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Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Rating RATE: Integrity needs Improvement

In my last post I stated that the creation science movement has often shown a lack of integrity. Randy Isaac highlights this lack of integrity in an article in the June 2007 edition of Perspectives in Science and the Christian Faith (PSCF). Isaac assesses the Institute for Creation Research’s (ICR) just concluded RATE project. RATE stands for “Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth”, and ICR claims that it provides “exciting new scientific evidence which supports the Biblical teaching of a young earth”. However, as Isaac shows, the ICR evidence is inadequate, the interpretation of the evidence is flawed, and worst of all, the way the results are being portrayed is deceptive.

Radiometric dating is the process of determining the age of material (primarily rocks) from the decay of its radioactive elements. One of the key findings of the 800+ page RATE report is that there is overwhelming evidence for more than 500 million years worth of radioactive decay. From this evidence, one would have to conclude that the earth is at least a half billion years old, or at least it has the appearance of being that old. To say that this is a major concession by the premier creationist scientific research organization is an understatement. Creation Science has historically claimed that radiometric dating is inaccurate and completely untrustworthy (for example, see http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/dating.asp). Now, however, the most extensive creationist research study in history has concluded that the radiometric dating evidence for an ancient earth is overwhelming. This is a highly significant development.

Since the key evidence from their study does not support the young earth conclusion, the RATE authors propose that the laws of nature must have been radically different in the past. They suggest that there was an accelerated rate of radioactive decay during both the first 3 days of creation, and during the global flood. This hypothesis has two significant problems. First, it has been calculated that the heat caused by this acceleration would have incinerated not only Noah’s ark, but possibly the entire earth. Secondly, if some type of cosmic air-conditioner happened to available for just this occasion, Noah and his family would still need to survive radiation levels a million times greater than we have today. The authors do concede that these are real problems for their hypothesis but they are “confident these issues will be solved”.

Much of the rest of the report deals with a few areas that do support (in the authors eyes) a young earth scenario. Unfortunately, it uses scientific methods and evidence that have been discredited long ago. For example, it is well known that carbon-14 (C-14) dating is accurate only for materials between about 200 and 50,000 years old. As well, C-14 dating is notoriously unreliable when there are only trace amounts of C-14 available. Yet the RATE report’s use of C-14 dating fall outside of these generally accepted parameters.

Isaac summarizes the RATE argument as follows:

  • The evidence for 500 million years of radioactive decay, given current natural laws, is overwhelming
  • Since the bible indicates the earth is young, radioactive decay must have accelerated significantly during the first 3 days of creation and during the flood.
  • How this acceleration occurred, given the heat and radiation problems, is currently unresolved. However, the RATE authors are confident that resolution will occur.
  • Therefore the RATE project provides encouragement regarding the reliability of the Bible
This is clearly a circular argument. (Assume “A young earth” therefore “Accelerated radioactive decay”, and because of the possibility of “Accelerated radioactive decay” the evidence points to a “young earth”). Once again the Creationists will provide fodder for the likes of Richard Dawkins who describe faith as “blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence”. And once again, Creation Science organizations demonstrate that they do not examine the evidence to reach a conclusion, but choose data that can be interpreted to meet their pre-existing conclusions. When the data does not cooperate (as in the case of the radiometric dating evidence in the RATE research), a new hypothesis is proposed so that the pre-existing conclusion does not need to be abandoned. This strategy is utilized even when the new hypothesis has even more difficulties than a previously discredited one.

The saddest part of this story is that the RATE project is still being advertised as a “success for Creation Science”. Good science encounters failure all the time. Scientists with integrity admit when this happens and move on. When Christians (whether scientists or not) start acting like corrupt corporate PR departments, when debacles are marketed as success, when creative interpretations of the facts show more influence from Dilbert than the Bible, it can only bring shame to the body of Christ.

Recommended Reading:
As well as the excellent article in the June 2007 edition of PSCF, Randy Isaac has a very good series on Integrity in Science in his weblog. Check out: http://www.asa3.org/weblog/randyisaac/Integrityinscience/


Martin LaBar said...

Well said. I found this using your "Table of Contents."

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