Sometime in the spring I let a long-running discussion with pastor Joe Leavell taper off. I thought I’d be back to it more quickly. It’s that sort of summer.
In one of his last posts, Joe said he’d been to a lecture by some folks from the Institute for Creation Research, the same bunch that tried to hornswoggle Texas into letting them grant graduate degrees in science education and biology for teaching creationism to their students instead, as a way of injecting creationism into the schools stealthily but still illegally. Texas refused to give them the authority. ICR promises to appeal and sue for the privilege.
The response was rather lengthy, but they talked about the research that they have been doing over the past 7-8 years or so and the difference accredited scientists that are working for them. They also claimed that creationists get criticized for not writing peer reviewed articles in journals, but they claimed that they had submitted countless articles over the years and they all get rejected. They simply can’t get printed, was the claim, so they print their own stuff. They also pointed me to the RATE project, which honestly, without knowing a ton about science (though I do know some), is very convincing to me.
Here’s the link:
The main argument that I found convincing was the presence of helium in the rocks which wouldn’t be there if the rocks were millions of years old. They said they’ve been working on this project about 8 years and have spent $1.5 million on it. They also submitted all of their research to top labs in the country to make sure they weren’t accused of “fudging” the evidence. Check it out (if you have time) and let me know what you come up with.
I’ll be brief in my response here, at least to start: Same old fraud, not even new wineskins.
Dr. Russell Humphreys, a famous creationism crank (to serious geologists and other scientists), claims that the amount of helium he detected in some zircon crystals was so high that the crystals could not be more than a few thousands of years old, rather than the millions of years old all other dating methods by all other scientists produce. Humphreys’ findings have never been submitted to any science journal for publication, but were instead distributed to donors to a creationist ministry.
Oh, Joe: These guys depend on a lack of normal skepticism and a lack of knowledge to perpetrate these frauds on honest Christians. I do wish more Christians would hold their feet to the fire.
A few observations:
First, this project exhibits most of Bob Parks’ seven warning signs of bogus science. Those signs are:
- The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media. In this case, to media and donors.
- The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work. This thread runs through all ICR work. Humphreys’ later attempts at character assassination against his critics specifically for their critiques of the RATE project are exactly the warning sign of bogus science that we should expect, from bogus science. (See the final three paragraphs here.)
- The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection. This sign, not so much.
- Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. In place of the usual description of methodologies used so other scientists can replicate the measurement, we get a story about samples for other purposes, purloined for this measurement. Most of the critical references to the conclusion were unpublished, or revealed only in crank science publications.
- The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries. See the paper: “Many creationists believed . . .”
- The discoverer has worked in isolation. In this case, it’s difficult to know for certain; there is no methodology, no statement of where the work was carried, by whom, and no peer review. No other labs appear to be working on these issues. Dollars to doughnuts this work at government laboratories in Oak Ridge and Los Alamos is not catalogued in the labs’ work records, nor is it reported to Congress. Not only working in isolation, but completely on the sly.
- The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation. Humphreys had earlier proposed diffusion rates far in excess of anything measured, and in this case, he assumes similar, completely uncorroborated conclusions.
Second, the conclusions have been challenged (“debunked” might be a better description) by scientists who know the subject matter. There’s a thorough discussion on Talk.Origins, by Kevin Henke (at the University of Kentucky); to summarize, there is no reason to think that helium could get out of those zircon crystals at depth, especially under the pressures at the depths the samples were recovered from; plus there are other problems:
Throughout Humphreys (2005), Dr. Humphreys stresses that his YEC conclusions must be correct because his Figure 2 shows a supposedly strong correlation between his “creation model” and vacuum helium diffusion measurements from Humphreys (2003a, 2004). However, Dr. Humphreys’ diagram has little scientific merit. First of all, his helium diffusion experiments were performed under a vacuum rather than at realistic pressures that model the subsurface conditions at Fenton Hill (about 200 to 1,200 bars; Winkler, 1979, p. 5). McDougall and Harrison (1999), Dalrymple and Lanphere (1969) and many other researchers have already shown that the diffusion of noble gases in silicate minerals may decrease by at least 3-6 orders of magnitude at a given temperature if the studies are performed under pressure rather than in a vacuum. Secondly, because substantial extraneous helium currently exists in the subsurface of the Valles Caldera, which is only a few kilometers away from the Fenton Hill site, Dr. Humphreys needs to analyze his zircons for 3He, and quartz and other low-uranium minerals in the Fenton Hill cores for extraneous 4He. Thirdly, chemical data in Gentry et al. (1982b) and Zartman (1979) indicate that Humphreys et al. and Gentry et al. (1982a) may have significantly underestimated the amount of uranium in the Fenton Hill zircons, which could reduce many of their Q/Q0 values by at least an order of magnitude and substantially increase Humphreys et al.‘s “creation dates.” Dr. Humphreys needs to perform spot analyses for 3He, 4He, lead, and uranium on numerous zircons from all of his and R. Gentry’s samples so that realistic Q/Q0 values may be obtained.
The “dating” equations in Humphreys et al. (2003a) are based on many false assumptions (isotropic diffusion, constant temperatures over time, etc.) and the vast majority of Humphreys et al.‘s critical a, b, and Q/Q0 values that are used in these “dating” equations are either missing, poorly defined, improperly measured or inaccurate. Using the best available chemical data on the Fenton Hill zircons from Gentry et al. (1982b) and Zartman (1979), the equations in Humphreys et al. (2003a) provide ridiculous “dates” that range from hundreds to millions of “years” old (average: 60,000 ± 400,000 “years” old [one significant digit and two standard deviations] and not 6,000 ± 2,000 years as claim by Humphreys et al., 2004). Contrary to Humphreys (2005), his mistakes are not petty or peripheral, but completely discredit the reliability of his work.
I think ICR is affect loaded. For years they argued that because there is so little helium in the atmosphere, the Earth cannot be very old. Helium gas floats to the top of the atmosphere and drifts off into space, so there can never be a large accumulation of the stuff in the air. ICR is making a similar argument here: That helium must migrate out of rocks and drift away. Alas, there isn’t much support for the claim that helium cannot be contained in a rock matrix, especially under significantly greater pressures achieved in large rock masses, deep underground. There are a lot of examples of gases being trapped in rocks; that helium in the air drifts away does not mean helium in rock will drift away.
Third, the RATE project tends to rely on disproven or highly questionable claims, rather than solid science. The claims of polonium haloes once were published in a reputable journal, but retracted by the journal after scientists trying to replicate the results discovered that the author had sampled much newer magma intrusions in granite*, and not the base granite at all (* that is, lava that squeezed into cracks in the granite). ICR continues on as if the paper had not been found faulty, as if the results had never been retracted. In any other context, this would be considered academic fraud at best. Were it done as research under a federal grant, it would be a felony.
Fourth, there is the issue of whether RATE can do anything other than fog up the area. One of the original goals of RATE was to date the rocks from Noah’s flood. As you know, claims that such a flood ever occurred are regarded as crank science among geologists. After several years of discussion and meetings, RATE participants announced they had been unable to distinguish which rocks on Earth are pre-flood, and which are post flood. Consequently, dating the rocks of the flood was precluded because they could not be found, reliably (or at all!).
This is long-term scam stuff, Joe. How many little old ladies and upstanding men in how many congregations have given how many millions of dollars to this quackery? Imagine what good could have been done had those dollars gone to honest enterprise among Christians.
Joe, does this stuff make you angry? It should. ICR confesses to have spent $1.5 million in this project over eight years — ostensibly a science project, and yet not one single publishable science paper out of it.
This is academic fraud of the most foul kind, to me. It angers me that ICR carries on these frauds with money contributed by trusting Christians. One has a right to expect better ethics from people who claim to be engaged in ministry for Jesus, I believe.