Friday, 20 April 2012

How Creationists Lie To Us - 12

The continuing story of the Creationist bad science book, It's A Young World After All, by assistant professor of psychology, Dr Paul D. Ackerman, PhD., who is not a scientists although he writes with the confidence of someone who thinks he is, only to prove beyond any doubt that he quite definitely isn't.

Chapter 11 - The Top That Reeled.

This is a strange chapter in which Dr Ackerman seems to have abandoned his plan to convince us that Earth is only 6000 years old and is now trying to convince us that Noah's Ark was real. He starts of with:

Biblical creationists consider the Genesis account of the flood in the time of Noah to be genuine history. According to the Genesis record, the flood was worldwide in its impact and occurred around 2200 to 2300 B.C.

Christians have traditionally pointed to the extensive sedimentary-rock layers with their numerous fossil remains as being the principal evidence for the flood. Another line of verification that has been put forward is the reports over the centuries by explorers and adventurers who claim to have sighted the remains of the great ark still at rest on Mount Ararat. The present chapter reports on some exciting discoveries by an Australian astronomer that provide new evidence for the Genesis flood.

And then he launches into a convoluted account of different pieces of creation 'science' which looks as though he's trying to convince us that Earth's axis has a wobble - something which is known about and explained by conventional science and which has nothing whatever to do with the age of Earth or the observable fact of evolution. You can read all about it here and here. It is called 'Precession'.

Ackerman seems to be trying to convince us that Earth suddenly tilted on it's axis and expects us to conclude that that must have been the biblical flood, then. However, to arrive at that conclusion he cites an Australian creationist called George Dodwell who claimed to have plotted various shadow measurements from ancient times and shown that 'the curve had a point of origin dating at about 2345 B.C.'.

Er... well yes of course it did. It also had a 'point of origin' in about 50,000 BCE, 10,000,000 BCE, 13.7 billion BCE and 1950 CE. If you plot any system known to fluctuate back to an arbitrary origin it will have that arbitrary origin.

All Dodwell showed is that he knew the traditional date given to the biblical creation by Bible literalists. Interestingly, one of the Australian creationists pushing George Dodwell's 'findings' is one Barry Setterfield whom we met in Chapter 8. He was the one who carefully selected measurements of the speed of light from history and plotted them on a curve which appeared to curve up to infinity in about 4300 BCE. Had he included the excluded measurements he would have shown that the most plausible explanation is that, whilst the speed of light has been constant, our ability to measure it accurately improved hugely between 1675 and 1960 - something we knew already, thank you very much!

So, we are dealing with a team who know well how to produce graphs and charts which meet the requirements of the creation industry and in particular the requirements of the ICR which requires its employees and those whose work it publishes, to take an annual oath to, in effect, never reach a conclusion which isn't in full accord with a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible.

The basic claim is that Dodwell obtained a list of measurements of shadow length on the winter and summer solstice carried out by astronomers as long ago as 3000 years. Quite how he obtained this list, and how he translated the different measuring systems used and assessed their accuracy, remains a mystery.

It must have presented particular difficulties because, for example, we know the Egyptians used cubits and spans based on the distance between an elbow and the finger-tips or between the fingertips of out-stretched arms, we do not know whose elbow and finger-tips and known attempts to standardise them gave different lengths at different times. Moreover, other peoples also used similar anthropometric measures, all of which were different. In England, the length of the inch, upon which all other units of length are based was defined after 1066 as "Equal to 3 barleycorn". In 1324 the legal definition of the inch was set out in a statute of Edward II of England, defining it as "three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end, lengthwise".

In Scotland King David I is said to have defined an inch in his Assize of Weights and Measures (c. 1150) as "the width of an average man's thumb at the base of the nail". It is not recorded how they estimated this average nor the basis used to measure the sample. Goodness only knows what we were using before then.

But I expect George Dodwell overcame all these problems. At least, Dr Ackerman doesn't seem to think it worth considering so it must have been something simple. Or maybe he didn't want us to be too concerned with mere details.

Anyway, all of that is irrelevant to the age of Earth, but Creationists seem to think it's somehow relevant to the occurrence of Noah's flood, apparently for no other reason than that you can plot a cyclical curve back to 4300 BCE.

For reasons which remain unclear, Dr Ackerman then sets out to persuade us that George Dodwell was right to ascribe this wobble in Earth's axis to an asteroid hitting the Pacific Ocean. He tries this:
A preserved mammoth from Siberia. Note the appetizing appearance of all that fresh meat. Yummy!
Among the most curious of archaeological mysteries are the vast beds of perfectly preserved fossils frozen in the northern tundras. Buried beneath the northern tundras of Siberia and Alaska lie the remains of thousands of frozen animals, including the now-extinct mammoth. In some cases the carcasses are preserved to such a degree that their flesh is still edible, usually only by bears and wolves but in a few reported instances by men. Today these northern tundras are cold and barren wastelands, but we know that in the past the climate was much warmer. Fossil evidence has been found of plants that grow today as far south as Mexico. At one time these tundras were covered with lush vegetation.

It is a mystery how so many mammoths and other animals could have been rapidly buried and preserved in cold storage, for the climate was warm at the time they were living. One such perfectly preserved carcass was found near the Beresovka River in Siberia in 1901. Well-preserved plant fragments were found in the mouth and between the teeth of the mammal, indicating the suddenness with which it met its death. Inside the mammoth's stomach, twenty-four pounds of excellently preserved vegetation was recovered. The mammoth's remarkably preserved state indicates that at the time of death there was a cataclysmic occurrence that produced both a rapid burial of the creature and a sudden and permanent drop in the temperature. Recent studies of the temperature parameters required to account for the state of preservation of the Beresovka mammoth reveal that 'the animal must have frozen to death in mid-summer by being suddenly overcome by an outside temperature below —150° F.'

His 'authority' for the Beresova River mammoth claim is... you've guessed it... a fellow Creationist, Jody Dillow, who published her 'findings' in [drum-roll, please...] The Creation Research Society Quarterly (June 1977). You may recall at this point the oath that people who publish through the Institute for Creation Research are required to take.

Not surprisingly, Dr Ackerman did not cite any genuine scientific sources and seems to imagine frozen meat is a fossil - a measure of his palaeontological knowledge and understanding.

The truth, as we've come to expect, is something completely different. In fact, frozen mammoths with soft body-parts preserved to any degree are not common; they are rare. There are no authentic records of any of them being edible. Sudden death with food in the mouth and stomach is easy to explain for a large mammal which lived in tundra where lakes and ponds froze over in winter and thawed out in summer. Mammoths falling through ice as it thinned would have been a fairly frequent occurrence. It would be surprising if we did not find these remains.

The claim that they must have gone from summer temperatures to —150° F. in half an hour to retain their fresh and edible condition is nonsense, of course. It 'solves' a non-existent problem. Ackerman's 'authority' is the same 1977 Creation Research Society Quarterly article by Jody Dillow. Again, no genuine science source is cited.

Dr Ackerman then goes on to explain how George Dodwell's hypothetical asteroid accounts for plate tectonic. No! Honestly!

When we get to the end of the chapter we discover that Dr Ackerman seems to have realised that trying to explain the well-know precessionary wobble in Earth's tilt in novel and entertaining ways and relating fanciful stories of fresh mammoth steaks in Siberia does not really prove there was once a world-wide flood. In a 2002 update he has added an equally fanciful section called 'Putting It All Together: The Great Flood' which can best be describes as speculative, though unkind people might use a different adjective. This, and the rest of the chapter, shows very nicely how Creationists use articles by other Creationists as though they are evidence, and so have built up a picture of the world in which any contact with reality is merely incidental.

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