Tom Pittman's WebLog

2009 July 4 -- Independence from Dogma

Last month's ChristianityToday [p.15] had a short interview with Francis Collins, the former director of the Human Genome Project, about his latest venture, the BioLogos Foundation. Collins is not ashamed to admit he's a Christian, but he does seem rather ashamed of the Christian teaching about origins. He is frequently quoted in the mainstream media claiming that he is both Christian and evolutionist (by which he means Darwinist). Except for a tiny minority of people who are both scientist and Christian (the order is significant) like Collins, just about everybody, Christian and Darwinist alike, agrees that the two belief systems are incompatible. It's like that former Episcopal priest, Ann Holmes Redding, who claimed to be both Christian and Muslim; there ain't no such animal. Even the most accepting of all denominations in the USA couldn't believe it and threw her out.

Anyway, the CT sidebar quotes Collins:

I encounter a lot of young people raised in a conservative Christian church and home who discover that the scientific evidence for the age of the universe and for evolution is incredibly strong.
I'm not one of those people. I was raised in a conservative Christian church and home, and my parents tried to protect me from adverse influence in their choice of high school, but I still came under the dogma of the established religion in America and came out of high school believing in evolution. It wasn't until grad school many years later that one of my professors suggested I actually look at the evidence. I was dumbfounded. There isn't any primary evidence for evolution, and the supposed evidence for the long age of the earth keeps dissolving and being replaced by new supposed evidence, which only lasts for a few years until it too crumbles.

So I figured, if Francis Collins considers the evidence so strong, he might actually cite some on his new website. I looked through his FAQ, but there was nothing more than the vague generalities I hear and read about over and over, no actual evidence at all. If the evidence is so compelling, why can't they just cite one or two examples? So I sent them an email with what I call The Question, which I have been asking anybody anywhere doing peer-reviewed research in any subject, "What evidence IN YOUR SPECIALTY supports the descent-from-common-ancestor model better than the fiat-creation model?" That was last month.

Still no answer, but today I looked again and his FAQ now talks about the fossils. It does not mention how they know how old the rocks are (from the fossils), nor why a single organism halfway between fish and tetrapod should be more convincing that fish gradually evolved into tetrapods than a single organism halfway between mammal and bird (that is, the platypus) should convince us that mammals evolved into birds -- or is it the other way around? Collins is by training a physical chemist and a medical doctor; his life's work is genetics, but he does not answer The Question (from his own specialty), not on his website, and not to me personally. I suspect that is because there is no evidence in his own specialty supporting Darwinism. NOBODY has any evidence from their own specialty, they only refer for convincing evidence to some other specialty in which they are not expert. That's really quite remarkable.

To be fair, I should point out that there's another item in the BioLogos FAQ that addresses the age of the earth. It starts with the age of the universe, based on the speed and distance of the distant galaxies. Speed is measurable, based on the doppler shift (assuming it's still valid that far out), but distance is something else. I asked a graduating astronomer when I was in grad school -- as part of my search for evidence supporting evolution -- and I was astounded to hear him tell me in a single word, "Brightness." The BioLogos FAQ gives the same answer:

The actual brightness of a galaxy -- as opposed to the apparent brightness, which declines with distance -- can be determined by identifying some aspect of the galaxy that has a well-established brightness. This would be like estimating the distance to a car based on the fact that car headlights are all very similar in brightness.
The problem with this answer is that the headlights of all cars are not the same. Some are LEDs or quartz-halide and very bright, some are dirty or low voltage and very dim. The only reliable way I can measure the distance of a car at night is the width of the two headlights. That still gives errors up to a factor of three (and completely fails for motorcycles and if a headlight is burned out), but it's more robust than brightness. I googled "star distance brightness" and found several fairly detailed astronomy lectures from credible sources. It turns out the brightness story is somewhat of a crock, like the fossils story. The UCLA astronomy site was quite revealing. It even mentioned some of the assumptions they must base their calculations on. It's starting to look like a house of cards.

The BioLogos FAQ on the age of the earth goes on to discuss the actual age of the earth. He mentions tree rings and the Greenland ice cores. The Greenland ice cores seemed pretty convincing to me too, when I first heard it -- then last year I saw a photograph taken of the hundreds of "annual" snowfalls that buried a small plane which crash-landed on Greenland some fifty years ago. There was no evidence of melting, they just dug through some twenty feet of snow and ice, nicely layered two or three to the inch (I don't recall the exact numbers), before they got down to the plane. The plane had crashed less than 50 years earlier. The layers are not annual. Another photo, taken in Alaska, showed (I think it was) five layers on the windshield of a car from a single blizzard. Sure, the evidence looks good -- until you look at the assumptions.

What about radiometric dating? That's next. He starts off with carbon-14. The half-life of 14C is too short to be useful for dating anything but recent archeological sites, and even then it's rather inaccurate and must be calibrated by pottery. He doesn't actually say they use carbon-14 for dating the age of the earth, it just seems that way. He does mention uranium:

As time passes, there will be more lead and less uranium, so we can use the relative amounts of lead and uranium -- their ratio -- to determine the age of the rock.

...we must determine the initial composition of the rock. Fortunately, this is also fairly easy.  There are two isotopes of lead: Lead-207 and Lead-204. The two isotopes are chemically identical, with nothing to distinguish them but the number of neutrons buried deep in the nucleus. So when the rock is forming and lead is being incorporated into its composition, no preference will be shown for either isotope. The two types will be incorporated in the same relative amounts as are found in the Earth's crust.

Did you catch that? The two isotopes will be in the same proportion as are found in the Earth's crust. When? Today? Or millions of years ago? How do we know the proportion was the same then as now? Some of these radiometric methods look for crystaline structure, because a different element will not form the same crystal, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Others look for discoloration from secondary product decay -- but that gives very young earth dates, and the poor fellow who discovered it lost his government grant and was out of a job.

This same BioLogos page does admit to variations in the different radiometric methods, but they dismiss the objection:

...objections are raised to radiometric dating primarily by those who believe that the Earth is young. First, there is a concern about inconsistencies in the dates determined by different systems. But although there is error in the measurement, it is not significant. Even a huge error resulting in a number 10 percent too low would make the Earth 4 billion years old instead of 4.6 billion.
I once saw a list of 100 different ways of calculating the age of the earth, all using the same methodology cited here, some radiometric, some otherwise. The numbers were all over the map, some as short as a few months, some hundreds of billions of years. This is not 10% but more than ten orders of magnitude. I suspect the Darwinists "calibrate" their chosen methods to select the ones that give "correct" answers, and discard those that do not.

Is this evidence compelling? There's something fishy here.

For starters, this age of the earth FAQ was not prepared by experts in that field. The most frequent citation is to a book written by Darrel Falk. Wikipedia (no bastion of objectivity in contentious topics like this) in Falk's bio tells us "His research interests have included molecular genetics of Drosophila melanogaster..." Darrel Falk is not a radiometrist, he is not an astronomer, he is getting his "proofs" from other sources outside his expertise. There is no primary evidence here. You can tweak the numbers when it's somebody else's data, but you dare not in your own.

Francis Collins, according to Wikipedia, studied physical chemistry and medicine. He's obviously famous for genetics. Nope, no radiometry nor astronomy here either. But the Wiki article on him quotes his answer to The Question:

(When asked, "What do you say to your fellow Christians who say, 'Evolution is just a theory, and I can't put that together with my idea of a creator God'?") "Well, evolution is a theory. It's a very compelling one. As somebody who studies DNA, the fact that we are 98.4 percent identical at the DNA level to a chimpanzee, it's pretty hard to ignore the fact that when I am studying a particular gene, I can go to the mouse and find it's the similar gene, and it's 90 percent the same. It's certainly compatible with the theory of evolution, although it will always be a theory that we cannot actually prove. I'm a theistic evolutionist. I take the view that God, in His wisdom, used evolution as His creative scheme. I don't see why that's such a bad idea. That's pretty amazingly creative on His part. And what is wrong with that as a way of putting together in a synthetic way the view of God who is interested in creating a group of individuals that He can have fellowship with -- us? Why is evolution not an appropriate way to get to that goal? I don't see a problem with that."
His data is compatible with the theory of evolution, although he admits it will always be a theory that we cannot actually prove. He doesn't see a problem with it, but there's nothing "compelling" in this answer.

Let me tell you about myself. As somebody who studies software, the fact that my programs are 98% identical to the programs written by somebody at Microsoft only proves that they run on the same computer, not that my programs evolved into theirs or vice-versa. Some things just must be done the same way, or they don't work at all. DNA is a massive computer program. Oh by the way, I read elsewhere that this 98% number comes after discarding all the data that's different. Did Francis Collins fudge the data himself, or is he just borrowing somebody else's data without looking at it too closely? We don't know.

Today is Independence Day. Some of us need independence from the state-funded established religious dogma of Darwinism. Start today.

Complete Blog Index
Itty Bitty Computers home page