5. Pseudoscience

What more can be said about pseudoscience? It is the soft, steaming foundation of the entire YEC movement.

NASA expected 54 feet of dust on the Moon, assuming a 5 billion year age. Oops! They found only 13 feet at the Apollo 11 landing site, 2 to 3 feet at Luna 16, and 11.5 feet at Apollo 12.

This is a pure lie. No one expected such deep dust on the moon. The YECs made up this "expectation" after the landing, in a transparent attempt to discredit the field of astrophysics. They exaggerated the rates of meteorite deposition in the Earth's atmosphere by a factor of thousands in order to conclude that the moon would have to be covered in a thick layer of dust if it's 4.5 billion years old. In reality, the thickness of lunar dust and lightly compacted surface material on the moon's surface fell precisely in line with predictions derived from other dating methods.

The Poynting-Robertson effect slows down small particles in orbitand makes them fall into the sun. In only 2 billion years, all particles less than three inches across clear out to Jupiter's orbit should have been eliminated. Oops! There are huge quantities still out there (they show up during the Perseid meteor shower every August).

This is a fine example of several simultaneous YEC pseudoscience deception techniques and logical fallacies:

  1. Unexplained jargon. He brings up the Poynting-Robertson effect as if he knows what it is. However, let us stop for a moment and ask ourselves the question: what's the chance that he has the slightest idea how it works? He studied theology and journalism! One could be charitable and assume that he spent years studying physics in his spare time, starting with basic concepts and eventually working his way up to esoteric astrophysical principles, but let's be serious; that's about as likely as a nun in a whorehouse. The fact that he mysteriously fails to explain its mechanism hardly lends him credibility, and it seems likely to me that he's just using the term as a mystical sword to smite his enemies, after having heard of it by perusing "creation science" (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) websites.

  2. False dilemma. He "proves" that the solar system must be less than 2 billion years old with some unexplained figures, and he acts as though the only alternative to the accepted age is a ludicrously low figure of less than 10,000 years. This is a bit like saying that you've found some problems with a 12,750 km estimate for the diameter of the Earth, so it must therefore be 6 feet wide. This is the same tactic they use when they act as though any imperfection in biological evolution theory is an automatic proof of creationism.

  3. One-dimensional analysis. He ignores every physical principle but the Poynting-Robertson effect, as if there are no other forces acting upon a particle in the solar system. For example, what about the effect of the gravity fields of all the planets? What about the possibility of new comets being added to the inner solar system from outside?

Poynting EffectThe Poynting-Robertson effect is a braking mechanism. As an object orbits the Sun, it is struck by light from the Sun. Light exerts pressure on anything it strikes, although the amount of momentum transfer is very small: U/c, where U is energy and c is the speed of light. This pressure acts to push objects away from the Sun, but some of it will also slow them down. Imagine running through a rain storm; you will have more rain on your front side than your back. Similarly, objects orbiting around the Sun absorb more radiation on their front sides than their back sides. This will exert a miniscule braking effect.

In the diagram at right, imagine the ball moving to the left; if it moves fast enough, it will "run into" the photons that are heading upwards, thus causing more solar radiation to impact on its front surface.

You can imagine just how weak this is. The larger an object is, the less effect it will have (because mass/volume increases faster than area). The slower an object is, the less effect it will have (just as the difference of rain on your front and back sides would depend on how quickly you run). And finally, on any object, the perturbations induced by the gravitational fields of planets (not to mention the fact that new material is constantly being added to the system) will easily overcome these effects.

In the end, this is just another Creationist one-dimensional analysis, where a single piece of information is worshipped to the exclusion of all other factors. No competent, genuine scientist or engineer would ever operate in this manner.

All short-term comets in the solar system should have been evaporated in 10,000 years or less. Oops! They haven't!

Somebody should thank him for reminding me of yet another piece of evidence for an ancient solar system. Some of the very shortest-period comets can degrade in as little as 500 years, yet we still observe them in the sky. Therefore, the "comet capture" theory is obviously correct, since we've definitely been around for more than 500 years so the young ones must be coming from an external source.

By the way, on June 14, 1995, NASA announced that a team of astronomers had estimated the number of potential new comets in the Kuiper Belt (a huge belt of debris past Neptune) to be roughly 200 million. The Oort cloud is yet another potential comet source which is theorized to hold even more comets. All of these long-period comets could potentially be converted into short-period comets through gravitational perturbation from various sources, hence the constant influx of new comets into the inner solar system. But we'd better not tell that to our YEC friend; he thinks there's no conceivable way that a short-period comet might be replaced once lost. The existence of such a heavily populated comet-source debris belt so far away from the Sun would tend to put a damper on his theory, thus possibly driving him to speak in tongues.

Here's the results of radiometric Moon-rock dating: Uranium/lead and thorium: from 3.36 to 28.1 billion years. Potassium/argon: 2.2 to 7 billion years. These figures are incompatible with each other and any known solar system aging model -- if radiometric dating is reliable, that is ...

How strange ... according to NASA, moon-rock dating ranges from 3.3 to 4.6 billion years, rather than varying by an order of magnitude as he claims. This guy claims to have a better source than the one mainstream scientists are using, but he doesn't bother saying what it is (who wants to bet that it's a creationist pseudoscience journal?).

Living snails have been radiometrically dated by Carbon-14 to be 2,300 years old. A Hawaiian lava flow known to be less than 200 years old was dated at 3 billion years. New wood in growing tress has been dated at 10,000 years. Oops!

Snails and lava flows are no mystery at all. Mollusks absorb minerals from certain types of sedimentary rock into their bodies, and those rocks can be very old, hence the erroneous dates. Since most creatures don't do this, it's a situation that's unique to mollusks and their unusual anatomy, and so it can hardly be used to explain carbon-dating of every other plant and animal species on Earth. As for lava flows from volcanoes, they call up material from deep underground. Is it any mystery that some of it is very old? Once again, we see painfully obvious explanations being ignored in favour of the preposterous explanation that the Earth is just 6,000 years old. As for the trees, I haven't heard of that particular example (and he doesn't provide enough details to look it up; he doesn't even bother saying which continent this occurred on, never mind when, or who conducted the test), but I have a strong suspicion that his vague description actually refers to the well-known phenomenon of young trees found in ancient volcanic ash, which doesn't present any consistency problem at all since young trees can grow in old ash quite easily (note that the ash doesn't actually get into the tree, so the only "inconsistency" is the fact that the wood is young while the ash is old).

Notice the continuing use of the YECs' favourite logical fallacy: the hasty generalization. They scrounge through thousands of dating experiments to find a handful that didn't work out (at last count, they had identified 350 bad cases out of more than 10,000 dating records), they ignore the fact that the scientist performing the dating operation identified the error himself, and they act as though this handful of problems means that all of the other readings must be grossly inaccurate as well. Carbon dating has been performed on animal remains whose age is known through other means, and it works. The fact that it is not universally applicable or absolutely foolproof is irrelevant; as a few scientists have commented, one does not declare the ruler to be useless because it can't be used for measuring the circumference of a round object, the tape measure to be useless because it's not accurate over long distances, or environmental radiation dosimeters to be useless because they don't produce accurate results when contaminated through improper handling. Every scientific measuring technique in existence has specific applications for which it is suited, and techniques which must be employed in order to ensure that accuracy. The use of a measurement technique in inappropriate circumstances, or on a poor sample, or in an incompetent manner will produce an inaccurate result, but that hardly invalidates the entire concept! When YECs attack radiometric dating techniques for not being foolproof or universally applicable, they merely demonstrate their ignorance of basic scientific method and practice.

Sediment on the ocean floor is an average of 1/2 mile deep, or about 8.2 x 10/17th tons. Rate of deposition is 2.75 x 10/10th tons a year. Works out the oceans can't be more than 33 million years old, even if we stick with a uniform deposition rate. And a non-uniform deposition (caused by something such as a worldwide flood) could greatly reduce the time involved by speeding up deposition.

Actually, I've read that the sea floor deposition rate in the Pacific Ocean is less than 0.1 cm per millenium. Of course, I haven't personally conducted experiments in this area, but I'll bet he hasn't either. Anyway, this leads to a figure of roughly 800 million years for a half-mile deep sediment layer, not 33 million years. Of course, both figures are much lower than the age of the Earth, but they're also far longer than the creationist figure, and flood geology is hopelessly inadequate to explain the fine-grained, layered character of the sediment. Remember that continental drift causes subduction of the sea floor over time, so the thickness of the ocean floor sediment will naturally be much less than the age of the Earth. 800 million years is not a problem for geology, but it's certainly a problem for creationism.

Oil and gas deposits are still under lots of pressure, even in porous rock. That pressure is known to bleed off, and it shouldn't be there anymore if the oil fields are more than a few thousand years old.

OK, here's a question for you: do you think he's actually done any research to quantify the rate of liquid and gas diffusion through many hundreds of metres of solid rock? Has he performed the calculations to show that the oil would have diffused through the rock quickly enough to eliminate all pressure in a buried deposit? Has he developed an explanation for what happened to the pressure due to the gravity of the overlaying rock, since gravity doesn't go away over time? What happened to gravity? Oh wait, I forgot ... he's a YEC and he thinks that the fundamental constants of physics fluctuate randomly over time.

The only way fossilization occurs is if living tissue is suddenly cut off from air and subjected to great pressure. Scientists studying the topography surrounding Mount St. Helens therefore found fossilized layers of flora and fauna created by mudslides that they know are only 15 years old -- yet they almost exactly reproduce the "millions of years" of fossilization found elsewhere on earth.

This is yet another strawman attack. No geologist ever said that anything which is fossilized must be millions of years old. The methods used for dating fossils are a lot more complicated than some yokel digging up a fossil and saying "hey, it's been fossilized! It must be millions of years old!"

Here's the "age" of Black Hills Granite, under different radiometric dating methods:

(Which one is "right"?)

Assuming his figures are accurate (quite a generous assumption considering his deplorably poor level of scientific knowledge), the most obvious conclusion is that the samples were either taken from different periods, or they were of poor quality. As usual, he provides no details, so it's very difficult to figure out what he's really talking about. Were the tests all performed on a single rock sample, or on several? If it's several, this might only mean that old rocks and new rocks were found in one part of the world; not surprising since every part of the world contains ancient rock if you dig deep enough.

You may also take note of the fact that the contradictory measurements all fall into the range of billions of years, so they've certainly bracketed the true figure to within an order of magnitude even if this information is not being misrepresented in some way. Suppose you had to measure the length of a five mile long lot with a household tape measure? You would have to repeatedly lay it down, mark its position, move it, and repeat. Needless to say, this wouldn't be an accurate method, especially since you have no way of ensuring that you move in a straight line along the lot. Let's say you take several measurements and they differ by many hundreds of yards. Since you know the method is inaccurate and you can't get repeatable measurements, would you conclude that the true figure is probably somewhere around 2 inches? That's the sort of thing a YEC would do, but of course, you wouldn't do that. You wouldn't have a precise figure due to an inappropriate method, but you'd know you're "in the neighbourhood", and you'd be able to rule out completely ridiculous figures that are more than an order of magnitude away from your estimate.

That's the problem with YEC attacks on radiometric dating; they assume that any weakness in the precision of the method somehow translates to the ludicrous conclusion that all of the figures are hundreds of thousands of times too big! Think about it: we're finding anomalously high concentrations of decay products from substances that have half-lives of hundreds of millions of years. Regardless of how precisely we can estimate the ages of these rocks, the fact that we can detect these concentrations at all is proof that nonsensical YEC age estimates of less than 10,000 years are completely impossible.

Of course, the discrepancies are large enough to conclude that if the measurements all came from a single sample, then the sample wasn't very good. But why is that an indictment of the method? An analogous problem may be the occurrence of inconsistent or outlier data in other fields of science and engineering. I've performed material analyses on aluminum samples which showed strange variations of as much as 40% in certain mechanical properties. When I ran into this problem, I simply concluded that the discrepancies indicated a problem with the samples or the experiment itself, and that I would have to get a fresh batch of samples and try again until I get consistent measurements. I did not conclude that the entire method was totally useless and I should look to the Bible to explain my aluminum samples!

Geological samples, like my aluminum test samples, have varying levels of quality and contamination. A good sample yields an accurate date, and a bad sample yields an inaccurate date, just as good and bad aluminum samples yield accurate or inaccurate estimates of the material properties of aluminum. Consistency and repeatability are usually used to confirm or deny the quality of samples, but YECs misrepresent this sensible practice by saying that we "keep figures which are consistent with expectations and throw everything else out". This is a gross misrepresentation of the scientific method; if you take multiple readings from a batch and they don't match, then you know there's something wrong with your equipment or your sample. It happens; no one's perfect, and no sample is perfect. If you can never get consistent results, there might even be something wrong with your basic methodology. But if most of your results are consistent and repeatable, then you have a pattern which demands explanation.

Scatter chartIt has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is true, then I would ask you to take a good look at the chart to the right; it depicts 100 points, 97 of which seem to lie roughly along a straight line. This is precisely analogous to the situation with radiometric dating, in which roughly 97% out of more than 10,000 dates fit the pattern while the remaining 3% seem to be "out there". A YEC will obsess over the latter 3%, and he'll argue that it disproves the validity of other 97%! He might even grab an anomalous low point (such as the one at 30,8 in the chart at right) and use it to "prove" that all of the other points are far too high! Can you look at that chart and tell me that 3 strange points disprove the existence of a pattern in the remaining 97? Patterns like that don't form out of coincidence, do they? Is it reasonable to ignore them just because a handful of points don't seem to fit?

YECs like to claim that the scientific community has no explanation for such points. That is completely untrue; the explanations are obvious. There were either some unusual extenuating circumstances (eg. the famous mollusk problem, in which mollusks absorb minerals from ancient sedimentary rocks into their bodies, thus screwing up the dates), or someone screwed up (eg. misidentification of geological samples or process errors during the dating operation). Is that so complicated? People aren't perfect. Their equipment isn't perfect. Their samples aren't perfect. No one is infallible, and mistakes are an inevitable part of any investigation.

The scientific community publishes its data in a comprehensive fashion, including outlier points. They do this because the scientific community is based on open discussion, no matter what the YECs may say about a vast global conspiracy of silence. The YEC community, on the other hand, selectively quotes tiny snippets of data from the very scientists they're trying to attack, and they use those miniscule bits of data to generate wildly inaccurate patterns of their own, or to argue that there is no pattern at all. Take a good look at the chart I've been discussing; if you cherry-picked two or three points from that chart and drew a line through them, do you think you could make the data "say" anything you want? You betcha (that's the trick the YECs use with their moronic "The Sun is shrinking" argument; they take just two particular measurements of the Sun's diameter from the literature, draw a line through them while ignoring the obvious pattern in the comprehensive data, and extrapolate the trend to conclude that the Sun is shrinking at an incredibly rapid rate, hence the Earth is young).

The occasional bad point is not an indictment of the entire method. Outliers occur in every branch of science, from the mundane (such as my aluminum samples) to the esoteric. We confirm their nature as errors rather than disproof of principle by their randomnes and rarity. Radiometric outliers are no exception, having been identified in just a few hundred out of more than 10,000 measurements. Far from showing that science is futile, they merely show that we humans aren't infallible. Does this mean we should simply give up the entire enterprise of scientific exploration? Not to any rational person. YECs deliberately propose perfection as an absolute minimum standard for science because they know perfection is unattainable, and they use false dilemma fallacies to conclude that we must therefore make an insane leap in logic from "science isn't perfect" to "the Bible is 100% literal truth".

Reunion Island rocks tested similarly tested all the way from 100,000 years to 4.4 billion!

Without knowing the details of how these rocks were tested, I wouldn't be able to comment (and you may notice that he's not very forthcoming with details). Were they tested by creationists out to debunk radiometric testing methodologies by deliberately applying them in an incompetent or incorrect fashion? It certainly wouldn't be the first time.

Were these divergent dates produced with multiple samples of a single contiguous region of rock, or were they simply produced with different rocks found on or in the island? He doesn't give enough details for us to know what he's talking about, and there's a good chance he has no details to give. If these dates were measured from entirely different rocks which merely happened to be found on the same island, that would only mean that this island contains both new and old rocks; hardly an earth-shattering situation.

The earth's magnetic field decays exponentially, with a half-life of 1,400 years. Projecting in reverse, the earth's age comes out as -- surprise! -- 10,000 years or less.

This is another example of the pseudoscientific one-dimensional analysis trick. The Earth's magnetic field is not decaying at all; it is merely changing its orientation. The non-dipole component is increasing and the dipole component is decreasing. By measuring the dipole component and ignoring the non-dipole component, creationists are employing a one-dimensional analysis in order to come up with a conclusion that amounts to outright fraud.

Furthermore, dipole orientations "frozen" in ancient rock show that the Earth's magnetic field has changed its orientation many times in the past, even going so far as completely reversing itself. The extrapolation of the (nonexistent) magnetic field decay trend out to infinity is fraudulent and misleading. There are countless variations upon this argument, all of which involve taking a modern trend which is known to be variable (such as the rate of soil loss into the oceans, which has been accelerating due to industrialized human agricultural activity), and extrapolating it to infinity.

When scientists extrapolate a trend, they go to great lengths to isolate the variables and experimentally confirm that they are not subject to alteration over time or due to known environmental factors (eg. radioactive decay rates, the speed of light, the gravitational constant, etc). But when creationists extrapolate a trend, they take phenomena which are known to fluctuate or even change direction and they still insist on extrapolating them to infinity! YECs are either mind-bogglingly incompetent or deliberately deceptive.

At least this guy doesn't go through the whole "refutation of dynamo theory" nonsense that is common among YECs. Believe it or not, some YECs have published very long, detailed treatises on how dynamo theory cannot possibly be made to account for the Earth's magnetic field. One such treatise actually claims that there is no evidence for any movement of fluid within the Earth's molten core, even though that core is a fluid body with an internal temperature gradient, and any high school student can easily set up a bunsen burner under a beaker of coloured water to conclusively prove that such a system will generate convection patterns! Another one claims that any movement would have to be a simple circular rotation around the Earth's axis, citing the lack of any physical reason for more complex motion! Again, I refer you to the simple laboratory experiment involving a bunsen burner and a beaker.

There's a lot more (I'm just skimming my Anthro/Christo/Soter. notes from last semester). The reality is that very little evidence points to an old earth, but a lot of evidence points to a young earth, with a fossil layer caused by some sort of worldwide catastrophe.

Actually, all of the "evidence" for a young Earth is fraudulent, hopelessly misinterpreted, and based on an array of logical fallacies, while all of the evidence for a very old Earth is scientifically consistent, multi-disciplinary, and logical. It says a lot that he's calling upon notes taken in various liberal arts courses rather than calling upon actual science sources; he obviously has no respect whatsoever for the entire field of science, never mind its conclusions. Would he look in a psychology book for information on nuclear physics, or a creative writing book for information on electromagnetism? I find it amazing that he would actually admit that all of his "scientific" objections came from the study of fields other than science.


Our YEC friend only mentioned a small fraction of the YEC pseudoscience ideas that have been sold to the public over the years. Other famous examples include the following:

"If the universe were millions or billions of years old, we should see a lot more supernova remnants in the galaxy. One is born every 25 years and the remnants last for a million years. Roughly 20% of shell-type supernova remnants are visible, so we should see 8000 of them. Instead, we only see a few hundred ... which just happens to be consistent with a 10,000 year old universe."

This argument is a truly horrible example of pseudoscience:

  1. It ignores the fact that in order for any supernova to exist, a star must have lived through its entire life cycle (billions of years for most stars, although enormous stars only last for tens of millions of years) and then died. Even if there were just one supernova remnant in the entire universe, its mere existence would completely destroy YEC claims about the age of the universe! The life cycle of a star has been modelled based on our knowledge of gravity, plasma physics, and nuclear physics. Do the YECs deny the validity of all these things too?

  2. It ignores the fact that supernova remnants tend to rapidly fade from visibility as they lose energy, since it assumes a supernova remnant is visible to us for its entire 1 million year theoretical lifetime.

  3. It greatly exaggerates our ability to see these remnants. No astronomer has ever confidently stated that we can see 20% of the supernova remnants in the galaxy. The 20% figure comes from the assumption that all supernovae leave shell-type remnants (which is totally untrue; some supernovae leave no remnants at all), in conjunction with some quotes taken out of context.

"The Moon is moving away from the Earth. If we extrapolate that trend into the past, it becomes clear that the Earth-Moon system cannot be more than 1 or 2 billion years old, not 4.5 billion."

This is another example of the YECs' tendency to extrapolate all trends to infinity without going through the usual scientific work of justifying that assumption of uniformity. In this case, astrophysicists have produced theoretical models to show that the Moon's rate of movement should have been lower in primeval times, and I have yet to hear of YEC rebuttals to those models. As usual, they simply ignore them and continue to spout their original argument even though it's hopelessly dated and long refuted.

"The rate at which certain minerals or elements are brought into the oceans by the rivers proves that the Earth must be young, because the ocean would have become toxic by now if the Earth were old."

This one simply ignores the existence of mechanisms which remove those minerals from the oceans, and assumes the oceans are merely giant sinks in which material goes in but never comes out. More than one public rebuttal has pointed out that this method, when applied to aluminum, indicates that the Earth is only 100 years old; an obviously ludicrous result which demonstrates serious flaws in the method.

"The rate at which topsoil washes into the oceans proves that the Earth is young."

This is just another of the same mentality: taking a trend and assuming uniformity without bothering to justify it. Since they think this is what real scientists do, they probably think this is acceptable practice. In this case, the disturbingly high modern-day rate of topsoil erosion is actually the direct result of modern industrialized agricultural activity (specifically, the destruction of vast areas of forest in favour of flat, tilled land). It is utterly mindless to extrapolate this problem into the distant past.


Continue to 6. Flood Geology

Jump to sub-page:

Jump to: