow river, and much of it is especially hard rock such as granite, which would have needed a very long time for any water to carve through. From these two facts alone, it's easy to see why it would have had to take a very long time to form.
` And would it have had to flow uphill? Of course not... but you know, I think Potholer54 did a video on this and much else on the Grand Canyon, which I think is a lot more entertaining approach than what I could do with mere text. You know, just to mix it up.
` Ah yes, here it is. Amusingly, it opens with some kid who thinks he's doing a science experiment:

Coal and diamonds have Carbon 14? Yes, uranium deposits tend to have that effect on neutrons. The farther away that the coal and diamonds are to radioactive rocks, the less Carbon 14 is in them. I pointed this out, and Tom said that may cause some of it, but asked about the examples that are far away from such deposits.
` I figured there could be other sources of carbon leaking into the ground, but didn't know for sure. Shortly thereafter, I found out through discussion with some others, that mineral-eating microbes are common sources of Carbon 14 in these cases. Not surprisingly, I found a page on this at Talk Origins, which discusses the various scientific papers on the subject in some detail (which wouldn't fit in this post).

The next argument that I wrote down was; since a Tyrannosaurus fossil was found with intact flesh and blood vessels, it could not be millions of years old. That's not logically sensical, as it turns out, since paleontologists don't really understand the limits of preservation well enough to know that such a thing is impossible.
` There was some doubt among the other skeptics as to what the heck this stuff actually was -- for example, what looked like red blood cells seem to be natural mineral formations of iron oxide called framboids. Now at home with the internet to help me, I decided to look into this controversy:
` The first thing I found was this really great, detailed article explaining the counter-intuitive subtleties of of what fossilization is and what it means, and about how scientists talking about fossilization as though they understand it better than they actually do (i.e. being surprised that some things are as well-preserved as they are) leaves them open to criticism by creationists who don't know that mineralization is not the same thing as the theory of evolution.
` I learned a lot from it, and I recommend it to anyone reading this -- it's called Non-Mineralized Tissues in Fossil T rex by Joe Skulan, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Although Talk Origins is not a website I have relied upon much in the past, I have been checking it out while writing this article and thought it had some pretty good points on this matter:
  1. The reports of the soft tissue, though remarkable, have been sensationalized further. The tissues were not soft and pliable originally. The tissues were rehydrated in the process of removing the surrounding mineral components of the bone (Schweitzer et al. 2005). Moreover, it is unknown whether the soft tissues are original tissues. Fossil flexible tissues and nucleated cells have been found before in which the original material was not preserved (Stokstad 2005). 
  2. The age of fossils is not determined by how well they are preserved, because preservation depends far more on factors other than age. The age of this particular bone was determined from the age of the rocks it was found in, namely, the Hell Creek Formation. This formation has been reliably dated by several independent methods (Dalrymple 2000).
  3. DNA has never been recovered from any dinosaurs nor from anything as old as them, and researchers do not expect to find DNA from these soft tissues (though they can still hope). DNA has been recovered, however, from samples much more than 10,000 years old (Poinar et al. 1998), even more than 300,000 years old (Stokstad 2003; Willerslev et al. 2003). If dinosaur fossils were as young as creationists claim, finding soft tissues in them would not be news, and recovering DNA from them should be easy enough that it would have been done by now.
Yeah, why hasn't this happened before? But the question still nagged: Is it really dinosaur tissue? Looking for more recent research I found a PLoS Online article from 2007 that demonstrates not only that the 'blood cells' are just framboids, but that there's a real possibility of interpreting this T rex tissue as bacterial biofilm, which are known to fill in the voids that are left by blood vessels and tissue in other fossil bones, and which could also account for the proteins that had been found.
` One familiar type of biofilm is the plaque on your teeth. A biofilm is a bit like a bacterial 'city', where different types of bacteria serve different functions, and if you shred the structure apart, it ceases to function. This is why flossing and chewing gum with Xylitol are enough to stop the damage from these bacteria without actually killing them all.
` When a biofilm becomes mineralized, it's called 'calculus'. (Concerning teeth, it's also called 'tartar'.) It is this mineralization which allows biofilm to hold the shape of whatever it touches. This even happens if you leave rainwater in a bucket long enough, or if you don't clean your pet's water bowl (not that I recommend this!).
` For further reading on this subject, I found a news article of Kaye's research, as reported in Science Daily, and another one on Tara Smith's Aetiology blog, although I particularly like the one on GrrlScientist's blog.
` I didn't find any more on this subject, but it seems to me that biofilm is the best explanation so far.

Anyway, at another point, Greene talks about the Mid Atlantic Ridge, which I learned about in Oceanography class. This may sound like I'm going off on a tangent, but relevant to this discussion is the fact that when lava solidifies, creating basalt, its magnetism aligns with the earth's magnetic field.
` It has long been known that as you drill a hole through the earth's crust, the magnetic polarity of basalt and other magnetic rocks is reversed, but as you go deeper, it goes back to normal again, and then reverses again, and continues doing so, flipping polarity about every half a million years.
` At first, some scientists thought that the crust of the earth might somehow slide itself over the poles, thereby reversing its position in relation to them. Now, of course, we know that this magnetic reversal of the rocks is because the magnetic poles themselves shift around within the earth, not the other way around! (The sun also does this every 11 years.)

Now, especially with the help of a submersible craft, one can easily see that lava spews outwards from either side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge -- similar to other such volcanic ridges -- thus forming the sea floor at a rate of about two inches per year. So, the newest seafloor is right up next to the ridge, but as one moves away from it, on either side, the seafloor becomes progressively older.
` Accordingly, there is no sediment on the seafloor near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, although the sediment thickness swells to a few miles near the continents. Also, near the ridge are younger islands, but as one goes towards either coast, the islands become accordingly older.

It's easy to tell that this has been going on for millions of years, because as one moves out from the center of the ridge, the magnetic polarity of the basalt reverses, and then reverses again, each spaced at about a half-million years' worth of seafloor spreading. (This timing is confirmed via other dating methods, of course.)
` Some of these magnetic 'stripes' are thicker than others, and are noticeably symmetrical on either side of the ridge, a mirror-image recording of each magnetic pole reversal as the basalt flows outward. Not only does this record the activity of the earth's magnetosphere, but it shows that the seafloor took millions of years to make.

With the seafloor moving outwards like some sort of conveyor belt, the continents ride on top -- this is what is known as plate tectonics: The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is precisely between the Americas on one side and Europe and Africa on the other -- it's a boundary between the plates those continents sit on -- and yet, if you take away the 150 million years' worth of seafloor separating them, they fit together as one continent.
` Before the magnetic data were known, this idea was highly controversial. Afterwards, the geologists and oceanographers could universally agree that plate tectonics explains not only how the coasts fit so closely together, but why fossils that are at least 150 million years old are also identical on opposite coasts and slowly become different as the ages passed.
` Some existing tectonic plates are currently splitting in two via this process in the U.S., Siberia, and in Africa. The East African Rift Valley, between Ethiopia and Tanzania, is even turning itself into an ocean! And of course, while some plates of the world are drifting apart, others are being scrunched together -- the Himalayas are being pushed up five millimeters each year because the plate that India is riding on is colliding with Asia at 13 centimeters per year, and the land has no way to go but up.

Even more strikingly, the magnetic fields of ancient rocks are not polarized (or reverse-polarized) along the same roughly north-south axis as they are now because the continents were not in the same place: If you compare the polarity of a particular continent at a particular time, and figure out what that continent's position would have been at that time, its polarity was actually lined up with north and south.
` I wrote most of this plate tectonic stuff off the top of my head, but for some more details and also handy visual aids, NASA's page is somewhat helpful.

Now, it's clear that the different plates, with their different land-masses, are still slowly moving because this can be seen with modern geological surveying technology, including satellites using lidar (like radar, but with frickin' laser beams). Judging from the paths they've left behind them, so to speak, this has been going on for a long time.

And what is the point of this all? Why did I just write all about plate tectonics, excitedly and rapidly, without any apparent response to creationism?
` Because, I wanted to make sure that it's clear to my readers that Greene's conjecture really is inexplicably off-the-wall: He says that that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge actually erupted all at once, thus boiling the ocean, which would have created 40 days and 40 nights of rain; the wind from that would have caused a lot of erosion, creating the illusion of age, and the precipitation would have caused an ice age via nuclear winter.
` Yes, really.
` He didn't even try to explain away actual plate tectonics or anything, and so it was quite difficult to stifle the laughter.

After that, he began going into the geography of Noah's grandsons -- they share names with certain places of the world, therefore Noah was real? Granted, I don't know much about this topic, but leaping logic, Batman! Sheesh!

In closing, he said that it is possible to be an intellectually fulfilled young earth creationist, ending with, "Take that, Richard!"
` Somehow I think that Richard might take this all a bit different than he would hope, but let's move on, shall we?

Neil Huber, PhD, biology, (former professor of evolutionary biology).
He will discuss reconciling history and biblical inerrancy. A young - earth interpretation is consistent with both scientific and biblical data, not one that does justice to neither, merely requires assuming that the Ex 20:11*,Genesis 1, Mark 10:6** chronicles it.
*God dictated: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
**Jesus said: “But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.' “
As you saw above, there was much groaning over Neil -- that's Case facepalming, there:

apr 142 Case can hardly contain himself back there

Basically, he played the faith card, saying that scientists have to have faith that their way of interpreting the evidence is the right way. For example, since there's more genetic diversity in Africa, that's consistent with descendents of Noah coming from Mount Ararat around 4,000 years ago.
` Or... humans evolving in Africa.
` To believe the Noah story, you also have to ignore everything which contradicts Noah's flood, not to mention the fact that the genetic clock of steadily-ticking mutations shows that humans' last severe genetic bottleneck was around 70,000 years ago.
` I'd elaborate, but frankly, I just want to finish this post within a month of starting it -- luckily, there are many articles online that talk about molecular clocks. For example, there's a very simple (and interactive) illustration of how it works at Understanding Evolution, but this one at PhysOrg goes into more detail, and another at Nature Scitable is for people who really want to get into some high-level nitty-gritty.
` Huber didn't really say anything about molecular clocks per se, but according to him, genetics used to be 'perfect' -- whatever that is supposed to mean, he couldn't really explain it to us -- and mutations are a more recent phenomenon.

Somewhat shockingly (to me), he had the fortitude to say that the reason that fossil animals are found at different strata in a particular order is because they were running from the flood water, and so more primitive animals were not able to outrun more advanced ones.
` According to this logic, moles could not run faster than Velociraptors, and pterosaurs could not fly over elephants.
` I mean, really? Did he think that the animals of the lower geological strata were too stupid to stay away from the water? And what about plants? They're found in a particular sequence, but they can't even move! I didn't ask these questions, but I certainly felt like doing so.

Then he says that atheists reject God, agnostics are curious, and the skeptics are people who question things, or some such, so it's a good thing that we're skeptics, right? I thought about his descriptions for a moment. For one thing, how can you reject something you don't believe in? Do you say, "Santa Claus, I reject you!" or do you just not believe that he exists?
` Agnostics are people who don't claim to know whether or not God exists. Some of them think there may be some sort of god, but most don't see the point in holding out hope (if that's the right word). Skeptics, according to to the particular definition that we use, are people who work on their critical thinking skills and generally have high standards of evidence.
` Case says he'll root out all the atheists - ha!

Again, Huber plays the faith card: Says that no one can experience historical events, and we can choose to rely on the bible, or not. He's out of time here, but we all say, "More time!" and he says, "Oh, praise the Lord!" and "I love you skeptics!"

So, Huber thinks the earth is young because of Biblical genealogy. Raised as an atheist and trained as a biologist, he once taught evolution with confidence, but his students kept asking questions. What were they? Something about radioactivity and decay rates and Hubble constants, thus resulting in us realizing that he doesn't understand astrophysics.

Yes, he assures us, he could debunk the televangelists' arguments against evolution, because they obviously didn't understand it at all, but one student got him to listen to this one televangelist. By the time Huber had gotten to the TV, this man had stopped talking about evolution and had started talking about the bible and history, and reading the prophecy of Ezekiel.
` That was what led him down the young earth creationist path, rather than an argument against evolution. But, if this man had been reading from the Qur'an, would he be a Muslim today? Huber says this is not likely because Islam is based on hate and killing the opposition. And Moses? That was different.

So, he says, the bible is a phenomenon, scientists study phenomena, but languages are easier to read than fossils, and the bible is true. "That's my thesis."
` That's unfortunate, because scientists prefer to know what nature says about the universe -- the bible was written by people rather than natural causes.

Now, let's move onto Heinz Lycklama, PhD, nuclear physics.
He will review specific dating methods that favor a young earth hypothesis (thousands to millions of years) over a old earth hypothesis (billions of years): Old Earth Problems: early faint sun, early moon-tide, Saturn-ring decay, tree-ring data limit, Mercury’s magnetic field, surplus methane on Titan, Earth-orbit decay, Saturn & Jupiter radiate surplus energy, short period comets remain, stalagtites and stagmites growth rate, sea salinity rate, sea floor deposition rate, coal forms quickly, and coal & diamond have measurable C-14.
Although he had some dandy slides that look copy-and-pasted from creationist websites, I was so engaged with his talk -- as people are at the sight of a train wreck -- that I didn't think to take a picture.

By this point, both in the presentation, as well as writing this article, I'm only taking more of this because I have a masochistic streak. Engagingly so.

First, he's saying that the theory of evolution is a belief system because we can't apply the scientific method to it. Why not? Because most of it occurred in the past, which we can't experience. And by that logic, we can't apply the scientific method to atoms because we can't experience their existence, therefore atomic theory is a belief system.
` Maybe that's not the best analogy, so if you have a better one, I'd like to hear.

Again with the Tyrannosaurus soft tissue and lots of stuff that has already been covered by the others at least once. Not to mention genetic entropy and the Myetsry of the Genome by John Sandford. Contrary to his claims, new genes arise all the time -- check out this Scitable article for more details and some examples.
` There are also many known examples of beneficial mutations, including lactose tolerance in humans past the age of two. I also found this Big Think article discussing of beneficial mutations in humans, all of which I have heard before:
` Mutations that reduce the risk of heart disease; that increase density of bone; that allow people to see more colors in the rainbow than normal; and there are a few that protect against malaria (although two copies of these mutant genes cause serious illness, so these mutations aren't perfect).
` Also, you might find this critique of Behe and Sandford to be of interest. It's so long that as I tried reading it, my computer kept freezing up -- so be warned!

Then he says that coelacanths (which he pronounced wrong) are somehow evidence against evolution -- I think his reasoning must be based on faulty logic because I explained that it isn't the same species that was found in Cretaceous rock; they're a group of fish that have evidently evolved since then.
` Similar thing with cockroaches and ants and crocodiles -- these are taxonomic groups that change slowly over time, continuously evolving new species, so they have not survived the eons unchanged.
` He said that his point with the coelacanth was because scientists thought that coelacanths were extinct, and then it turns out that they weren't. Well, neither are ants or crocodiles. The only difference was that scientists were ignorant about coelacanths still existing because of their obscure, aquatic habitat. Now we know better.
` I still didn't get what his point was supposed to be other than scientists were proved wrong, and are therefore fallible. What else is new? What this is supposed to have to do with evolution or the age of the earth, beats me, but maybe I'm trying too hard to make sense of nonsense?

Now he's going on about the hundreds of physical processes set into the Age of the World. There's helium on earth. Seafloor sediments accumulate too fast. Accumulation of dust on the moon, nickel going to the ocean, upper limits, not lower limits and ARRRGH!
` You know, I just went to Talk Origins and found that all of this stuff, plus more, has all been refuted on one page.

Then, he makes this argument about human population going back to only so long, based on a steady growth rate -- but doesn't seem to consider that when humans have to deal with plagues, limited food, starvation, war, etc., and the population goes up and down. A similar argument is also on TalkOrigins.

And then, he says the earth's magnetic field is decaying with a half life of 1,400 years. I tried to point out that it's been weakening, but is just getting ready for another pole shift. As you may recall, it does this about every 500,000 years, and the last time it happened was 700,000 years ago, so we're due for another.
` He basically just said, "No, it's just weakening. It will disappear eventually." Right, because the earth's iron core will suddenly stop moving and we'll all die. Even Mars, whose iron core has long stopped blowing up the planet's surface, still has a really tiny magnetic field!
` He adds that 20,000 years ago the earth's magnetic field would have pulled apart enzymes -- that would have to be much stronger than an MRI! But it wouldn't have been that strong because it wasn't growing weaker -- it was more or less stable, like the sun when it's between pole-shifts.

Then he says, because there's no fossil meteorites, Noah's flood happened. Alright, I'm going back to TalkOrigins, because damn, I had no idea how much cool stuff was on it! Let's see:
Two Swedish scientists made the first positive identification of a fossilized stony meteorite (Astronomy, June 1981). Per Thorslund and Frans Wickman reported in Nature that a 10 centimeter object found in a limestone slab from a quarry in Brunflo, central Sweden in 1952 is really a stony meteorite as demonstrated by microscopic examinations and other properties. It has a terrestrial age of about 463 million years. The object had until recently been mistaken for something else. If the odds were not bent enough, it appears that the meteorite hit an Ordovician mollusk which is fossilized in conjunction with the meteorite! (Spratt and Stephens, 1992, p.53)

In 1988 another Swedish meteorite, called "Österplana 1," was discovered in Lower Ordovician Limestone about 5 million years older and 300 miles away from the first one (Hansen and Bergström, 1997, p.1).
Twelve more meteorites have been found at the Thorsberg Limestone Quarry in Sweden...

In 1997 a research team from the University of Göteborg found 17 meteorites buried 480 million years ago at Kinnekulle in Sweden! It was mentioned in the news program "Dagens Eko" by Birger Schmitz of the research team. Sweden seems to be the place to go for fossil meteorites!*

In 1930 a fist-sized piece of Eocene nickel-iron was said to have been recovered from a bore hole at a depth of 1,525 feet. This "Zapata County" Texas iron has since been lost (Nature, January 22, 1981).

Fritz Heide mentioned that "The iron of Sardis, Burke County, Georgia, was found in 1940, in strata believed to be of Middle Miocene age." (Heide, 1964, pp.118-119.)
Probably more have been found since then -- even so, this seems like a small number. Well, freshly-fallen ones are hard enough to find! However, impact craters are much more obvious:
The geologic record contains at least 130 positively identified "fossil" craters. They are preserved in all the major strata from the Precambrian (2 billion years ago) to Recent times. Except for Chicxulub, the following partial list is from R. A. F. Grieve and P. B. Robertson (1979). More fossil craters have since been found, but a portion of their 1979 list will do just fine. With one exception, all of those listed are larger than Meteor Crater in Arizona. Lovely maps showing the known fossil crater sites, and even photographs, may be found on the Internet (The Earth Impact Database).

 And then, of course, Lycklama was going on about decay rates and lava and carbon 14 in coal -- as though we hadn't just heard this before.

Short and long period comets; says the Kuiper belt was invented to explain it and he doesn't think it exists. Seriously. There's over a thousand known Kuiper Belt Objects, including the not-really-a-planet, Pluto -- here are a few other cool ones -- and he's denying that they exist at all. Wow.

Then he asks how the universe can be 13 billion years old, when it is over twice that many light years across. I tried to explain to him that space itself is expanding faster than the speed of light (no, this doesn't break the laws of physics), and so the light has taken longer to get here (or anywhere) because it's having to cross longer and longer distances as it travels.
` I did a terrible job at explaining this, however, and didn't really get any of that across to him. Lucky for my readers, I just found this article by astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, who explains it better than I could in my current sleep-deprived state. (Which you can tell I'm in because of my inconsistencies in verb tense.)

Lycklama says he's "skeptical" of evolution and he says the idea will disappear eventually. Since he's a "skeptic" of global warming as well, we'll have to have him back.

After the presentations, there was much discussion -- you can imagine that Sam Wise Gingy had some fun discussing creationism, as he devotes entire YouTube channels to such things.

apr 144 Creationist #4 and Samwise

Also, during the presentations, Brianade made his own artistic impression, at least after I had drawn a monkey with an overbite riding a flaming unicorn at Steph's request.
` And, although it was Tuesday, April 17, Brian wrote the wrong date there -- maybe it had to do with being in the same room with people who have questionable ideas about dating techniques? (Bad joke!)
` As I photographed it right in the restaurant, the lighting isn't the best:

apr 146 Result of creationists plus Brianade's sketchbook

Black plague -- yes, that had a lot to do with the rate of human population growth going backwards. And just before you think this was the end of this creationist stuff, some of us folks actually went back to the same cafe two days later and continued discussing it. There were pretty flowers outside, also:

apr 149 Blossoms, between car and cafe 

 As we gathered around the table, we commiserated on the fact that it seemed that the creationists had just copied a bunch of talking points off the internet. Someone mentioned that, as the organizer of that event, Case had been upset because they said they had real evidence this time.
` Really, about the only thing that was accurate was the rings of Saturn, and that didn't really have anything to do with arguing for a young earth.

Here's me thinking that it looks strange in here when not crammed with tables:

apr 150 It looks strange in here without the tables all joined

Ericka, a biologist who spoke up a few times on the 17th (she's the blur behind me), had also later brought up the fact that Jesus' lineage is described as going through Joseph in both Matthew and Luke, and the guy she said it to just dismissed it with a wave of his hand.
` She asked him another question: "How do you know if there's one designer or more than one?"
` He said, "Well we'll have to figure out how to prove that there's one designer and go from there."


Well, as I've more recently been discovering, some people really don't care about rationality, and there's not much anyone can do to change that.

Anyway, that's my article on the creationist event, and it only took me a month to get it done -- since several people have been asking me about it, this is quite a relief! Even so, resident superhero Lou Ryan says that I've been working on it way too much, and that it might be unhealthy for me.
` See, this is what happens when I'm not so busy that I actually am able to achieve my goal of completing science/mad articles -- my efforts are deemed pathological!
` Next time, however, I actually have a fairly-much pre-written article that I can put up quickly for next time, so I won't be slaving away so much.

And with that, I'm about to engage in the busyness of my day, but do show your appreciation/lack thereof by leaving me a comment!

Edit: Derek Colunduno, co-host of Skepticality podcast, linked to my article on Facebook:

"Thanks to Spoony Quine for making me realize, once again, the depth of nuttatude to which we humans can delve into."


  1. I think it's cool that you had a creationist at your skeptic meetup. I like it when two sides are actually talking to one another as opposed to insulting each other on message boards or something.

    That said, I totally understand Case's facepalming reaction in that photo!

  2. *A* creationist? We had four! Unfortunately, it was not four times as good as one, because of time limitations.

    And yes, we like to give such people a chance at dialogue with us, although they covered so many topics that this was not really possible. Pity.


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