Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A creationism vs. evolution discussion, Part 10

And now for the last of Marcsana's original comments:

Question 20:
What is the main argument given by scientists for why creationism should not be given 'equal time' in our science classes?
Possible answers:
  • Scientists do not believe in God
  • Most scientists accept creationism
  • Scientists think that they have all the answers
  • Science is not a democratic process
The correct answer is Science is not a democratic process.
We should decide which scientific theory is superior and should be used in education by its power to explain successfully, not on how popular it is. Creationism is not a science, it is a religious belief system. As such, it may have its place in a humanities class, alongside other religious belief systems, but not in a science class.

Marcsana’s response:
20. Science, if anything, has displayed massive evidence and proof for creationism. Mount St. Helens destroyed many evolutionary myths about many things ranging from the formation of canyons to the making of fossil fuels. Science is not a democracy. Rather than revamp the theories to make room for the new information, evolutionary scientists cling to evolution without letting anything else in...no matter the strength of the evidence.

My response:
The first statement, “Science, if anything, has displayed massive evidence and proof for creationism” is simply absurd. As has been shown throughout this discussion, creationists have no scientific basis whatsoever for their claims, which use twisted and flawed interpretations of science, not science itself. The distance between science and creationism is made even greater by the fact that less than 1% of scientists working in the fields of earth or life science believe in creationism.
A humorous illustration this is Project Steve. In answer to an Answers in Genesis webpage that currently lists 193 scientists who oppose evolution, the National Center for Science Education, in honor evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, started Project Steve, a list of scientists who support evolution…all named Steve (or some cognate of Steve, such as Stefan or Stephanie.) As of this writing, 810 scientists have signed on to Project Steve. And, unlike the AiG list, which includes dentists, science teachers and linguistics specialists, some with only bachelor’s degrees, the Project Steve list is composed only of scientists with a Ph.D. in biology, geology, paleontology, or a related scientific field. According to the NCSE, census figures show that approximately 1.6% of males and approximately 0.4% of females -- so approximately 1% of U.S. residents have names that would fit the Steve criterion, so by extrapolation at least 81,000 scientists support evolution. In contrast, AiG's list contains only 4 Steves...

As for the argument that “Rather than revamp the theories to make room for the new information, evolutionary scientists cling to evolution without letting anything else in...no matter the strength of the evidence”- it is a classic of double-speak. In many other places, the AiG writers criticize scientists for changing their theories when new information invalidated old theories! As we have discussed earlier, while creationists cannot afford to have their belief system threatened, science is not afraid of change. Scientists do not support evolution due to orthodoxy; they support it because it’s the best explanation for how things came to be.

And now onto Mt. St, Helens…
A view of Mt. St. Helens from Hidden Gardens Nursery in Camas, WA

For those unfamiliar with the creationist viewpoint, they believe the following about the 1980 eruption:

Claim: The eruption showed how coal or fossil beds with trees protruding from them could form very rapidly, because trees were found floating roots-down, with layers of debris on top of them. Geologists had previously believed that trees found in coal beds were buried slowly as the beds formed.
Rebuttal: This claim surprised me because, for the first time, I actually found a publication by a creationist in a scientific journal (albeit an obscure one) that advanced this argument.
However, this argument has been criticized on several fronts. Such trees are called “polystrate fossils” by creationists (it is not a geologic term) as they cross multiple fossil strata. There are many very reasonable explanations for their formation, and geologists have never claimed that quick burial and subsequent fossilization cannot occur. “All known upright fossils were buried in days, a year or so, or else periodically across perhaps a few decades. They occur all over the world, because swamps, river deltas and volcanoes also occur all over the world.” In addition, it is very clear from the fossil record if trees were buried as they grew or ripped up and deposited elsewhere. Trees buried as they grew have their rootlets intact, ripped-up trees do not. A detailed explanation of how polystrate trees occur can be found here. An incredibly detailed analysis and refutation of AiG’s articles on coal can be found here.
One also must ask- industrial geologists have as their greatest stake finding coal or oil-bearing strata for their customers and estimating their yields. They have no reason to support conventional geology that states that the Earth is billions of years old if it doesn’t improve their ability to locate such strata. So why then, when writing about finding coal and gas deposits in the Pacific Northwest, do they use the conventional timetable and explanations of scientific geology? If the creationist theory truly gives better insight into when where and how coal and gas are produced, why hasn’t it become the standard?

Claim: Heat and shock such as occurred at Mt. St Helens can turn trees to coal in a very short time.
Rebuttal: There is more to the formation of coal than this. Coal is found in sedimentary rock- in fact, it is classed as a sedimentary rock; the layers formed at Mt. St, Helens are igneous. The Pacific Northwest, while having a great number of volcanoes, has very little coal.
Coal deposits in the US

Claim: Sunken tree bark formed peat beds that were before thought to take thousands of years to form at one inch of peat per thousand years.
Rebuttal: It is actually quite common for thick layers of peat to form very quickly; up to a foot every six years. However, the material at the bottom of Spirit Lake is not peat, and does not resemble peats that typically form coal.

Claim: Volcanoes erupt due to water pressure. Most of what comes out of a volcano is water vapor, showing that many volcanoes spewing at once could produce a great flood.
Rebuttal: Water vapor is vapor, not liquid water. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of water vapor to put a system under great pressure; certainly not enough produce a huge flood. In addition, the number of volcanoes throughout the world (many of which show no signs of having erupted) would not be enough to produce such a great amount of water. Again, common sense alone can refute this argument.

Claim: The rapid reappearance of life at Mt. St. Helens after the eruption demonstrates that animals from the Ark could easily repopulate the Earth.
Rebuttal: Plant and animal populations have not fully recovered, even nearly 30 years later even though they are repopulating an area of just over 200 square miles surrounded by good habitat, not billions of acres of barren earth as the flood story would have it.
[Botanist John] Bishop said it could be at least 200 years for a forest to take root in the harsh environment of the pumice plain… The [invasive, willow-eating] beetle is far from the only hurdle vegetation must overcome. At 4,000 feet above sea level, plants and animals must overcome winter snow and 80 inches of annual precipitation. In normal terrain, even dead plants offer the spark of life to the next generation by leaving behind basic elements such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
"Here, there is virtually no soil," Bishop said. "When lupine dies, nutrients in the lupine don't have a chance to be taken up by anything else. Nitrogen washes out of the dead matter in rain during the winter."

Without a healthy plant community in place, animals cannot thrive. While some animals, such ar rodents and amphibians, have recolonized quite successfully, others have not.
Only the initial stages of succession have occurred among birds in the Mount St. Helens blast area… forests have not developed yet in the blast area… streams [in the blast area] had not developed conditions suitable for fish, and decades will likely pass before these streams can support fish.

Claim: Just as hunting drove elk into Mt. St Helens, human pressure could have influenced the post-Flood spread of animals.
Rebuttal: This argument strains credulity. Replacement stock of all native animals was located right next to the blast zone. It’s a much quicker trip from Cougar, Chehalis, Cinebar or Castle Rock to Mt. St. Helens than from Turkey to Trinidad, Taiwan or Tennessee! There are a lot fewer oceans in the way, too :>)

Claim: The deposition of layers of ash after the eruption shows that layers of shale in the Grand Canyon could have formed in the same way.
Rebuttal: Layers of ash will form igneous rock. The method of formation of igneous rocks and of sedimentary rocks like shale and sandstone are very different. In addition, the layers of ash found at Mt. St. Helens form what one would expect of vast quantities of material released at once- the heaviest components are on the bottom, middle-weight in the middle, and lightest on top. This is opposed to most geologic strata, where the layers are not sorted by size or weight; layers of very fine-grained material can be below heavy large rock layers.

Claim: The release of water at Mt. St. Helens carved 150-foot deep canyons through hard rock in less than a day. This demonstrates that canyons like the Grand Canyon could have been created in a very short time.
Claim: The rapid formation of badlands, rivers, and other geographic features at Mt. St. Helens showed that they could have formed that way in the rest of the world as well.
Rebuttal (to both above claims)There is a huge difference between water cutting through soft igneous rocks and through hard shale or limestone. Badlands and scablands have long been known to be created by sudden catastrophic events (such as the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington formed when the Columbia River burst.) There is a huge difference between the topography of the Channeled Scablands or the braided, sediment-choked channels of the Toutle River and the gentle meander of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is formed from sedimentary rocks, not igneous.
A local geologist provides further refutation for comparions to the Grand Canyon:
First, there are no comparisons to Step Canyon (What YECers like to call the “Little Grand Canyon”) and the (real) Grand Canyon. Step Canyon goes through fields of unconsolidated pyroclastic flow deposits that is subject to easy erosion from the wet Pacific Northwest climate and there is a 2000 foot elevation drop within 1 mile, further adding to the erosion. The claim that there are fossilized trees at Mount St Helens is also nonsense. The trees in Spirit Lake has not fossilized because there had been no exchange of silica and since Spirit Lake has no silica, it is very unlikely that any of the trees in the lake will fossilized anytime soon. Mount St Helens had been active for 50,000 years and there are buried trees around the mountain from past eruptions and mudflows(about 17 explosive eruptions in the last 4,000 years), but none of these trees have fossilized either. They have however, served as a useful tool date previous eruptions of the mountain. Finally, I would hold off on filing a mining claim at Spirit Lake for coal. The bottom of the lake is 33 degrees F, which is far to cold for the microbe activity needed to form peat, let alone coal.
Let's compare!
(all pictures courtesy of Google Maps)
The Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon again
Mt. St. Helens crater, Step Canyon to the north
Land between the crater and Spirit Lake
They don't look all that similar, do they...

Claim: The eruption produced layers of sedimentary rock that already contain fossils.
Rebuttal: The rock produced by the eruption is, of course, not sedimentary. Furthermore, studies have shown that the deposits, due to high acid content, are unlikely to produce fossils.
Trees buried by ash from previous eruptions over 4000 years ago also have not yet fossilized. Spirit Lake does not contain the silica necessary for fossilization.

Claim: Rocks formed in 1980 by the explosion have radiocarbon dates of millions of years old.
Rebuttal: The rocks involved were dated using the potassium-argon method. This method is rarely used by scientific geologists any more, and is almost always used in combination with other, more accurate tests such as uranium-lead concordia-discordia dating or rubidium strontium dating. None of these other methods were used as independent verification in the creationist tests. The creationists who chose this method most likely did so deliberately, knowing that K-Ar dating would likely give false results, as it is not an accurate method for dating young rocks. In addition, they did not perform 40Ar/39Ar dating to eliminate test errors from nonradiogenic argon.

The creationists admit that they used deception when submitting the samples.
These were submitted for potassium-argon analysis to Geochron Laboratories of Cambridge, MA, a high quality, professional radioisotope dating laboratory. The only information provided to the laboratory was that the samples came from dacite and that "low argon" should be expected. The laboratory was not told that the specimen came from the lava dome at Mount St. Helens and was only 10 years old.

This was done even though the Geochron labs website clearly stated "We cannot analyze samples expected to be younger than 2 M.Y."
A snapshot of the Geochron website from 1998 (read the text in the grey box!)

K-Ar dating cannot be used accurately on very young rocks because they may still contain air, which is 1% argon. Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly. The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages. Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice.

In addition, the submitted samples contained xenoliths- inclusions of older rocks. These will, of course, affect the supposed age of the rocks.

So there we have a shining example of creation "science"- intentional, willing deception for the sake of propaganda.

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