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Cross-checks test assumptions. They do not make them.

This post is more than 7 years old.

Posted at 09:00 on 10 July 2017

Literal Six Day Young Earth Creationists believe that "historical science," as conducted by "secular scientists," relies entirely on assumptions of uniformitarianism — the idea that the rates at which natural processes happened in the past has always been the same as it is today.

As we saw last time, nothing could be further from the truth. Scientists do not blindly assume that rates of change are constant: on the contrary, they carry out numerous cross-checks between different methods to establish which of them have been constant and which of them have not.

What has the LSDYEC response to these cross-checks been? In a 2010 article on creation.com, Dr. John K Reed attempted to address this question. His response completely missed the point.

The first nine paragraphs of his article form a lengthy homily that focuses entirely on theological issues: the insistence that a faithful reading of the Bible demands a creation over six 24-hour days, and that any other view is "compromise" and "anti-creation." However, in the second section of the article, he takes a look at the evidence. His response to the cross-checks is to dismiss them as being based on the same worldview:

Like the Lake Suigetsu argument, the next case also makes the attempt to demonstrate how multiple lines of evidence all lead to the same conclusion. But while the data might be independent, the worldview in the mind of the researchers is not, and worldviews always shape perceptions of reality. This time, the authors take us to the other side of the world, to the Atlantic Ocean’s mid-ocean ridge. We are told that after geology proved a steady spreading rate over 180,000,000 years, that satellite measurements have triumphantly confirmed that rate.

This is an argument that I've seen other young-earthers raise from time to time — that different measurements only give the same results because they make the same assumptions of uniformitarianism — and it is complete and utter nonsense. It gets cause and effect completely the wrong way round. The whole point of cross-checks is to test the assumptions that rates were constant, not to make them.

Worldviews may shape perceptions of reality, but they do not shape the results of measurement and mathematics. You can adopt a worldview that Mount Everest is just four inches tall if you like, but that won't change the fact that you get a height of 8,848 metres when you measure it. The technical term for letting your worldview shape the results of your measurements is "scientific fraud," and its consequences are at best a career change to flipping burgers in McDonald's, and at worst a prison sentence.

To see why cross-checks are an effective test of constant rates, let's assume the reverse: that the different rates were not constant. This could only happen if there were some factor at work that affected them in exactly the same way, to exactly the same extent, in exact lock-step with each other, by a factor of up to a billion, depending on the timescale you want to argue for. If the rates of nuclear decay and continental drift had not increased by the same amount, you wouldn't get the same results. If there were any lag between them, you wouldn't get the same results.

Then you have to consider other rates that must have increased in lock-step with the two. Annual lake varves and ice layers would have to have been deposited at a rate of a billion per year — that is, more than thirty per second. There is no known physical process that can do that.

Reed then goes on to question the integrity of the data:

Once again, there are too many weak links. How do we know that the seafloor has been spreading at the same rate for 180 million years? A few scattered dates of oceanic rocks? One would think at a minimum that a dense grid of dates would be required to prove such a claim. But even the sparse dates might be more convincing if they were actually dates of the oceanic basement. Or if we could trust radiometric dating, despite its assumptions and anomalies. Finally, a few years of satellite measurements alone cannot possibly prove 180 million years of constant spreading.

I would have expected him to have given a link to a high-quality scientific journal such as Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta in support of his assertion that the dates are sparse and not of oceanic basement, but he doesn't. The article he cites (without giving a clickable link) was published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration — a publication devoted to the study of all sorts of New Age fringe science such as ufology, astrology, palm reading, alternative medicine, and so on and so forth. Its peer review processes are lax, and the journal editor actually admitted that several reviewers had recommended against the article's publication. The author, a certain David Pratt, has a copy of both the article itself and the editor's comments on his personal website, which is devoted to all sorts of wild and wacky theosophist theories such as karma, reincarnation, and "cyclic evolution" (whatever that is).

In any case, this data does not only come from the Atlantic and the Pacific basins, but from all over the world. It is also just one of many, many cross-checks that are carried out between a wide variety of different dating methods. The number of studies in the scientific literature easily runs into the hundreds of thousands at least. Even if the Atlantic Ocean dates are "sparse" and "scattered" as he suggests, the overall data most certainly is not.

Reed then continues by saying this:

We need to know too that a rigid uniformitarianism has held over time. Ironically, it was Young who wrote:

We also challenge young-Earth creationists to desist from labeling modern geology as uniformitarian when they know full well that modern geologists repudiate any a priori commitment to slow, gradual process rates in the geologic past to the exclusion of all catastrophic events.

Again, we see that he has completely missed the point. The whole point of cross-checks is to test where "a rigid uniformitarianism" has held over time. Geologists do not blindly assume that all rates of change are constant, and they do not blindly reject the possibility of catastrophic events. For someone who is a PhD geologist himself to suggest that they do so is quite dishonest.