This is a blog I typed up and am posting today. It'll be up at my Neurognosis Wordpress blog and my blog I have by the same name on my hometown newspaper's website. I think it has some good info people may find interesting and/or informative. Lemme know what you think:**NOTE: The author of the article's comments I am rebutting appear in RED**
A guest article appeared in the Victoria Advocate, titled â€œWhy Shouldnâ€™t We Teach Creationismâ€. I feel compelled to address some inaccuracies that appeared in this article. While I could spend time addressing the historical â€œsupportâ€ cited, Iâ€™d rather stick to the science which is at the heart of the question â€œwhy shouldnâ€™t we teach creationismâ€.â€œThe other main argument is that creation is religion and evolution is science. Balderdash!â€
Creationism has its basis in religion and not in objective, evidence-based inquiry. The very tenets of creationism are based upon the stories and letters collectively known as the Judeo-Christian Bible. The very core of creationism is derived from the book of Genesis (part of the Torah) which supposedly recounts the creation of the universe, Earth and all life by a deity. To claim that creationism is not religion is â€œbalderdashâ€. Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory - a theory which has stood up to much scrutiny for well over 100 years.
However, if weâ€™re going to talk about what is and isnâ€™t science, letâ€™s examine the concept of a theory. Letâ€™s understand what a theory is in the scientific context.
There is much confusion right off the bat when people speak of evolutionary theory. There is a vast difference in the meaning of the word â€œtheoryâ€ in the colloquial sense and the usage of the term in the scientific sense.
The lay or popular culture definition of the word theory is, â€œan assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.â€ (Pickett, 2001).
Such a definition is often thought to apply when one speaks of a scientific theory; that it is merely conjecture or a "guess" on the part of scientists. This is not at all accurate. That colloquial definition is not applicable in regards to a scientific theory. Which is described as:
â€œA set of statements or principles devised to explain a group facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.â€ (Pickett, 2001).
The construction of a scientific theory takes much more than simply coming up with an idea. Theories are built over time through methodological inquiry. As the mathematician Poincare (1905) stated in his La Science et l'hypothÃ¨se (Science and Hypothesis), â€œScience is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a houseâ€. Poincareâ€™s point was the importance of a theoretical framework which can organize the facts in a useful way.
Science philosopher Patrick Suppes (1967) states that theories are of two parts: one part â€œlogical calculusâ€ and a second part called the â€œco-ordinating definitionsâ€. He notes that theories are dependent upon constituent parts - statistical and experimental methodology being amongst these parts. He also notes in his conclusion that, â€œtesting the fundamental theory is an essential ingredient of any sophisticated scientific disciplineâ€ (p. 64).
What did Suppes mean by â€œlogical calculusâ€? The logical calculus consists of the base axioms (as Suppes referred to them) or rather the facts with which the theoretical framework is constructed â€“ as in Poincareâ€™s example, the stones with which the house is built. Therefore the coordinating definitions are the â€œempirical interpretationsâ€ as Suppes calls them which would be the product of the experimental and statistical methodologies.
In a paper about scientific understanding, Michael Friedman (1974) makes a statement in which he is agreeing with C.G. Hempel and says, â€œthe philosopher of science should be interested in an objective notion of explanation, a notion that doesnâ€™t vary capacriously from individual to individualâ€ (p. 7). Such is true for science and the building of theories â€“ ask different biologists what the theory of evolution is and youâ€™ll get similar answers from them all â€“ some wording will be different and some aspects may be highlighted more than others but an agreement nonetheless. This is evident when we look at definitions for evolutionary theory from different sources.
Audesirk et al. (2002) provides the definition:
â€œthe descent of modern organisms with modification from preexisting life-forms; strictly speaking, any change in the proportions of different genotypes in a population from one generation to the nextâ€
â€œBiological evolution ... is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next.â€
Jurmain, Nelson, Kilgore & Trevathan (2000):
â€œa scientific theory of orgnismal change over time originally developed by Charles Darwin; it embodies the ideas that species alive today are descendants of species living long ago, and that species have changed and diverged from one another over billions of years; the process of change over time by which existing populations of organisms develop from ancestral form through modification of their characteristics.â€
Drickamer, Vessey & Jakob (2002):
â€œGenetic change in a population of organisms over time (generations)â€
We get consistent concepts with varying amounts of detail but all the same concept â€“ Drickamer et al.â€™s being the tersest. We donâ€™t have a capriciously (impulsively, arbitrarily) varying concept. This definition is a summarized representation of the theoretical framework of evolutionary theory which is built up with those stones of knowledge. But do we know if evolution is a robust theory? Is it a strong theory? Are there criteria by which scientific theories can be assessed? There sure is.
Based upon criteria put forth by people such as Kuhn (1977), Blalock (1969) and Dubin (1978), Prochaska, Wright and Velicer (2008) assembled a model for testing theories. Their testing model consists of 11 criteria by which a theory can be evaluated. Those criteria are:
5. Empirical Adequacy
a. Predictive Power
b. Explanatory Power
If we look at these criteria as described by Prochaska et al., we can evaluate whether or not a theory is decidedly robust or in dire need of reformulation. I wonâ€™t take the time to extensively evaluate evoltuonary theory with that testing model. However, I can take a few criteria and compare how evolutionary theory and creationism compare on each criterion.
First, weâ€™ll look at clarity of the theory. Prochaska et al. have defined this criterion by stating:
â€œHas well-defined terms that are operationalized and explicit and internally consistent. Explicit propositions are preferred. Assumptions, propositions, and concepts have definitions that are consistent, not redundant, and concepts have content and construct validityâ€ (p. 565).
Evolutionary theory has many terms which have specific definitions, many of which are often a source of confusion for those who are not familiar with them. Natural selection, for instance, is a well known term but many are unfamiliar with its definition. Many people will automatically reference the colloquialism â€œsurvival of the fittestâ€, however, with an incorrect conceptualization of the phrase as it pertains to evolutionary theory. In evolution being â€œfitâ€ does not necessarily equate to being the fastest, strongest or biggest. Evolutionary fitness boils down to propagation of the genes â€“ those who create the most offspring are the fittest (Drickamer, Vessey & Jakob, 2002). Natural selection itself is defined formally as:
â€œthe unequal survival and reproduction of organisms due to environmental forces, resulting in the preservation of favorable adaptations. Usually, natural selection refers specifically to differential survival and reproduction on the basis of genetic differences among individualsâ€ (Audesirk, Audesirk & Byers, 2002, p. G-16).
This definition says nothing about being the strongest or fastest in relation to what natural selection is. It does specifically make note of reproduction and genetic differences as they related to differential survival of organisms. This definition of different concepts is consistent throughout the evolutionary biology literature and the knowledge of the process has been expanded and further investigated through many years of research in the field. Therefore, evolution does have clear and operationalized definitions, it is simply that those who receive or produce inaccurate information may find them lacking clarity.
How about creationism? Does it meet the standards of this criterion? Well, it differs greatly with mainstream science on aspects which are extremely important such as the concept of species, for instance. The scientific community makes use of the biological species concept which has a particular, operationalized definition. Now, it must be noted that this is only utilized with sexually reproducing organisms as those organisms which reproduce asexually must be classified by a different criteria. For example, bacteria are often classified utilizing molecular systematics (Olsen, Woese & Overbeek, 1994).
However, for brevity, I will only refer to the BSC. The biological species concept outlines the criteria for determining what constitutes a species. Mayr (2001), comments on the BSC, stating:
â€œ(1) species are composed of populations, and (2) populations are conspecific if they successfully interbreed with each other. This reasoning resulted in the so-called biological species concept (BSC): â€˜Species are groups of interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups.â€™ In other words, a species is a reproductive community. Its reproductive isolation is effected by so-called isolating mechanisms, that is, by properties of individuals that prevent (or make unsuccessful) the interbreeding with individuals of other speicesâ€ (p. 167)
Creation â€œscientistsâ€ have a system called baraminology based upon the biblical concept of a â€œkindâ€ of animal. In some instances the word kind is used interchangeably with â€œspeciesâ€, however this is not in keeping with the scientific definition of species as baraminologists have their own methods for classification based upon the use statistical analysis (basically an attempt at the statistical procedure of cluster analysis) of basic morphology (i.e., beaks, wings, four legs) (Wood, 2008a). The problem with baraminology, as with creationism as a whole, is that it starts with a predefined conclusion and works with the â€œevidenceâ€ to make it fit that immutable conclusion. One glaring instance is an article written by baraminology â€œresearcherâ€ Todd Charles Wood (a Biochemist by training) for the website Answers in Genesis. In the article about horse species, Wood (2008b) states:
â€œIn the meantime, new horse species arose, displaying designs that God had placed into horses at the creation. The successful horses were those pre-designed for cooler climates (larger body size), the eating of gritty grass (huge, thick-enameled teeth), and moving swiftly on an open range (long legs and other designs for speed).â€
This â€œmaking the evidence fit the conclusionâ€ tactic is also blatantly obvious is a paper published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly journal in 1998. Robinson and Cavanaugh (1998) were looking at â€œquantitativeâ€ methodologies for use in baraminology. The statement made in their abstract shows exactly what I have stated as presupposition of the conclusion:
â€œWe have found that barminic distances based on hemoglobin amino acid sequences, 12S-rRNA sequences, and chromosomal data were largely ineffective for identifying the Human holobaramin. Baraminic distances based on ecological and morphological characters, however, were quite reliable for distinguishing humans from nonhuman primatesâ€.
The authors essentially rejected anything that did not fit their preconceived notion of what the answer should be and defaulted to a vaguer concept of clustering according how something â€œlooksâ€. This is not science no matter how you dress it up.
The term â€œkindâ€ if often used interchangeably with â€œspeciesâ€, but this is not the scientific concept as laid out by the biological species concept. The kinds they refer to are those initially created kinds of animals which may have changed some over time according to how God â€œpre-designedâ€ them. Therefore, the concept of a â€œkindâ€ or â€œspeciesâ€ within creationism is very vague and based upon an elementary idea that if two things look alike then they must be the same â€œkindâ€.
This all leads into the next criterion (which I mentioned previously) of â€œconsistencyâ€ which Prochaska et al. define as:
â€œThe components do not contradict each other. The definitions are consistent with assumptions. There is fit between concepts and propositions and concepts and clinical exemplarsâ€ (p. 565).
By the very nature of how evolutionary theory is constructed, the components must work together as it is a massive, dynamic process which emerges as a consequence of its constituent processes such as the different types of selection, mutation and so forth. Often people will bring up the concept of punctuated equilibrium and present this as a displacer for phyletic gradualism â€“ however, this is usually, again, another instance where an inaccurate understanding of the items being discussed comes into play. A common mistake is to see PE as a complete replacement to phyletic gradualism proposed by Darwin (1896). Indeed, even their original paper carried the title, â€œPunctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualismâ€ yet the title can be misleading. The idea PE proposed did not seek to replace phyletic gradualism completely but only attack the assumption that it was the only model of change at work. The idea Gould and Eldredge put forth was based heavily on Ernst Mayrâ€™s â€œgeographic speciationâ€ â€“ more commonly known today as allopatric speciation in which geographic isolation served to separate portions of a population from the whole and subsequently rapid change in the smaller population over time would occur â€“ what Mayr (1954) called the â€œconspicuous divergence of peripherally isolated populationsâ€ (p. 158). Seizing upon this idea as a springboard, Gould and Eldredge saw these peripherally isolated populations as hotbeds of rapid evolutionary activity where cladogenesis would occur (divergence of a parent species into daughter species). They proposed that this would account for inconsistencies seen in the fossil record when viewed through the filter of gradualism. Over the years since the Gould and Eldredge paper, it has been confirmed empirically that both gradualism and PE are portions of the same process of evolutionary change (Pagel, Venditti & Meade, 2006).
Next weâ€™ll jump into a central criterion for scientific theories, testability. Prochaska et al. explain this criterion further by stating:
â€œThe propositions can be tested. Has the potential to generate empirical evidence. Has the potential to be falsifiable or refuted.â€
Evolutionary theory has volumes of empirical research in support of it from several different disciplines and sub-disciplines. Can evolution be tested and has it? Yes and of course it has. Examples? Sure. Letâ€™s look at the idea of divergence of clades. Evolutionary theory predicts that two species should become less similar the further away from their last common ancestor (LCA). Therefore we should see greater similarity between modern humans and chimpanzees than we would bacteria â€“ okay that oneâ€™s pretty obvious. So what supports this idea empirically aside from the obvious? How about cytochrome c? What it is? Itâ€™s a hemoprotein, that is, a protein which includes a heme (a portion containing iron) which makes it capable of undergoing oxidation and reduction. Cytochrome c (cyt c) is involved in electron transport and is usually membrane bound. It is found in eukaryotes most typically in the inner mitochondrial membrane (Campbell and Ferrell, 2003).
So why does this make a difference evolutionarily? Because of the greatly conserved nature of cyt c. Youâ€™ll find that humans and chimpanzees have identical molecules while comparing us to other species will show more differences as we move away evolutionarily. The sequencing of cyt c has been used for many years to examine evolutionary divergence of organisms (Strahler, 1987; Curtis and Barnes, 1994). As to the divergence of bacteria and human cyt c, we can check this against the Protein Information Resource which was started in 1984 by the National Biomedical Research Foundation.
A search of the Homo sapiens sapiens (shortened to just Homo sapiens in the database) cytochrome c sequence will provide us with the percentage of similarity with other particular organisms. We find, as would be expected evolutionarily, that humans do not differ from the other great apes such as chimpanzees but we do differ (PIR, 2009) by one amino acid with Rhesus monkeys which have tyrosine instead of isoleucine (Strahler, 1987; PIR, 2009). Now when we examine the shared sequence percentage (utilizing BLAST) between Homo sapiens sapiens and R. rubrum, it is 36.36% (PIR, 2009). As predicted by evolutionary theory Humans are similar to our closest cousins, chimpanzees and only differ by one amino acid to our further away cousins, the Rhesus monkeys. However, we differ greatly compared to the anaerobic gram negative bacteria R. rubrum from which our clades diverged on the order of billions of years ago.
Along with the cytochrome c evidence, we have a more robust measure of divergence between clades â€“ genetic comparison. The Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium did this in 2005 when they did a comparison of the human and chimp genomes and provided a divergence of ~1.23% between the two on a base by base comparison of the over 3 billion bases. This verified earlier studies which concluded nearly exact figures independently (Chen and Li, 2001; Ebersberger, Metzler, Schwarz & Paabo, 2002). Here we can also dive into another criterion provided by Prochaska et al. â€“ â€œpredictive powerâ€ as a sub-criterion of â€œEmpirical Adequacyâ€. Evolution would predict that those species of extinct hominids that originated before modern humans would be evolutionarily between the chimpanzee clade than would modern humans. Was this prediction verified? Yes it was. With an analysis of extracted Neanderthal nuclear DNA which found that Neanderthals did not sync up with modern humans nor chimpanzees but fell in between with a skewness toward modern humans â€“ Neanderthals showing 99.5% similarity to modern humans compared to the 98.77% similarity with chimpanzees (Noonan et al., 2006; Green et al., 2006; Green et al., 2009). This also confirmed earlier genetic work showing Neanderthals were a separate, but very closely related, species from modern humans (Krings et al., 1997; Scholz et al., 2000).
What about creationism? Can it be tested? In a scientific context, it would be difficult to next to impossible. For instance, letâ€™s forego the origins of the universe as this isnâ€™t relevant to the discussion about evolution. Letâ€™s focus on where modern science and creationism clash. Creationism posits that species are essentially static â€“ populations do not change but â€œvariation within a kindâ€ (Morris, 1974) is accepted. If we utilized the view of one of the â€œpioneeringâ€ baraminologists Todd Wood, we can examine his statement which I cited earlier:
â€œIn the meantime, new horse species arose, displaying designs that God had placed into horses at the creation. The successful horses were those pre-designed for cooler climates (larger body size), the eating of gritty grass (huge, thick-enameled teeth), and moving swiftly on an open range (long legs and other designs for speed).â€
How can this be tested? How can you test to see if a deity â€œplaced designsâ€ into horses? Iâ€™m sure someone would venture an answer but to be able to show, empirically, a supernatural being predestined ancient horses to appear as they do now is beyond scientific inquiry and therefore NOT science. The current evidence points toward evolution through natural selection not predestination through divine guidance. This idea harkens back to Aristotleâ€™s scala naturae view of nature. While it served as his attempt at organizing life into groups and is one of the first attempts at taxonomy, it is nonetheless, wrong. Evolution in nature has no predestined goal, no achievement to shoot for. It is a continual, unyielding process. Professor Paul Olsen (2004) points to some underlying motivations for this ladder concept stating that it, "supported feudal social stratification as well as putting everything in its place - we still have strong vestiges of that concept."
One last criterion I would like to touch on would be â€œUtilityâ€. As would be assumed, Prochaska et al. have described it as providing â€œservice and is useableâ€. Is evolution useful? Does it provide a service? Absolutely. What things are influenced and find a basis in evolutionary theory? Letâ€™s see:
â€¢ Bioinformatics (Futuyma 1995)
â€¢ Drug resistance management (Bull and Wichman 2001)
â€¢ Fisheries (Conover and Munch 2002)
â€¢ Drug discovery (Eisen and Wu 2002; Searls 2003)
â€¢ Epidemiology (Bull and Wichman 2001; Vogel 1998; Gaschen et al. 2002; Relman 1999)
â€¢ Molecular â€œBreedingâ€ (Arnold 2001)
â€¢ Engineering (Marczyk 2004)
What about creationism? What has applied creationism scientifically produced that is useful? The count is zero. This is because creationism is not science, it is not based in science and therefore it has no place in the science classroom. Iâ€™m not saying creationism need be banned from schools, not at all, but put it in an area where it belongs such as in religious studies or philosophy and not in science classes.â€œWe need to come to grips with the fact that science can only examine what is in the present.
It cannot look back into the past and certainly cannot look into the future. Educated assumptions can be made, but that is what they are, assumptions. To make an assumption pertaining to the past, you have to start with a frame of reference or belief. Belief: Sounds like religion doesn't it?â€
Science is a process of inquiry that it not restricted to simple direct observation in the immediate moment. The very term â€œobservationâ€ is often equivocated due to the fact that it has a specific meaning within a scientific context. To observe in science does not necessarily mean that one must physically â€œseeâ€ something with their eyes; this is one means of â€œdirect observationâ€. Processes and instruments have been developed to extend our ability to observe far beyond our own sensory capabilities. We can observe trends in populations by examining various forms of data. We can create reconstructions based upon collected data and even make predictions. To say that science is only limited to the â€œhere and nowâ€ and anything outside of this is pure â€œassumptionâ€ is an unfounded claim.
Observation within science does not necessarily always mean something is seen by a scientist as it is happening, like you would think of Jane Goodall observing her chimps. Observation can take more forms than just that example. You need not see a process in its entirety to investigate its validity. You have more than one type of observation. Direct observation is not the only means of data acquisition which science utilizes, to declare such alludes to a poverty in understanding of how science works (Pennock, 1999).
The idea of observation presented here is more of the philosophical idea of sensory assimilation. Scientific observation is more complex than that, as are the methodologies for tackling questions. This is intimated by Solomon (1998) when he states, â€œIt would be a mistake, however, to think of science as nothing but the gathering and testing of facts through experienceâ€.
The laymanistic concept of observation is to watch â€“ to â€œseeâ€ something occur as an active observer with oneâ€™s own eyes. Such is based on a version of scientific methodology in simplified terms everyone is introduced to as a child and continually given throughout much of their public education. However, observation in science is not that simplistic.
Observation itself in the context of science is not limited to seeing the â€œhere and nowâ€. Were it to be limited by this, our knowledge itself would be severely limited.
Observation can be divided into two major categories â€“ direct and indirect. Direct observation would encompass the â€œhere and nowâ€ idea. An example, as mentioned previously, would be a primatologist such as Jane Goodall observing her chimps in their day to day activities. Another would be a chemist observing a reaction directly.
Much of what is observed in science is not a â€œhere and nowâ€ observation of a process. Plate tectonics is an example. We cannot actively sit and watch the continental plates move and shift â€“ they move too slowly, a few centimeters per year. Our observations from many other aspects of the process are culled together to provide us with the information on this process. Such is the same for evolution. We have indirect observation of a larger process.
Also, let it not be misunderstood that evolution happened only â€œin the pastâ€. It is a continual process which continues on even now. Allele frequencies can be observed in populations rising to prominence over time such as a study done over a 30 year period of the Galapagos finches by Peter and Rosemary Grant (Grant & Grant, 2005). It would be ridiculous for someone to sit and watch for 30 years a population of finches â€“ it wouldnâ€™t seem as though anything had taken place either due to our perceptual abilities therefore we develop methods to â€œshowâ€ us this taking place just as physicists developed the double slit experiment to examine the concept of particle/wave duality.
Geologists cannot sit and watch most of the processes they study take place â€“ they occur over â€œgeological timeâ€ in most instances and is far beyond the lifetime of a human being. Science is an inductive process for the most part. Parts are taken to give us a picture of the whole â€“ hence the often used â€œpuzzleâ€ analogy.
Now, are observations made in evolutionary research? Of course they are â€“ both direct and indirect. Direct observations can come in the form of experimental observations made in, say, ecology with the migration and movement of animal groups. And indirect such as genetic testing and comparison in which we can infer things such as divergence between two clades as I showed earlier with the genome comparisons. Here we also have examples of independent verification through experimentation and observation.â€œEvolution references are a long time frame and that is obvious by the large spans of time they give to all their discoveries, primarily because the methods used to measure time are inaccurate.â€
Evolutionary processes work on long and short time frames depending on the organism populations and environments involved. Populations of bacteria can evolve much faster than a population of humans. There is no set â€œtime frameâ€ for evolutionary change with some change being gradual and some being short bursts offset by long periods of relative stasis (Pagel, Venditti & Meade, 2006). Mostly this is referring to the appearance of higher taxa usually referred to as â€œmacroevolutionâ€ which is simply evolution at or above the species level (Mayr, 2001). Microevolution which is evolution below the species level is often not thought of as part of the evolutionary process as it is unequivocally demonstrated by items such as antibiotic resistance. However, by the very definition of evolution, â€œthe descent of modern organisms with modification from pre-existing life-formsâ€¦â€ (Audesirk, Audesirk & Byers, 2002), microevolution is evolution just as is macroevolution.
The mention of â€œmethodsâ€ of measurement is vague as I cannot infer what exactly he is referring to. If creation precedence is to be invoked then it is most likely a reference to the various scientific dating methodologies such as radiometric dating. However, the accusation that these methods are inaccurate is a consequence of a poverty of knowledge and understanding on the subject. In a comment upon a letter to the editor of the Victoria Advocate titled, â€œCommenting on Creationismâ€, we find some clarification:â€œScientifically, the carbon dating process IS flawed - and unreliable past 30,000 - 40,000 years. The science community KNOWS this and uses other dating methods when the numbers don't match up. Carbon dating is like looking at a candle and estimating how long it was before it started burning. You don't know how long it was to start with, or if conditions in the room have changed (was there less oxygen an hour ago? Was there any wind? was the wax in the top part of the candle the same as what's left?)â€
To say the radiocarbon dating process is â€œflawedâ€ is incorrect. If radiometric dating were â€œflawedâ€ this technique would be useless and the amount of time, money and effort researchers put into it would be for naught. The idea that researchers would continue to knowingly utilize a completely unreliable methodology is a tad bit ridiculous and there is ample evidence to support the usage of radiometric dating.
The process has been continually checked against reference data in the published literature as well as shared within the scientific community and public at international conferences (Boaretto et al., 2002; Pazdur, Fogtman, Michczynski & Pawlyta, 2003; Scott, Cook, Naysmith, Bryant & Oâ€™Donnell, 2007).
He is correct in that radiocarbon dating begins to lose accuracy past a particular timeframe. The current techniques push the time boundary for accurate dating using the radiocarbon method to approximately 60,000 years (Plastino, Kaihola, Bartolomei & Bella, 2001). Some conditions may contribute to anomalous dates and these have appeared in the published literature (which many evolution opponents mistakenly cite as support for their position) and strict guidelines for testing procedures and what materials can be tested have been established (Long, 1990; Scott, 2003). Radiocarbon dating is not the only method utilized by scientists for dating samples. Other techniques â€“ relative and absolute are utilized and often more than one technique is utilized. There are several methods of radiometric dating available â€“ C14 dating is not the only dating method employed by researchers and it is only able to be utilized on particular samples. For example, Geochron Laboratories (n.d.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts gives the following list of samples for dating:
â€œMaterials suitable for radiocarbon dating include charcoal, wood and other plant matter, soils and sediments, shells, bone, carbonates, dissolved inorganic carbonate (DIC), methane and hydrocarbons, and food products.â€
You will often find relative and absolute dating methodology utilized to come to the most accurate date for specimens as well. The technique is calibrated against other dating methodologies independent from radiocarbon such as dendrochronology, ice cores, ocean sediments, varves and coral. This all converges to provide a calibration curve with which the most accurate date can be found for a sample. Studies examining the methodology of calibration have found that they are all in general agreement (Aitchison et al., 1989; Stein et al., 2000; Bard et al., 2004).
Radiometric dating techniques have been shown time and time again to yield similar results not only amongst different techniques but also in comparison to other dating methodology such as dendrochronology, electron spin resonance, fluorine analysis, and paleomagnetism (also known as archaeomagnetic dating). One example would be the Fen Complex in Norway. It has been dated by various means by independent researchers over a period of many years and all have yielded similar results:
Ar40/Ar39 â€“ 588 +/- 10 Ma. (Meert et al, 1998)
K/Ar â€“ 575 +/- 25 Ma. (Verschure et al., 1983)
Rb/Sr â€“ 578- +/- 24 Ma. (Dahlgreen, 1994)
Th/Pb â€“ 570-590 Ma. (Saether, 1958)
K/Ar â€“ 565 Ma. (Faul et al, 1959)
These radiometric findings also agree with the paleomagnetic findings as well, with no disagreement in any case. Also, utilizing isochron methods from multiple samples gives added reliability which utilizes the statistical methodology of linear regression.
The calculation of dates relies upon the decay rate which occurs in a predictable fashion. The amount of parent isotope is compared to the amount of the daughter isotope thus giving us the ability to calculate the original isotope amount with the known decay rate. Utilizing the isochron dating method, the problem of original â€œamountâ€ is circumvented by the use of other non-radiogenic isotopes (which can also be used with samples that may be contaminated as well) (Schwarcz, 1997). The decay rates can be directly measured as has been done for Rb/Sr. Davis (1977) measured the decay rate over a period of 19 years with 20g samples. This gave him a sample from which to calculate the decay rate since just a milligram contains ~1018 atoms. Also, in a large study of decay rates encompassing many experiments attempting to alter decay rates, Emery, (1972) found that the decay rates of beta and alpha decay to be â€œfirmly establishedâ€. Not to mention that neutrino bombardment in nuclear fission reactors does not affect the uranium decay rate of the unfissioned uranium which squashes the argument of neutrino affects upon decay (Shure, 1983). Therefore the candle analogy is fallacious as a faulty comparison.
We also have extensive consistency within methodology for determination of the age of the Earth (which is often a point brought up in debate surrounding creationism) using not only terrestrial but extraterrestrial samples to arrive at the age of ~4.5 billion years old for the Earth (Plummer et al., 2003; Strahler, 1987; Monroe and Wincander, 2001; Jacobsen, 2003). Many different methodologies â€“ many, many independent assessments on different samples and they all are in agreement for the general age of the Earth. This is something which cannot be ignored or rationalized away. Faulty dating methods would not yield such consistency.
Letâ€™s also understand what C14 is and a bit about the basics of decay. Radiocarbon dating itself is explained succinctly by Ebbing (1996):
â€œCarbon dating (also called radiocarbon dating, C-14 dating) is a radiometric dating method. Carbon-14 is an unstable isotope which has a half life of 5730 years. This isotope is continually created within our own atmosphere due to the constant incursion of cosmic rays upon the earth. It is the â€œcollision of a neutron with a nitrogen-14 nucleus (the most abundant nitrogen nuclide) that can produce a carbon-14 nucleusâ€
And what exactly is the basis for radiometric dating? This has to do with the physics of these radioactive isotopes and how they behave in a particular and predictable way in their decay:
â€œThe rate of decay of radioactive isotopes is uniform and is not affected by changes in pressure, temperature, or the chemical environment. Therefore, once a quantity of radioactive nuclides has been incorporated into a growing mineral crystal, that quantity will begin to decay at a steady rate with a definite percentage of the radiogenic atoms undergoing decay in each increment of time. Each radioactive isotope has a particular mode of decay and a unique decay rate.â€ (Levin, 1999)
Plummer et al (2003) discusses the radioactive decay of isotopes:
â€œRadioactive decay is the spontaneous nuclear change of isotopes with unstable nuclei. Energy is produced with radioactive decay. Emissions from radioactive elements can be detected by a Geiger counter or similar device, and, in high concentrations, can kill humans.
Nuclei of radioactive isotopes change primarily in three ways. An alpha emission is the ejection of two protons and two neutrons from a nucleus. When an alpha emission takes place the atomic number of the atom is reduced by two and its atomic mass number is reduced by four. After an alpha emission, U-238 becomes Th-234, which has an atomic number of 90. The original isotope (U-238) is referred to as the parent isotope. The new isotope (Th-234) is the daughter product.
Beta emissions involve the release of an electron from a nucleus. To understand this, we need to explain that electrons, which have virtually no mass and are usually in orbit around the nucleus, are also in the nucleus as part of a neutron. A neutron is a proton with an electron inside of it, thus it is electrically neutral. If an electron is emitted from a neutron during radioactive decay, the neutron becomes a proton and the atomâ€™s atomic number is increased by one.
The third mode of change is electron capture, whereby a proton in the nucleus captures an orbiting electron. The proton becomes a neutron. The atom becomes a different element having an atomic number one less than its parent isotope.â€
Abell (1983) explains some additional points of half lives:
â€œ...the earthâ€™s crust contains radioactive elements that decay slowly. Among these are potassium 40, which decays to argon 40 with a half life of 1,250 million years, rubidium 87, which decays to strontium 87 with a half life of 4,880 million years, and uranium 238, which decays through a series of elements (including radium) to lead 206 with a half life of 4,470 million years.â€
And while radiocarbon can have environmental confounds, Brush (1983) touches on one of the most important traits of radiometric dating utilizing other isotopes (specifically referring to uranium isotopes):
â€œAs far as is known, chemical or geological processes cannot change the relative abundances of these isotopes.â€
As was stated before, it is often offered that there are reports of anomalous dates obtain and those making this argument are not incorrect. However, when they claim this and merge it with the claim that the methodology is unreliable then their stance becomes untenable. For example, I have been offered the claim that a specific article from Science shows radiocarbon dating to â€œnot workâ€ because the researchers obtained unexplained, anomalous dates. However, apparently unknown to the person making this assertion, the cause of the off dates was shown in the very same paper and explained why this occurred when the paper was published back in 1963. The specific claim was that researchers found shells of living mollusks (from river beds) that were dated to be 2,300 years old and therefore shows that radiocarbon dating is â€œfallibleâ€ as well as â€œunreliableâ€. However, if the person making the assertion had read the paper, they would see that the cause of the anomalous dates was shown as being a result of humus on the production of the shell â€“ or more specifically, inactive carbon from the humus (Keith and Anderson, 1963). Humus, which is broken down organic matter, was found in the soil. With this research, the paper added to the knowledge base of radiocarbon dating as was summed up:
â€œMaximum error is to be expected in shell specimens from animals which lived in humus-laden streams which were actively cutting into old flood plains or old soil profiles.â€
Other instances have been offered as support for radiocarbon dating being wildly inaccurate but they are usually similar to the instance I just presented. â€œAnthony J. Corte is a chapel minister at the Victoria County Jail for Faith Family Church and member of The John Birch Society.â€
Although I disagree with Mr. Corteâ€™s views it does not mean that I view him personally in a negative light. I am not a member of any church nor do I subscribe to any religion. However, just as I would like others to respect my choice to not align myself with any religion, I respect the right of others to adhere to whatever religion they wish. However, not every student in a classroom comes from a Christian home nor do all the families of these children subscribe literally to creation as laid out in the Christian Bible. Nor is there any scientific validity to the creation story found in the Book of Genesis. Evolution is a biological theory of change in the populations of organisms and it has a massive amount of evidence-based support from many scientific disciplines. This theory has been studied, scrutinized and tested for 150 years making it one of the most validated theories in science.
It may also be worthy to note that creationism is only at odds with evolutionary theory on the subject of change in organisms. Contrary to what is often thought by the public, evolutionary theory does not attempt to explain the origin of the universe, the Earth itself or the emergence of life; this is explained by other theories in other disciplines of science. â€œHe has attended three creation seminars. His personal library on the subject of creation includes 17 books and eight videos/dvds.â€
I am not sure why this is relevant. I also have a personal library which includes many books on the subject of creation and evolution along with other subjects as well. But since weâ€™re listing, my personal library includes approximately 50+ (50 is just whatâ€™s on a shelf, this does not include what I have in storage) books on the subjects of evolution, creationism, biology and associated disciplines as well as 11 videos in various formats. I have works by notable names in creation such as Henry Morris, Duane Gish, Jonathan Sarfati, Jonathan Wells, Phillip Johnson (which, btw, Wells and Johnson have both spurned medical research and knowledge by publicly stating that HIV does not cause AIDS but thatâ€™s another entire topic all together) and many others even Harun Yahya (the pen name for Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar). I also have works by notable figures in evolutionary biology such as Ernst Mayr, Stephen J. Gould, Niles Eldredge, Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, Theodosius Dobzhansky and many others. What does this prove though? Not much at all. Superficially it could be thought of as a having a large amount of literature equates to be well informed and knowledgeable upon a particular topic(s). However, it really doesnâ€™t amount to much in the way of argumentative support.
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