The secular study of the universe has left us with the belief that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, the moon a bit younger, the Sun 5 billion years old and the universe at large some 13.5 to 15 billion years old. We are told this is fact due to some incredibly consistent dating methods that should not be doubted and that many methods agree. I am not so sure!
As I am a skeptic first in all things, especially human nature and the many frauds we have found in science as well as in religion through the centuries, I take very little but common sense for granted and I have found common sense a rare commodity among humans; particularly among those educated through the spoon-fed methods of our Western educational system.
If you have never heard of the spoon-fed method of education here is how it works. So-called scientific knowledge is delivered from a teacher to our students through the spoon of our federally funded school system. Students are required to eat and swallow what is fed them. Gagging and chewing are not permitted (thinking and questioning). All students must regurgitate what they have heard in order to get a good grade. Maybe that is why I like art so much in my older age. Materialistic sciences are hard to swallow.
In this post I would like to look at a brief history of the “science” that gave us these great ages and ask the question, is this a fact?
For Charles Darwin, who wanted desperately to communicate his theory to others, time was of the essence. What I mean is that Darwin needed some way to find the world very old; old enough to permit species to originate by natural means. He was sure he had the variation in life forms needed to allow for nature to operate on populations though he had no idea how genetics worked. The natural struggle for survival would kill off the weak and reserve the strong or most adapted forms of physical variation and the variations associated with life forms would be passed on to the next generation. Death was the creator of life. Darwin needed thousands, nay millions of generations to get where he wanted life to go. This would require great ages for the earth and hence the cosmos.
Sediments and Hot Rocks
Geologists like Lyell and Hutton were working on sedimentary rates of clays, silts, and sands to demonstrate the great lengths of time required for sedimentary rock formation from such deposits. These men used the current rates of sedimentation to estimate how sedimentary rock could form. So many assumptions had to go into this method of earth dating that no rational person could or should place that kind of faith in such calculations. Lyell taught that the present is the key to the past. This has been shown in both the geological and oceanographical record not at all to be the case. In our life time alone we have seen such catastrophes in floods, tidal waves, earthquakes and volcanism do such devastation that almost nothing on the planet can be attribute to long aged weathering processes to produce the geology we see.
Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) was a brilliant physicist who had a number of discoveries to his name and had developed the technology for transatlantic communications by the telegraph. He became wealthy by laying telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean.
He too was curious about the age of the earth as his skepticism of the Bible’s story was based on the incorrect idea that nothing written there could be tested. The Bible had to be taken on face value. Kelvin had speculations of his own which were based upon the fact that the deeper one went into a mine, the warmer the earth became. This fact, along with some very basic understanding of volcanoes, suggested to Kelvin that the middle of the planet was boiling with molten rock while the surface remained cool. At some future point the whole of the planet would be a cold solid rock. This meant that sometime in the past it must have been an entirely molten ball. His experiments on the rates of heat loss from rocks and metals allowed him to calculate an age for the planet which could not have exceeded 100 million years. He actually used this data to thwart Darwin’s search for time. If his theory was correct the planet was the product of meteor collisions that eventually stopped at some point in the distant past to give rise to the molten earth. His communications with Huxley, Darwin and others left biological evolutionists to doubt their theory. At the same time Kelvin’s continued use of physics suggested the world was even younger than 100 mya (million years ago), possibly as young as 20 mya.
With the discovery of radioactive decay which generates heat, the age of the earth was later lengthened to greater ages. Darwin had passed away by the time of this discovery. He may never have had peace over the age of the earth required by his theory. While some of these assertions are true, it is quit remarkable that even in those early days of the scientific revolution men were discussing the origin of the earth through meteor collisions. These meteors were the product of dust particles. And these dust particles a product of some catastrophic event, unseen, unheard, unknown but assuredly to have happened because the Bible is wrong!
Over the early years of the 20th century half-lives for these radioactive metals were being determined. Uranium-238 was found to go through a chain of reactions ultimately arriving at the stable element of lead.
Rocks became the subject of age dating analysis using this and other unstable metals. But to arrive at any meaningful use of the dating method certain assumptions had to be made concerning the metals, the decay rates and atomic movement in solids. These assumptions made about radioactive dating methods included: 1. The rock had to be virgin earth. It cannot have arrived here from another place in the universe 2. Wherever the meteors came from that were supposed to form the earth, their uranium content must be assumed to be virginal too. That is, any uranium in the rock must be assumed to have been 100% uranium when the rock formed. 3. Preferably the uranium-238 got trapped in a zircon crystal increasing the assurance that neither lead nor uranium would escape, once the crystals formed. Neither lead nor uranium or any daughter elements in between can be allowed to migrate out of the rock. This means the atomic clock begins at zero as pure uranium-238 decays into lead. With a half-life of 4.75 billion years for uranium-238 to decay to lead-206, a pristine measurement of the rock can be performed. In 4.75 billion years, 50% of the uranium-238 will have decayed to lead-206. 4. No events can speed up the decay rates of the unstable metals.
Because of these assumptions zircon is the preferred substrate for entrapment of uranium. There are events that can and most likely have disturbed the rate of decay (speed it up) such as cosmic radiation, heat, and pressure.
Finally, all these assumptions depend on the idea that our solar system was the product of a supernova explosion of a much larger star in order for any of this to be true. This includes the idea that dust from the explosion contained metals heavier than iron, like uranium and lead (not all lead comes from the decay of uranium). It includes the idea that our earth is the product of its own evolution from dust and rock of that explosion. You might be seeing why a healthy dose of skepticism is required when studying so-called hard sciences. These assumptions make hard science a bit like soft science to me.
Having given this background it becomes apparent that no rock on earth is a good candidate for radioactive dating of this kind, even if all the assumptions hold true. Zircons in any sedimentary rock will be heterogeneity of zircons from many rocks, mostly igneous flakes that have sedimented. Sedimentary rock by nature is not original rock. Also, igneous rock is still being produced by volcanic activity so any zircons forming from this source must also be of heterogeneous birth in the rocks they are found in as they either never solidified since the planet formed or were reworked from the crust of the planet by the heat of the earth. Furthermore, even pristine zircons undergo disturbances that cause the ratio of lead to uranium to be discordant. The clock starts to tick all over again, should a Discordia occur. This is why rocks are sampled many times and the average date (or often the dates are chosen out of many) are used to indicate its age. While it would be nice that all the samples point to the same age for the rock, this is extremely rare. Other radioactive elements may be used to back up a date. If it does, the date is used. And if it does not, that data is not included.
The need to find rocks that had not “evolved” with the planet created interest in the dates of meteorites. After all if the earth formed from a supernova explosion, and if the remnants collapsed to form dust and if the dust formed meteors and if the meteors formed the planet and if some primordial meteor continued to float free for 5 or 10 billion years then impacted on the earth in fairly recent times, our radioactive methods might give us the actual age of the planet. (Please note the number of “ifs” I had to use in the above scenario!)
A meteorite was analyzed from the Arizona “Meteor Crater” in 1953. It had no uranium left in it or in the debris field. The verdict was that this was proof that the solar system was 4.6 billion years old. However, I have always puzzled over this. If the half-life of Uranium-238 is 4.7 billion years, there was not enough time for uranium-238 to decay to a point that it was fairly undetectable in the Arizona stone. It should have been at least at 50% Concordia with lead (a 50:50 ratio). And if we suppose that the meteor floating for 10 billion years before landing on the earth then there should be 1/8 of the parent uranium left and so on. Nevertheless, as the story goes, this data combined with the analysis of earth rocks “believed” to be the oldest, un-reworked rocks on earth, gave scientists a “decisive” date of 4.55 billion years to the age of the earth. (Does anyone out there believe this stuff?)
While these amazing and unbelievable facts are used as proof positive that the earth is billions of years old, there are so many assumptions made and unvalidated data used that did not get reported in the research that the average man should question if any of this or any other radioactive hypotheses can be useful. Certainly no one genuinely interested in truth can permit serious reflection on the usefulness of this kind of radioactive data analysis for the age the earth. There are those with a priori agendas though.
A Date with Carbon?
Much is made of radiocarbon dating methods that are supposedly valid to 50,000 years. Carbon -12, 13 and 14 are used to make assertions about recent and ancient ages. Carbon-14 can be calibrated (unlike other unstable isotopes) to organic material found in the past 5000 years of human recorded history. Beyond that, many assumptions like the ones mentioned above and many more not mentioned must be imagined in order to go further back in time with radioactive analysis. It is a little known fact the both coal and diamonds have been radiocarbon dated to within recent ages. This is not a rare phenomenon. Coal is supposed to be 270-360 million years in the making. No one actually knows how massive mats of plant material settled onto sedimentary rock only to be covered by hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet of marine sediments. (Hey wait a minute. Floating mats? Settle on sediments? Buried by sediments? Hmmmm! I think I have heard of such stories of catastrophic inundations of water on the land! The global flood of Noah.)
There are much more stable forms of carbon isotopes. Both C-12 and C-13 typify all carbon compounds. C-12 is more abundant, a bit lighter than C13 and C13 is slightly more reactive with rock than C12. The ratios of Carbon-12 and-13 are often used to determine the source of carbon chemistry for the formation of methane gases or oil or shale. Little in the way of understanding how these two isotopes move through rock at independent rates is included in the analysis of supposedly ancient rocks or oils. Regardless of the volume of experimental information on this particular fact, nothing relevant to C-12/C-13 chemistry is considered in using C-12 / C-13 ratios when determinations on the planets age or the start of life are made.
It has been proposed that life began at least 3.85 billion years ago. Few know where this number comes from but it is based upon the current scientific knowledge that biological systems like plants tend to incorporate less carbon in the form of C-13, having a preference for C-12. While this is true of living things today, to use sedimentary rock for C-12/C-13 dating because it may have some composite of carbon material from a life form is a far cry from scientific; so many are the untested assumptions that must go into it. But this does not stop evolutionary geologist/biologists. In 1996 a volcanic layer of rock was found in Greenland. It had cut through the sedimentary rock. First the uranium-lead method of dating the volcanic rock was used to come up with an age of 3.85 billion years. Then this same team of scientists applied the C-12/C-13 ratio method to the surrounding sedimentary rock.
As worded by Carl Zimmer in his book Evolution: the triumph of an idea, page 79:
” Over its lifetime [the sedimentary rock], it has been cooked, compressed, and otherwise ravaged almost beyond recognition. But researchers found microscopic bits of carbon in a mineral known as apatite in the sedimentary rocks. They brought these samples back to their labs and blasted off bits of the apatite with a beam of ions and counted up the carbon isotopes it contained. They found that carbon in the apatite had the same low C-13 level ratio as biological carbon today, a ratio that could only have come from life.”
Because of this single study other rocks have been dated in relation to these. Whether by using sedimentary rates, ignoring catastrophism, or using radioactive methods, or using this single data point it has been decided that life is at least this old. Therefore, finding fossil bacteria in sedimentary rocks that were determined to be in a superposition younger than these microscopic mineral fragments, it has been decided that bacteria are at least 3.5 billion years old as a life form. Notice, no life form, fossil or other evidence of biological metabolism is being discussed here. Just the presumption that C-12/C-13 dating of non-living material is evidence of ancient metabolism from some living form that may have been broken down to make up some of the sedimentary rock next to the hardened lava. And all of this has something to do with evolution?
Cause for Pause on the Carbon Cartoon.
In 2008 J.F. Kennedy of the Gas Resource Corporation was invited to give a short talk to a group of scientist at a workshop for studying deep carbon cycle like the one we just rehearsed above. Kennedy is an expert in the field. The title of his talk revealed the irritation that this particular expert has for the biologist of the world. He entitled it: An Example of the Little-Moron Logic & Mendacity of BOOP: The Carbon Isotope Ratio Nonsense. † I don’t feel the need to reprint the entire article here but Kennedy and his colleague’s technical expertise in this field along with the actual experiments used to arrive at his position (that petroleum is not the product of some ancient evolutionary extinction) is essential and necessary to consider before gagging on the sophisticated but frail evidence given by any scientific team that considers the C-12/C13 ratio useful for dating life.
Here is a portion of his technical presentation:
The technical inadequacy of the carbon isotope ratios as indicators of origin.
The claims made concerning the carbon stable-isotope ratios, and specifically such as purport to identify the origin of the material, particularly the hydrocarbons, are especially recondite and outside the experience of most persons not knowledgeable of the physics of hydrogen-carbon [H-C] systems. Furthermore, the claims concerning the carbon stable-isotope ratios most often involve methane, the only hydrocarbon which is thermodynamically stable in the regime of temperatures and pressures of the Earth’s crust and almost the only one which spontaneously evolves there.
The carbon nucleus has two stable isotopes, 12C and 13C. The overwhelmingly most abundance stable isotope of carbon is 12C, which possesses six protons and six neutrons; 13C possesses an extra neutron. (There is another, unstable isotope, 14C, which possesses two extra neutrons; 14C results from a high-energy reaction of the nitrogen nucleus, 14N, with a high-energy cosmic ray particle. The isotope 14C is not involved in the claims about the isotope ratios of carbon). The carbon isotope ratio, designated δ13C, is simply the ratio of the abundance of carbon isotopes 13C/12C, normalized to the standard of the marine carbonate Pee Dee Belemnite. The values of the measured δ13C ratio is expressed as a percentage (compared to the standard).
During the 1950’s, increasingly numerous measurements of the carbon isotope ratios of hydrocarbon gases were taken, particularly of methane; and too often assertions were made that such ratios could unambiguously determine the origin of the hydrocarbons. The validity of such assertions were (sic) tested, independently by Colombo, Gazzarini, and Gonfiantini in Italy and by Galimov in Russia. Both sets of workers established that the carbon isotope ratios cannot be used reliably to determine the origin of the carbon compound tested.
Columbo, Gazzarini, and Gonfiantini demonstrated conclusively, by a simple experiment the results of which admitted no ambiguity, that the carbon isotope ratios of methane change continuously along its transport path, becoming progressively lighter with distance traveled. Colombo et al. took a sample of natural gas and passed it through a column of crushed rock, chosen to resemble as closely as possible the terrestrial environment. Their results were definitive: The greater the distance of rock through which the sample of methane passes, the lighter becomes its carbon isotope ratio.
The reason for the result observed by Colombo et al. is straightforward: there is a slight preference for the heavier isotope of carbon to react chemically with the rock through which the gas passes. Therefore, the greater the transit distance through the rock, the lighter becomes the carbon isotope ratio, as the heavier is preferentially removed by chemical reaction along the transport path. This result is not surprising; contrarily, and is entirely consistent with the fundamental requirements of quantum mechanics and kinetic theory.
Pertinent to the matter of any claim that a light carbon isotope ratio might be indicative of a biological origin, the results demonstrated by Colombo et al. establish that such a claim is insupportable. Methane which might have originated from carbon material from the remains of a carbonaceous meteorite in the mantle of the Earth, and possessing initially a heavy carbon isotope ratio, would have that ratio diminished, along the path of its transit into the crust of the Earth, to a value comparable to common biological material.
Galimov demonstrated that the carbon isotope ratio of methane can become progressively heavier while at rest in a reservoir in the crust of the Earth, through the action of methane-consuming microbes. The city of Moscow stores methane in water-wet reservoirs on the outskirts of that city, into which natural gas is injected throughout the year. During summers, the quantity of methane in the reservoirs increases because of less use (primarily by heating), and during winters the quantity is drawn down. By calibrating the reservoir volumes and the distance from the injection facilities, the residency time of the methane in the reservoir is determined. Galimov established that the longer the methane remains in the reservoir, the heavier becomes its carbon isotope ratio.
The reason for the result observed by Galimov is also straightforward: In the water of the reservoir, there live microbes of the common, methane-metabolizing type. There is a slight preference for the lighter isotope of carbon to enter the microbe cell and to be metabolized. The longer the methane remains in the reservoir, the more of it is consumed by the methane-metabolizing microbes, with the molecules possessing lighter isotope being consumed more. Therefore, the longer its residency time in the reservoir, the heavier becomes the carbon isotope ratio, as the lighter is preferentially removed by methane-metabolizing microbes. This result is entirely consistent with the fundamental requirements of kinetic theory.
Furthermore, the carbon isotope ratios in hydrocarbon systems are also strongly influenced by the temperature of reaction. For hydrocarbons produced by the Fischer-Tropsch process, the δ13C varies from -65% at 127 C to –20% at 177C. No material parameter, the measurement of which varies by almost 70% with a variation of temperature of only approximately 10%, can be used as a reliable determinant of any property of that material.
The δ13C carbon isotope ratio cannot be considered to determine reliably the origin of a sample of methane, – or any other carbon compound. No ethical and competent scientist or engineer would try to use them as such, excepting very unusual circumstances.
III. The Black Swan Effect & the Tuchman Phase-3 Phenomenon: The Mendacious Defense of the Little-Moron Logic about the Assertions that the Stable Carbon Isotopes Identify a Biological Origin of Petroleum [BOOP].
The phrase “Black Swan effect” has its origins in the scientific dictum that holds that a single exception disproves any putative claim,- i.e., the observation of a single black swan destroys any assertion that “all swans are white,” and does not matter how many white swans may have been observed. The Black Swan effect is a phenomenon recognized in mathematics and the hard sciences, and their associated engineering disciplines, whereby any single observed exception to a putative rule destroys that rule, irredeemably. In mathematics, a single demonstrated counter-example destroys any proposed theorem. The hard sciences provide many examples, such as:
- When A. H. Michaelson first measured the transverse variation of the velocity of light, using the interferometer that he invented and which bears his name, and destroyed immediately the “undulating-ether” theory of light.
- When E. Rutherford measured the scattering of alpha-particles in thin metallic films and destroyed at once the Thomson model of the atom.
- When Mme Wu measure(d) (sic) the asymmetry of beta-decay and destroyed the dictum of parity conservation in fundamental nuclear interactions.
- When the young American from Woburn, Massachusetts, Benjamin Thompson, cranked up his cannon-boring machine and destroyed in an afternoon the caloric theory of heat which had been held previously to be true for half a century.
The Black Swan for the claims that the stable carbon isotope ratios might distinguish methane as of biotic or abiotic origin was the direct observation by Giardini & Melton that such cannot be considered a reliable criterion for ascertaining the origin of petroleum. Giardini & Melton took a primoridial (sic) natural diamond of 8.65 carats and measured the carbon isotope ratio of the CO2 entrapped in its inclusions. The results were an isotope ratio of –35.2% on the standard PeeDee scale. Previously, the carbon isotope ratios more negative than – 18.0% had been assigned a biological origin. The diamond tested by Giardini & Melton was measured to be of an age of crystallization of at least 3.1 x 109 years, well before any record of biological life on Earth. The observation by Giardini & Melton destroyed any claimed validity of the carbon isotope ratio as a determinant of the origin of petroleum, – and probably of any other carbon compound.
Of course, an intelligent 12-year old schoolboy might be expected to ask, “why wasn’t the light-end limit of the carbon isotope ratios ever measured for the abiotic molecules before all the claims were made. After all, just because the heavy-end limit of the biotic molecules ends at – 18.0%, there stands no reason why the light-end limit of the abiotic molecules should coincide with this value.” …
Similarly, during the past forty years, a number of scientists, both in the former U.S.S.R. and in the U.S.A., have tested the validity of the assertions that a ratio of the abundances of the stable carbon isotopes can give a valid indication of the origin of the material from which the carbon material was obtained. Without exception, these scientists have demonstrated that the carbon isotope ratios can not give any reliable indication of the origin of the material of which the carbon atoms were obtained. (Emphasis added). These negative results have been shown to hold incontestably for any measurements which yield isotope ratios “lighter” than –18.0% by the PeeDee Belemenite standard and which have been often claimed to give “evidence” of a biotic origin. Samples of carbon fluids which manifest carbon isotope ratios “heavier” than –18.0% by the standard scale are usually (although not necessarily) “identified” as being of an abiotic origin. As the experiments of Galimov et al have demonstrated, such “identification” can easily be spurious. However, in circumstances in which the carbon fluids came from a high-temperature source and was characterized by a high flow rate, – as, for example, from a deep ocean vent, – then a “heavy” measure of the stable carbon isotope ratio may be taken as consistent with (not“proof of”) a deep, abiotic origin of such carbon fluids.
The Tuchman Phase-3 Phenomenon identifies the impetus behind the claims for the carbon isotopes ratios. When one acknowledges the discrediting of claims that a measurement of the relative abundances of stable carbon isotopes might give a valid determination of the origin of whatever fluid from such were taken, and particularly whether that fluid was of biotic or abiotic origin, the question stands: Why do some persons persist in asserting such scientifically insupportable claims? This question intrudes particularly when one notes that the assertions about the carbon isotope ratios were discredited more than twenty years ago.
The answer to this question has been given clearly by the historian Barbara Tuchman in her book “The March of Folly: From Troy to Viet Nam.” Tuchman poses the question: How do men of weak moral fiber react when confronted with information that threatens their social status, or their financial circumstance, or their professional position, or their status as an expert or guru in one area or another, or their political power? Borrowing from the behavioral sciences, Tuchman explains that such men invariably manifest the behavior identified as cognitive dissonance. The behavior of cognitive dissonance involves three phases which Tuchman describes as follows:
○ Phase I: Characterized by denial, usually with an attitude of “Don’t bother me with facts; my mind is made up.”
○ Phase II: Characterized by waffling and attempts to denigrate or minimize the significance of the unwelcome facts, usually with expressed claims like, “Oh, we already know all about such and so, and it’s really not relevant or important,” and often, “If you really possessed all the information that we do, you would understand that such and so is not as you think it to be.” And so on.
○ Phase III: Characterized by outright lying. In this phase, the moral weakling can no longer deny the unwelcome facts, and his contemporaries or the general public know that he knows such, – and he knows that they know he knows it. In this phase, the fellow descends to outright lying; he makes pronouncements that he knows to be false, and hopes to brazen it all out.
Phases I, II, and III are not mutually exclusive. A man can operate simultaneously in any two, or even all three. In this decade of this century, the purveyors of BOOP (biological-origin-of –petroleum) (note added for clarity) who try to proclaim that any measurement of the ratio of the abundances of the stable carbon isotopes gives a definite determination of the origin of whatever compound or fluid has been tested, or of whether a hydrocarbon compound is of biotic or abiotic origin, are operating well into Tuchman’s Phase III. That the carbon isotope ratios cannot give any reliable determination is well-known.
Such is the purveyance of BOOP: Transparent lying to defend little-moron logic in the service of imbecility. (emphasis added). All of which does not provide a viable basis for a nation’s energy policy; and none of which ought to continue to be supported with public tax payers’ money.”
Kennedy’s approach to educating biologists to the error in the use of C-12/C-13 ratios to determine material of biological origin is gruff but exceptional and fulfilling for a skeptic like me. Years of frustrating arguments and deliberately ignoring peer-reviewed literature leave the credibility of such scientist favoring a 3.85 billion year start to life in shambles. Regardless of facts, science fiction continues to support great ages to the earth, using phony “knowledge” to determine when life MUST have started. This contributes nothing to our knowledge of geology, biology, cosmology, discovery or truth. And the American Association for the Advancement of Science says creation and intelligent design is not science? Is this stuff science?
Furthermore, depending on the analysis of scraps of meteorites used to determine how old the planet is, ignores the fact that no one knows where the meteor came from, whether it is from this solar system or another and whether any of the studies done on it have a relationship to reality save for the fact that a meteor lacking uranium-238 hit the earth in Arizona.
To develop an entire theory of the age of the earth, to assert an age when life had to have begun from a single experiment on microscopic non-organic minerals is not science. It is certainly not good science. I direct a biotechnical facility that requires experimentation to be performed in the lab before any attempt at industrializing the process or technique is made. It is my policy that all experiments are run a minimum of 3 times and the data compared statistically before any movement towards large-scale industrial processes are modified. Should we not require at least this much when conclusions as to the age of the earth, the origin of matter or the beginning of life are drawn? I think it is a fair question.
†“Prepared as an invited paper for the Deep Carbon Cycle Workshop, Carnegie Institute, Washington, D. C., 15-17 May 2008