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Facebook and young earth

Dear Reader,

I have little urge or time for the social media site known as facebook, but occasionally I will visit it. I was reminded that I had posted years ago on this blog about the “young earth” theroys and radioactive decay. Now for your information the “young earth” hypothesis is that the conventional wisdom that the earth is many millions of years old is wrong and that the earth is much younger.

One site which is putting forwards the “young earth” theroy can be seen here, this site appears to be written by someone who holds a religous faith who also holds the view that the age of the earth is an important issue. They are expressing a creationist view that they hold. They have a series of principles which they call “the principles of scientific creationism“. I am not going to reproduce them in full but here is a sample of them. I have included their their views in italics with my comments in plain text.

  • The physical universe of space, time, matter, and energy has not always existed, but was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity.

This is something which science can not address, the question of did the universe start as a result of a big bang (or some other process) which was set in motion by God is not something which science is able to address and typically science is not attempting to prove the existence (or absence / nonexistence) of God.

  • The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the Creator.

The problem with the bible is that it gives no details about the manner in which God created the living things on this earth. Even if we assume that God did create the sea, fishes, trees, animals and humans the bible in Genesis 1 does not give any indication of how this was done by God. The hypothesis that a all powerful and all knowing God created a universe and then set in motion a series of events which God knew would result in the first humans evolving from something like plants which live in ponds is not in my view incompatibly with either the bible or Darwin’s work.

  • Each of the major kinds of plants and animals was created functionally complete from the beginning and did not evolve from some other kind of organism. Changes in basic kinds since their first creation are limited to “horizontal” changes (variations) within the kinds, or “downward” changes (e.g., harmful mutations, extinctions).

As I said already the bible (at least in Genesis 1) does not comment on mechanism by which the different creatures and plants were created.

  • The first human beings did not evolve from an animal ancestry, but were specially created in fully human form from the start. Furthermore, the “spiritual” nature of man (self-image, moral consciousness, abstract reasoning, language, will, religious nature, etc.) is itself a supernaturally created entity distinct from mere biological life.

As I said already the bible (at least in Genesis 1) does not comment on mechanism by which the different creatures and plants were created. While it might not be a pleasant prospect that humans evolved from monkeys or some other animals. I can not see a reason why the fact that I have much of my DNA in common with monkeys, cats and dogs makes me any less a man.

I will concentrate on a question which I know something about, this is the question of can we trust radioactive decay clocks to allow us to date objects such as rocks. In this page one of the young earth people (Brian Thomas) points out that the decay rate of Si-32 and Rn-222 have been shown to not be constant. I want to look at the evidence, one paper which they cited was “Possible effect of solar tides on radon signals” by G. Steinitz, O. Piatibratova and P. Kotlarsky, Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 2011, 102, 749-765. In this paper the authors claim that they see evidence of a change in the rate of the radioactive decay rate of radon. Now if we assume that they are right it is important to note that another later paper suggests that with Cs-137 it is impossible to see any change of the rate of decay (half life) as a function of time while for Ba-133 it is possible to see a change in the rate.

Now an important difference between Ba-133 and Cs-137 is that barium-133 decays by electron capture to Cs-133 while Cs-137 decays by electron emission (beta minus) to form Ba-137. The later paper (“Concerning the time dependence of the decay rate of 137Cs“, J.H. Jenkins, E. Fischbach, D. Javorsek II, R.H. Lee and P.A. Sturrock, Applied Radiation and Isotopes, 2013, 74, 50-55) quite wisely comments that the claimed effect can not be observed for all radionuclides. To me this later paper about Ba-133 and Cs-137 does make a major hole in Brian’s argument. He was claiming that radioactive decay rates in general are not fixed, in the paper by Jenkins et. al. evidence is shown and an argument is made that an effect can be seen with some radioisotopes (radionuclides) but not with all of them.

I hope to get back to this issue soon with something more on it.


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