Wednesday, 24 January 2018

How Creationists Lie To Us - Creation Ministries

When you show the world you need to lie for your faith
You show the world you know your faith is a lie
This meme recently popped up in a Facebook group I help administer.

It is of course a lie.

The lie originated in one of the usual creationist disinformation sites,, the online front for Creation Ministries, the Australia-based creationist organisation from which Ken Ham split when he realised America was a more lucrative place for scamming fundamentalist Christians, in an article penned by Jonathan O'Brien, a Creation Ministries staffer.

O'Brien is notorious for, amongst other things, his claim that the primitive carving of a rhinoceros in front of some leaves at Angkor in Cambodia is really a carving of a stegosaurus, a creature with which it has very little real resemblance, and the claim that because a volcanic cone in Mexico grew in a year, this is evidence that mountains did not take millions of years to form, so could all have formed in the last few thousand years (ignoring the fact that most mountain ranges are not volcanic in origin but are due to plate tectonics).

Jonathan O'Brien,B.Creative Arts, B.App.Sc.
Unsurprisingly, O'Brien is a former 'geologist' who now works for Creation Ministries. He claims to have 'completed a course in Geoscience' at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) but lists his actual formal qualifications as a Bachelor of Creative Arts and Bachelor of Applied Science. His peer-reviewed science publications are conspicuous by their complete absence. O'Brien appears to have no background in geological research and no training in biology whatsoever. Not exactly a leading authority on geology or evolution. Perhaps his degree in creative arts helps his creativity when it comes to misrepresenting science to creationists.

His article is worth visiting if only for the rather nice picture of a lesser green sandpiper or yellowlegs which he fails to attribute to Shutterstock, the copyright holders. It breeds in Canada and Alaska and migrates to the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico for the winter. It is not normally found in Argentina except as a rare vagrant. Evidently an ability to use Google is another area in which O'Brien lacks expertise.

In his article, O'Brien strongly implies that the scientists had simply selected the dating methods that gave them the ages they expected in a process of circular reasoning and that an age of 212 million years was expected because fossilised wood "found entombed in the rock" was believed to be that age. What he fails to mention was that closer examination and geomagnetic evidence showed that the stratum with the footprints was not the same formation as that with the wood.

He also claims that:

The first dating attempt used the Argon/Argon method, and the second used the Lead/Uranium method. In both dating attempts, the date received was very close to what was expected. In the first, the geologists already believed the formation to be around 200 million years old on the basis of an extinct fossil tree—and they received a date very close to this from the laboratory. In the second, it was already believed, due to the presence of sandpiper tracks, that the formation had to fit within the neo-Darwinian timeline for bird evolution—and the geologists again received the date they were expecting.

What he also fails to mention is that these were the same scientists and that the second publication was accompanied by a retraction of their earlier paper. In the best scientific tradition, an unexpected result (apparently well-advanced birds in evolutionary terms in the very early stages of bird evolution) were reexamined and, when an error was found, this was reported and corrected.

In the abstract to the original 2002 paper, the authors had said:

The study of fossilized footprints and tracks of dinosaurs and other vertebrates has provided insight into the origin, evolution and extinction of several major groups and their behaviour; it has also been an important complement to their body fossil record1,2,3,4. The known history of birds starts in the Late Jurassic epoch (around 150 Myr ago) with the record of Archaeopteryx5, whereas the coelurosaurian ancestors of the birds date back to the Early Jurassic6. The hind limbs of Late Triassic epoch theropods lack osteological evidence for an avian reversed hallux and also display other functional differences from birds7. Previous references to suggested Late Triassic to Early Jurassic bird-like footprints have been reinterpreted as produced by non-avian dinosaurs having a high angle between digits II and IV8,9 and in all cases their avian affinities have been challenged10. Here we describe well-preserved and abundant footprints with clearly avian characters from a Late Triassic redbed sequence of Argentina11,12, at least 55 Myr before the first known skeletal record of birds. These footprints document the activities, in an environment interpreted as small ponds associated with ephemeral rivers, of an unknown group of Late Triassic theropods having some avian characters.

In this paper, the authors had explained how they arrived at the date:

The age of the unit has been established onthe basis of its fossil content and a radiometric date, and is further supported by lithologic comparison with the well-dated LateTriassic Los Colorados formation 11. The unit at the studied locality has produced remains of Rhexoxylon 11, a wood morphogenus only reported from Middle to Late Triassic rocks of Gondwana14. Con-currently, an interbedded basalt flow located about 80 m above the track-bearing horizons yielded an 40Ar/39Ar plateau age of 212.5 ± 7.0 Myr ago (step-heating analysis on albite crystal)12,which suggests a Norian–Rhaetian age for the basalt according torecent calibrations of the Triassic–Jurassic timescale15,16,17.

Bird-like fossil footprints from the Late Triassic (PDF Download Available). Available from: [accessed Jan 24 2018].

Note that the presence of the fossilised wood of a type only previously found in Late Triassic formations was only a secondary consideration and not the basis for the dating that O'Brien implies. Indeed, the basis for dating gave a good estimate of the age of the rock tested; the problem was that this was not the rock in which the tracks were found.

As was shown in a subsequent paper the geology of that locality was far more complex than they had realised. This reassessment was not carried out immediately, as the O'Brien-inspired lie in the meme claims; but was carried out ten years later in 2012 and published in 2013. Nor was it done by a different group of scientists as O'Brien states, but by a team that included the lead author of the original paper, Ricardo N. Melchor.

The red bed succession cropping out in the Quebrada Santo Domingo innorthwestern Argentina had been for long considered as Upper Triassic–Lower Jurassic in age based on weak radiometric and paleontological evidence. Preliminary paleomagnetic data confirmed the age and opened questions about the nature of fossil footprints with avian features discovered in the section. Recently the stratigraphic scheme was reviewed with the identification of previously unrecognized discontinuities, and a radiometric dating obtained in a tuff, indicated an Eocene age for the Laguna Brava Formation and the fossil bird footprints, much younger than the previously assigned. We present a detailed paleomagnetic study interpreted within a regionaltectonic and stratigraphic framework, looking for an explanation for the misinterpretation of the preliminary paleomagnetic data. The characteristic remanent magnetizations pass a tilt test and a reversal test. The main magnetic carrier is interpreted to be low Ti titanomagnetites and to a lesser extent hematite.

The characteristic remanent magnetization would be essentially detrital. The obtained paleomagnetic pole (PP) for the Laguna Brava Formation has the following geographic coordinates and statistical parameters: N=29,Lon.=184.5°E,Lat.=75.0°S, A95=5.6° and K=23.7. When this PP is compared with another one with similar age obtained in anundeformed area, a declination anomaly is recognized. This anomaly can be interpreted as LagunaBrava Formation belonging to a structural block that rotated about 16° clockwise along a vertical axis after about 34 Ma. This block rotation is consistent with the regional tectonic framework, and would have caused the fortuitous coincidence of the PP with Early Jurassic poles. According to the interpreted magnetostratigraphic correlation, the Laguna Brava Formation would have been deposited during the Late Eocene with a mean sedimentation rate of about 1.4 cm per thousand years, probably in relation to the onset of the Andean deformation.

Geomagnetism measures the magnetic alignment of magnetised particles which align with Earth's poles when they are deposited and still capable of moving, rather like the needle of a compass. When they become solidified they preserve a record of the alignment of the rock relative to the poles at that point in time. This can be correlated with the geomagnetic record in stable formations of the same age.

Note that the clue was from the geomagnetic measurements that revealed an unrecognised discontinuity. In other words, it showed that the rock with the fossilised wood embedded in it was not the same rock as that with the tracks in it. When this rock was dated it showed that the tracks were from a much later age and were entirely consistent with the known evolution of birds.

It would seem that O'Brien's real problem is not that the scientists re-visited this anomalous 'discovery' of apparently advanced birds living in the Late Triassic and discovered the reason for the anomaly - not an error in the dating method but an error in selecting the right rock sample to be dated when more detailed analysis and more information in the form of geomagnetic data had revealed a hitherto unknown geological discontinuity - but that the findings are now entirely consistent with what is known about the evolution of birds.

Of course, as soon as the revised date was known and the error recognised, the original paper was retracted and a note to that effect was published in Nature (the journal in which the original 2002 paper was published).

Nature 417, 936–938 (2002); doi:10.1038/nature00818

In this Letter, we considered the bird-like footprints from the former Santo Domingo Formation of northwest Argentina to be of Late Triassic age. Recent radiometric dating1 of the sedimentary sequence containing these bird-like footprints (renamed as the Laguna Brava Formation) indicated a Late Eocene age. Further geological studies2 suggest that the region suffered a complex deformation during the Andean orogeny, including block rotation. In consequence, our previous inferences about the possible implications of this finding for the fossil record of Aves are no longer supported. This Retraction has not been signed by J.F.G. Correspondence should be addressed to R.N.M. (

It doesn't seem to occur to O'Brien that the scientists might have been being honest. His employers require him to fit the events into a narrative in which evolution is a conspiracy to mislead people - presumably other scientists who are in on the conspiracy because they are normally the only people interested in peer-reviewed journal publications. It seem inconceivable to O'Brien that anyone could be publishing anything for any reason other to mislead. Perhaps he really does think that's the only reason to sit at a keyboard and write things.

Had the scientists really wanted to mislead people and make them think that modern birds weren't around in the Triassic with dinosaurs, why did they publish in the first place? Wouldn't it have been simpler to have simply kept quiet? O'Brien wants us to think they stupidly published then realised they had let the cat out of the bag (with the complicity of peer reviewers and the editor of Nature) so they hurriedly (ten years later) tried to cover their tracks by falsifying some new data. Scientists make mistakes sometimes but I doubt even a creationist would accuse them of being that stupid.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if the creation industry employed people with the same level of integrity as scientists who are prepared to revisit, revise and retract when mistakes are made? Can you imagine someone who deliberately misrepresents science for a living because he lacks the understanding and/or ability to earn his living as a scientist standing up and admitting he was wrong?

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  1. As usual with these guys, it takes a second to tell the lie but a couple thousand closely reasoned words to rebut it. They know this perfectly well, and they know that almost nobody that sees their lying claim is going to ever know about your response, let alone actually read it and understand it. They also know that the people with enough knowledge to understand your remarks are overwhelmingly going to be on your side already. So they lie with impunity, over and over again. This behavior demonstrates that they know their fantasies are lies, and that they are only in it for the money. They don't care about the damage they are doing by spreading a false religion.

  2. They know they are duping simpletons who would never check just in case they find it isn't the confirmation of their bias they were taking it for, and would not understand the rebuttal if they did. These are people who would never contemplate reading a real scientific paper which they've already dismissed as lies or biased or written by frauds, probably for money, anyway.

  3. I would say, let them, they lie to themselves. Unfortunately, in the process they poison the brains of young children. An absolute crime.


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