Saturday, 13 March 2010

Creation Watch - Paul Taylor in Redditch - 28th Feb 2010

Report of talk by Paul Taylor of Answers in Genesis (AiG) hosted by the Oasis Christian Centre, Plymouth Road, Redditch, Worcs. 28th February 2010 by Belle de Gene;

Paul Taylor’s talk “creation or evolution-who cares” was hosted by the Oasis Christian Centre during their Sunday morning service. It is an Elim Pentacostal church which is thriving and respected in the local community. The talk was not advertised outside the church nor, I believe, internally. I only became aware of it via the BCSE creation watch. The Sunday service is held in a local school, Birchensale Middle, Bridley Moor Road, Redditch. It was well attended, the people were warm and welcoming and the service prior Paul Taylor’s talk was lively and upbeat. There were about 150 people there from a wide age range, many families. The children and younger teens left the main service before the talk. I’ve tried to summarise his main lies but for anyone that wants to hear them in full before going to see him it’s available as a podcast on the church’s website -under recent sermons on the home page.

Unsurprisingly for an Answers in Genesis (AiG) employee Paul began by promoting their extensive range of books and DVD’s, a film he’s produced about Darwin, his own books and those of his wife. Paul’s very good at what he does and superficially he’s very convincing. Should the development of anything resembling a conscience make him too honest for AiG he’d make an excellent second hand car salesman. The first part of his talk was mainly religious and therefore outside the remit of BCSE but it boiled down to the usual;
“it’s essential to agree with AiG that evolution and faith are incompatible”

He used quotes from the New Testament to support his argument but I was too dense to see how they did as they seemed to be largely irrelevant to the point he was making. He admitted there were Christians who believed in evolution and quoted one from Cambridge University who had the gall to suggest that people like Paul Taylor brought Christianity into disrepute. That was the last honest thing he said and I found myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly.

He went on to tell us that we couldn’t scientifically work out that he was born in the 1960’s, but he could prove it because he had documentary evidence i.e. a birth certificate. This was cleverly linked to him saying we couldn’t scientifically prove evolution but we had documentary evidence for creation-the Bible. He then trotted out the tired old creationist cliché about no scientists being around in the beginning but God was. There was an obligatory quote from Dawkins (who creationists seem to quote more than any Biblical character) which was “we don’t need evidence we just believe in evolution.” This has got to be wildly misquoted if anyone can trace it and put it into context. [comment from BCSE - we have also had a good look around - it is mentioned in passing on Ray Comfort’s blog but with no source given - so this appears to have been made up or created from scratch] This was followed by the other tired old creationist cliché that we’re all looking at the same evidence and interpreting it differently.

The bulk of his ‘scientific’ arguments revolved around determining the age of the Earth at 6000 years rather than 4.5 billion using uranium (U) to lead (Pb) decay and carbon 14. Though no specific scientists or institutions were named I recognised it as the work of the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth) group from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and AiG, basically the pseudoscientific wing of creationism. It wasn’t particularly clear that it was AiG science he was using and at no point was it made clear that it had not been subjected to the rigorous system of peer review required of normal science (creation science has its own review system whereby creationists review creationists). At no point was it made clear that none of it had been published in the recognised journals of any relevant disciplines (only in their own creationist journals) nor carried out in any recognised research institution. At no point did he tell people that it had all been totally discredited by real scientists.

We were shown a GCSE physics question about the half life of uranium where the ratio U/Pb was 4:1 giving an age for whatever was being dated of 1.5 billion years. We were then told to consider three assumptions that had been made. Note the clever use of the word assumptions.
  • The half life of uranium is constant.
  • There was no lead in the original rocks.
  • There had been no addition or removal of uranium.

This was pointlessly illustrated with an hour glass analogy just in case any of us were hard of thinking. I’d gotten the picture-uranium and or lead could have leaked out of the rocks or been present in the original sample and the radioactive decay rate could have been faster in the past. Creationists had discovered something overlooked by the whole of the physics and earth science community. Problem is they hadn’t-Paul was just being misleading.

The half life of Uranium (U) is constant because (grateful thanks to Professor Braterman of Glasgow University for this which I’ll quote verbatim) “..the decay constant for uranium has not changed because it is fixed by the laws of quantum mechanics and the relative strength of nuclear and electrical forces. We know these have not changed in the past 13 billion years to within 1 part per million or so from spectroscopic observation of distant galaxies. Moreover they could not have changed during any of the time in which terrestrial sediments have been laid down, since they were laid down according to the laws of chemistry that still apply today and these in turn are consequences of the laws of quantum mechanics.” Basically speeding up of uranium decay can’t happen unless all we know about science is wrong. No matter what temperatures or pressures are applied decay rates do not change.

Furthermore decay happens in such a way to give a strict mathematical relationship between parent and daughter atoms, and these ratios don’t suggest any change in rate in any rock or anywhere else. Then there is the problem that quite often many different methods are used independently to date rocks and they all agree! Often different isotopes (other than uranium) are found together, they decay in different ways so the dates can be cross checked-they all agree! If things decay in different ways how likely is it that such consistency would be found if decay rates have changed? When radiometric dates can be checked against known dates from history yet again they agree! Paul didn’t mention any of this!! Lastly there is the thorny problem of the heat that would have been generated by speeding up U decay to give a 6000 year old Earth. This has been dealt with by the geologist Joe Meert and detailed on various sites. Accurate figures are difficult because apparently Microsoft Excel couldn’t deal with numbers that large but basically the Earth would be vaporised. Other more generous estimates erring on the side of AiG have given a figure that would just completely melt the Earth and only vaporise life. As Paul actually suggested speeded up decay could have been a mechanism for Noah’s flood I can only assume it was a flood of molten rock and the ark was made from some hitherto undiscovered material capable of withstanding extreme heat. I suspect Paul would resort to a miracle to explain this if questioned but it would be a pretty bizarre and pointless one if you ask me and we’d still find some evidence for it. It’s worth warning people that AiG are now touting some research by A G Brennecka (Science 327.pp 449 451 Jan 22nd 2010) that they claim confirms their assertions about the inaccuracy of uranium. It doesn’t. This has been dealt with on “dealing with creationism in astronomy” website. For a start the original paper is looking at meteorites rather than terrestrial rocks. Secondly the ratios of the two uranium isotopes differs only marginally from that normally found-which is a testament to how accurate the normally found ratios are. The most likely explanation for it is not a problem with uranium decay at all but possible decay from rare curium created in certain types of supernovae. Lastly it would change the age of the solar system from 4.567 billion years to 4.562 billion, still a tad short of the required 6000 years.

The second and third assumptions rely on the leakiness of the rocks and the stupidity of geochronologists in not noticing this. Problem here is geologists are obsessively careful to choose rocks that can safely be considered “closed systems” i.e. rocks where less than 1 atom in 100,000,000 can seep out, and the types of rocks they can safely use have been determined by years of research. Not every rock is considered suitable for every type of measurement. Some have the wrong chemistry or mineralogy and are discarded and some have been contaminated and are discarded. The zircons chosen to measure uranium to lead for example are chosen because they contain no original lead and so all of the lead can only have come from decay. In addition there are two isotopes of Uranium that decay to give two isotopes of lead. Another lead isotope is produced by thorium. Uranium to lead decay is a multi step process but the upshot is it leaves geologists with three independent measures, i.e. three separate isotopes of lead which all agree.

He then moved on to the helium (He) that’s created as uranium decays. This seems to be the flagship research of RATE group members Humphreys, Baumgardner, Snelling and Austin-determining how much helium would have to be found to cast doubts on the U/Pb figure and make the Earth 6000 years old. Paul admitted they basically take the relevant zircons and measure the rates of diffusion of He out of them at different temperatures until they can get the figures they want. Whilst in saying this he was admitting to blatant manipulation of the data to fit their predetermined age it’s unlikely that many would have picked up on it. Again distinguishing lies from truth does require some background science. However even with this blatant manipulation RATE have had to engage in some very dodgy science. The Talk Origins website details fully referenced criticisms of this and they’ve basically found the following problems. The rocks used were from an area (Fenton Hill) where the geology makes it impossible to avoid contamination with different types of rock. This would have required some rather expert sorting to deal with-by for example, an experienced geochronologist. Their helium diffusion experiments were carried out in a vacuum rather than the extreme pressures found in situ (200 to 1200 bars). Research into diffusion of noble gases at pressure shows it differs hugely from that found in vacuums. Extraneous helium exists in the area which can and does contaminate the rocks making it very difficult to distinguish radiogenic (caused by decay) from environmental helium. RATE did not make this distinction nor test for it. RATE claimed the rocks they were using were granodiorite taken from depths of 750 to 1490m (remember geologists are very picky about the rocks they use). Granodiorite is not found at this site above 2591m and therefore it is gneiss they were using. Their chemical data underestimates the amount of uranium in the rocks throwing doubt on the Q/Qc (ratio of helium) figures. There were substantial errors in the maths used to calculate the Q/Qc values giving too high a fraction of helium. Errors and variables were not reported in their work as is standard in real scientific reports. There were failures to total their data in some of their appendices again incorrectly estimating the amounts of helium released. One of their samples was at the limit of what could be measured and therefore should have been discarded making an already small sample too small. Lots of Humphrey’s values are “missing, poorly defined or improperly or inaccurately measured”. Add to this the fact that no real scientist has managed to replicate what they did, the fact that it’s been ripped to shreds by geologists, chemists and physicists again and again and the fact that RATE admit they can’t find anyone with the relevant expertise in geochronology to work for them and it’s surprising that Paul was so keen to present it. My kids have presented me with far more credible evidence for the tooth fairy than anything here-and I didn’t believe them either. Basically what he neglected to mention was: inappropriate rocks, incorrect data, inability to fully understand helium diffusion, lack of expertise, incorrect maths, omission of data and some other dubious misleading omissions. There are lots more problems with RATE’s work but this should be enough for any question and answer session. Talk Origins and No Answers in Genesis are good fully referenced sources for more detail (and are the ones I’ve mainly used), as is the American Scientific Affiliation (which is Christian and has a very good “Christian perspective on radiometric dating” which might be more palatable to Paul’s target audience).

His other great lie was the fact that carbon 14 was found in a diamond. Again thanks to Professor Braterman for providing the answer to this. Carbon 14 is often found in coal samples due to contamination and it is very likely that what was found in this case was also contamination. The sensors used are very susceptible to contamination by atmospheric carbon dioxide. Genuine scientists are aware of and account for this.

I stayed until the end of Paul’s talk then had to leave so didn’t get to see the extensive range of products he was selling. There was no question and answer session and no opportunity to challenge him without being rude. He received generous applause and lots of oohs and aahs where I was sitting but I’ve heard on the grapevine that at least one other person (with a scientific background) had been disgusted by his lies. It was hard for me to believe that anyone could be taken in by what he said but he could rely on his target audience’s obvious trust in their church leaders and hence by association anyone they invite to lend himself some credibility. He then pre primed them by telling them they couldn’t believe in evolution and the Bible before moving on to the spurious ‘science’ that would help them in that belief and there were lots and lots of things to buy if they’d been confused! Hope someone gets to see him do this talk in Leicester on March 13th (details on AiG website) and gives him hell!

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