‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Knives are out for Palin

It’s incredible how quickly politics descends into character assassination. Within hours of Sarah Palin being chosen as running mate for John McCain in the presidential election race, journalists and Democrats were making personal attacks on Palin, rather than just opposing her political views. Even before she mounted the podium to give her first speech as the candidate for Vice President, she had suffered terrible jibes about her family. But the worst attacks were, believe it or not, from this side of the Pond rather than by Americans, so desperate is the left-wing establishment in Britain to see the back of Republican government in America. First they were incredulous at Sarah Palin’s decision to go ahead with her pregnancy when it was discovered that her unborn child had Down’s Syndrome. Surely that decision was a sign of Palin’s courage as a mother, and is something to be applauded? But liberal pro-abortionists are too selfish to consider bringing up a child that would be more demanding in time and effort, and might hamper their careers.

Then they accused her of hypocrisy, because her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, and Palin, as a Christian, opposes sex before marriage. Did they stop to think that she might be hurt by the fact that her own daughter had failed to live up to the principles she believed in? How does that make her a hypocrite? It merely makes her a mother in distress, having to cope with a teenage pregnancy, like millions of other mothers of teenage girls. Then they went digging about in her past, looking for a skeleton in her closet. What was the best they could come up with? She once recommended that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in classrooms. According to one Times columnist (Sarah Vine, 4 Sept), this makes her some sort of lunatic. Well, forgive me, but aren’t there a few bigger issues to worry about? Her views on Iraq, Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, Russia’s invasion of Georgia or the global economic situation, for example? Is her belief in creationism the most damaging thing they could come up with? And in any case, she’s not applying for a job in science.

But of course, because she thinks students should be taught all the views on origins so they can make up their own minds, rather than just the single one promoted by atheists, it is automatically assumed that she believes the earth was created only 6,000 years ago. In fact, she has never stated that she believes that. She has said she doesn’t claim to know how the world was created. But that point aside, the Times attack shows a complete lack of understanding of the widely differing views of those who believe in a Creator. Some believe God used evolution. Of those who say he didn’t, some believe the world is billions of years old, some say it’s between 10,000 and 100,000 years old, and some stick to 6,000. But everyone is lumped into the same ‘loony fundamentalist’ category as soon as they mention anything about creationism.

Whatever your views on the age of the earth, there are some sound scientific reasons for remaining open-minded on this issue. All the dating systems used to establish the millions-of-years scenario are based on unprovable assumptions. While making those assumptions might be the only way that any scientific attempt at dating ‘deep time’ can be made, it is worth remembering what those assumptions are. Radiometric dating assumes that:

(1) the radioactive element decays at a constant rate
(2) the rock being analysed is not contaminated by infusion of excess end product
(3) the rock contained no end product when it was formed
(4) leaching of the parent element out of the rock sample did not occur.

These are not safe assumptions to make. For example, the Potassium-Argon, Rubidium-Strontium dating and Uranium-Lead dating methods all suffer from both leaching and contamination problems, because Potassium, Rubidium and Uranium salts are highly soluble, so leaching is possible. Leaching of the parent element out of the rock would dramatically increase the age of a sample. Recent studies of Mt. St. Helens rock known to have come from the 1980 eruption yielded erroneous dates numbering millions of years. Similar studies at the Grand Canyon found volcanic rocks dated at the top of the Canyon, which should be the youngest and most recent, were actually older than those found at the bottom! In fact, there are many examples of dating that do not give the millions of years required for evolution to be a viable theory, yet these are always rejected because it is assumed that they must be due to some kind of mistake because they don’t fit the evolutionary timescale.

While personally I am comfortable with the fact that the earth itself might well be millions of years old (for me, it doesn’t necessarily conflict with the Bible’s account of creation), it’s not something that should be so aggressively and dogmatically promoted by scientists as hard fact. And it certainly shouldn’t be used to question the sanity of a politician. By doing so, journalists only reveal either their lack of understanding of the scientific issues, or their prejudice against those who differ with their own assumptions.

Written by Andrew Halloway - a freelance editor, writer and publishing consultant, editor of ‘Good News’ newspaper and contributing editor of ‘The Delusion of Evolution’.


Anonymous said...

"she thinks students should be taught all the views on origins"

Life is too short to be taught all of the possible falsehoods as well as the scientific truth.

"There are some sound scientific reasons for remaining open-minded on this issue"

You seem to be missing an education in physics as well as evolution.

"These are not safe assumptions to make."

I am not impressed with your assertion.

Anonymous said...

How many and which kinds of guns would Jesus recommend that one own?

At what age would Jesus recommend that children be introduced to the "culture" of guns and be given their first gun?

How many mooses or wolves would Jesus slaughter either up close or from an aircraft or helicopter.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that right thinking religionists immediately lose the capacity for clear intelligent critical thinking and examination of any and every topic when one of their fellow right thinking religionists suddenly becomes famous?

Sarah Palin is appealing to and energising a deep seated emotionally primitive nativism which is full or murderously reasonable demands AND intentions.