May 14, 2009
Answering danielg on Creationism
In the comment section, danielg offers several criticisms of my posts on creationism. Here’s my response:
First, you show disrespect for a significant majority of Christians. Good luck winning them over that way.
I think this is a fair criticism of the word “moron” that I used, and — in light of Ben’s plea for civility, I’ll try to ratchet back the rhetoric. It honestly and sincerely is not my goal to insult you or the people with whom you agree theologically and scientifically. The problem is that as a creationist (and particularly a YEC), you believe that every scientist in the world is engaged in either a massive conspiracy or share fundamental, cross-disciplinary errors that invalidate their entire fields of study that are nevertheless instantly recognizable to laypersons with no training in those disciplines.
In other words: if you’re right, then not only are 99.9% of biologists wrong, but so are also 99.9% of astronomers, geophysicists, paleontologists, archaeologists, radiochemists, oceanographers, and so on. If the earth is 6,000 years old, then literally every modern field of scientific inquiry is wrong. If the earth is 6,000 years old, then tree-ring dating is unreliable. If the earth is 6,000 years old, then we can’t really be sure that things on top of other things are more recent than the things they’re on top of.
Can you understand, at least, that when you make that kind of argument, you’re showing disrespect to all of those scientists and anyone — including lots more Christians — who agrees with them?
Second, while you may excuse your attitude by thinking that they are so much in violation of science that they should be ridiculed, the point that you miss is that most don’t merely think that the bible is young because of the Bible, but because they believe the many counter-indications to an old universe that you poo poo.
Perhaps if you addressed (and admit) in plain language the reasons why you believe in an old universe, as well as the weaknesses in your view, not just attacking in a one-sided manner the YEC position, people might listen. Loud assertions that we are idiots, ignoring your arguments, and insults aren’t how truth is spread.
Okay, this is fair. Let me try to explain why I believe in an old universe.
1. I am not a biologist, astronomer, or scientist of any kind. I’m a lawyer, with a layperson’s knowledge of science. Because of this, I use the peer-review process as a proxy. Those people are professionals, and uniformly, 99.9+% of scientists have rejected the notion that the universe is young.
2. If the universe were really 6,000 years old, such a discovery would be (to put it mildly) Nobel Prize-worthy. The person or persons who could demonstrate that scientifically would be famous and wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Thus, when people who strike me as pseudoscientists write blog posts and create their own “journals” claiming to have proven such a Nobel Prize-worthy event — while failing at the same time to get published in any actual scientific journal — that tells me either that (a) there’s an enormous conspiracy out to censor a Nobel Prize-winning theory, or (b) those people are cranks. I’ve taken choice (b).
I previously gave an example on here in a field where I actually am an expert. To reiterate: there are currently a small number of individuals who are called “tax protesters.” These people — often with minimal or no legal training — cobble together incredibly elaborate legal-sounding arguments for why you don’t have to pay your taxes. They cite cases. They use the vocabulary of the legal profession. And in the end, tens of thousands of people are persuaded by these kinds of arguments.
Now, as a lawyer, I can tell you that these arguments are complete and utter nonsense. I could go through each individual citation and debunk them, but that explanation would (a) be incredibly time-consuming, and (b) probably wouldn’t persuade you unless you also had a law degree, because there are some counter-intuitive rules in terms of legal interpretation.
So what do I do instead? I use a proxy. I’ll tell you that every case in which people have attempted to rely on tax-protester arguments has been rejected. I’ll tell you that the courts have repeatedly called tax protester arguments “patently frivolous” and “utterly lacking in legal merit.” I’ll show you that people who have relied on those kinds of arguments are now in jail for tax evasion.
And, at the end of the day, if you’re not willing to accept the proxy of legal experts, trained to evaluate legal arguments, in evaluating a legal argument — then I give up. Go on, be a tax protester and go to jail. I tried to stop you.
Similarly, I leave astronomy, geology, plate tectonics, oceaonography, geochemistry, radiochemistry, biology, etc., to the experts. They’ve evaluated the evidence and across all disciplines, weighed in and concluded that the universe is not 6,000 yeard old. That’s good enough for me, unless and until someone gives me a good reason to believe that the experts are all in cahoots or have conspired to suppress the truth or whatever.
Do you have good evidence to suggest that the experts are lying to me? I’ll make the same challenge to you that I made elsewhere; show me a single scientist who has published a single peer-reviewed article in his area of expertise that argues for a young universe, and I’ll take it seriously. But until you can do that, you’re talking about either (a) non-experts or (b) religiously-motivated experts going outside their fields and outside the peer-review process to advance what would otherwise be a Nobel Prize-worthy contribution to science. That’s the textbook definition of crackpottery. I’m sorry if you find that offensive, but I don’t know what else to call it.
Third, the age of the universe is much more complex than merely spouting scientific facts. Even if your conclusions are that the universe is old, we totally ignore you because you don’t address our real suspcicions, which are that your primary ASSUMPTIONS and methods (uniformitarian) are wrong.
Respectfully: this makes no sense. Unless trigonometry is also wrong, we have ironclad proof that the universe is at least 160,000 years old, for example.
Fourth, you don’t address the wild re-calculation of the age of the universe by science over the years, and give us no affirmation that such recalculations, even down to a YEC timeframe, are out of the question when the existing mysteries of the cosmos, which are many, come in.
No. If scientists in different fields kept coming up with stochastic dates for the age of the earth — if sometimes it was 10,000 years, and other times it was 85 quintillion, and then still later it was 50 million, then you might have a point. If the radiochemists thought that the earth was 4.5 billion years old but the astronomers thought it was created last week, and the biologists thought it was a few million, then you might have a point.
But what we have is a cross-disciplinary convergence across all fields of study (including basic math!) that tells us that the universe is old. Yes, as we gather more data, those numbers change. That’s what science means. But “change” is not the same as “we pulled this out of a hat, so you might as well go with 6,000.”
Fifth, I have never seen a good refutation of a global flood, nor an explanation for the circular methods of dating using index fossils, and many others. I’ve been out to talk.origins, but their answers are often insufficient.
Well, if you’re not persuaded by this refutation of a global flood, then I don’t know what to tell you. Here, let me quote just my favorite part:
Where did all the heat go? If the geologic record was deposited in a year, then the events it records must also have occurred within a year. Some of these events release significant amounts of heat.
* Magma. The geologic record includes roughly 8 x 10^24 grams of lava flows and igneous intrusions. Assuming (conservatively) a specific heat of 0.15, this magma would release 5.4 x 10^27 joules while cooling 1100 degrees C. In addition, the heat of crystallization as the magma solidifies would release a great deal more heat.
* Limestone formation. There are roughly 5 x 10^23 grams of limestone in the earth’s sediments [Poldervaart, 1955], and the formation of calcite releases about 11,290 joules/gram [Weast, 1974, p. D63]. If only 10% of the limestone were formed during the Flood, the 5.6 x 10^26 joules of heat released would be enough to boil the flood waters.
* Meteorite impacts. Erosion and crustal movements have erased an unknown number of impact craters on earth, but Creationists Whitcomb and DeYoung suggest that cratering to the extent seen on the Moon and Mercury occurred on earth during the year of Noah’s Flood. The heat from just one of the largest lunar impacts released an estimated 3 x 10^26 joules; the same sized object falling to earth would release even more energy. [Fezer, pp. 45-46]
* Other. Other possibly significant heat sources are radioactive decay (some Creationists claim that radioactive decay rates were much higher during the Flood to account for consistently old radiometric dates); biological decay (think of the heat released in compost piles); and compression of sediments.
5.6 x 10^26 joules is enough to heat the oceans to boiling. 3.7 x 10^27 joules will vaporize them completely. Since steam and air have a lower heat capacity than water, the steam released will quickly raise the temperature of the atmosphere over 1000 C. At these temperatures, much of the atmosphere would boil off the Earth.
Aside from losing its atmosphere, Earth can only get rid of heat by radiating it to space, and it can’t radiate significantly more heat than it gets from the sun unless it is a great deal hotter than it is now. (It is very nearly at thermal equilibrium now.) If there weren’t many millions of years to radiate the heat from the above processes, the earth would still be unlivably hot.
As shown in section 5, all the mechanisms proposed for causing the Flood already provide more than enough energy to vaporize it as well. These additional factors only make the heat problem worse.
I think the fact that the oceans did not boil off into space is a pretty good refutation of the global flood hypothesis.
Look: I think there are serious arguments for Christianity, and I try to take them (and their proponents) seriously. But he idea that every scientist on earth is engaged in a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the entire universe is 50% younger than this tree, or half again as young as the domestication of wheat, is not one of those serious arguments. I do apologize if this offends you, but I can’t change the facts.