Most of the time it is fairly easy to see the difference in quality between creationist “evidence” and that of evolution. For example, this link of creationist explanations for the Grand Canyon is not going to fool anyone who has any knowledge of science and of how science works. However, recently some creationists have managed to create faux science journals and faux science conferences that take on the trappings of science, the language of science, and the appearance of science. But, despite appearances, its content is most assuredly not science.
A problem for the layman though is that these papers read like a genuine science paper. Which means that for most people, myself included, it is a hard slog trying to understand it and almost impossible to criticize it. But, when coming across such a paper there are some quickly discovered clues that can alert you that this paper should be read with great care and skepticism if you do not have the time to do the research needed to find the flaws in the science.
Initially in reviewing creationist literature on the age of the Grand Canyon (chosen because of how impressed I was with Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery by Wayne Ranney) I came across article after article of shallow and easily demolished creationist explanations of the Grand Canyon. Other than using a few scientific words, they made no pretense of being a serious scientific study. In many of these papers it only took creationists three hours of examining the rocks and strata of Grand Canyon to be able to clearly see that creationism was correct! No serious testing, no serious analysis or experimentation, nothing. However, I then, eventually , came across what gave every appearance of being an actual science paper. Even then, though, there was a problem in that, at first, I could not find any in which the authors of the papers did any actual field work themselves – something very prominent among geologists in Ranney’s book – merely criticism of published research. Looked nice, but why not go out and find the conclusive evidence?
But then I came across a couple of papers that actually not only looked scientificy , but also discussed actually going out in the field. I will be using a creationist paper that is a fine representative of this genre of creationist literature, the faux science report; “Discordant Potassium – Argon Model and Isochron ‘ages’ for Cardenas Basalt (Middle Proterozoic) and Associated Diabase of Eastern Grand Canyon, Arizona” by Steven A. Austin PhD and Andrew A. Snelling PhD.
The first thing to note about this paper is that it has the appearance of a scientific paper. It has a nice long title that provides specifics on what the article is about; a nice abstract, nice technical jargon writing filled with numbers and graphs and charts; and has a nice references section at the end. It wears its scientific clothing well. But, is the clothing just a covering for a particular religious belief or does it fit upon a true exercise of science?
Now, in reading this paper I found its content above my head; I am not a geologist and have no geological background. I think, though, that even without fully understanding the content, there are things that you can quickly look at that would allow you to assign a rough probability on whether the paper is going to be real science or faux science.
Without even looking at its content, a bit of quick research turned up information that set off a three alarm warning on this paper: the authors are affiliated with a religious organization, it was presented at a religious conference, and it was not submitted to a peer review scientific journal.
The Fourth International Conference on Creationism, where this paper was presented, tries to put on a scientific gloss, but it is only a gloss and a thinly applied one too. For example, in a the Conference Report there is a criticism of one of the speakers, Steve Robinson, a member of “a small but vocal group of British creationists” who have “for several years abandoned traditional flood geology, apparently for what they see as insurmountable geologic difficulties.”:
“It seems clear they are not working from the Bible, but instead are reaching conclusions about the evidence and then interpreting the Bible within the constraints imposed by their conclusions. This is a backwards and, as history shows, doctrinally dangerous approach. “
I do not know of any science conferences or journals criticizing a paper for basing their conclusions upon evidence.. Having your primary ground being a belief in a religious book instead of evidence is indeed “backwards” from science and thus not science at all. It is like calling up down and black white.
However, to be fair, of the authors of this paper have actual PhD’s in geology from reputable universities.
Steven A. Austin is a co-author on both papers and received a PhD in geology from Pennsylvania State University in 1979, an actual accredited university. So, by his educational background he is a geologist.
But we need to look further than just his degree. For example, I see no geological papers of his published in peer reviewed science journals, just plenty of papers in religious publications and presented at religious conferences. That is not to say he has none, but I would be willing to wager that those he does have published in peer reviewed scientific journals are not about young earth or creationism, but instead are about actual science. And that such papers are not nearly as numerous as those to creationist non-peer reviewed journals.
Also note that Austin is Professor of Geology and Chair of the Department of Geology , Institute for Creation Research (USA). A quick look at the Institute of Creation Research (USA) finds this:
“After more than four decades of ministry, the Institute for Creation Research remains a leader in scientific research within the context of biblical creation. “
Note the word ministry. Note that any “scientific research’ is done within the straightjacket of “biblical creation”. In other words, religion first, actual science a very very very distant second.
If more were needed to convince someone that this is religious institution and not a scientific one, a quick read of their tenets should finish their convining.
A listing of results already predetermined and a process in which any research that conflicts with these beliefs is discarded and automatically rejected. This organization is well fitted to that of the Fourth International Conference on Creationism.
Andrew A. Snelling is another real geologist by education, having been awarded his PhD in geology from the University of Sydney in Australia in 1982. What I found interesting is that in his biography he states that at the end of 1983 he “commenced in full-time creation ministry” and became a member of the Creation Science Foundation of Australia before moving to the US and eventually becoming Director of Research of Answers in Genesis.
Again, the word ministry. And again another religious, not scientific, organization. Here is a bit From Answers in Genesis’ Mission Statement that I found very informative:
“We relate the relevance of a literal Genesis to the church and the world today with creativity.”
Creativity in this case means ignoring evidence, twisting evidence, and outright lying about evidence. Their version of science is indeed more a work of creative fiction than of actual science.
Here is another telling statement from their Statement of Faith (whose very name shouts religion):
“The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.”
In other words, if the evidence conflicts with their understanding of the Bible, then get creative. I should also mention that Snelling’s publication list is even thinner than Austin’s.
So, we have scientists by education associated with primarily religious groups and their view of science, delivering papers to a religious conference about scientific subjects, and which criticizes those who dare let their views be shaped by the evidence instead of by doctrine and the Bible. In other words, they already know the conclusion they want, don’t confuse matters by trying to objectively looking at the evidence; it might lead to having to change their doctrine.
That alone should start ringing humongous alarm bells that these papers may not be science at all, no matter how scientific they look, and are, instead, religion in scientific clothing. An attempt to set a faux science loose in the henhouse, rending and destroying science and our efforts to understand both ourselves and the universe around us, with the result that we, both personally and as a society, become the poorer.
Now, while allof the above does not mean that the paper is wrong and that it is nothing more than dressed up trash, it does mean that you should be extremely skeptical about its results and before you ever begin to accept its findings and results do some serious research first. For example, on this paper there is already a good post showing the many scientific flaws in it titled “Inventing the isochron: Steve Austin, Andrew Snelling, and the Cardenas Basalts of the Grand Canyon”. In it you find such interesting tidbits as :
“To Austin and Snellings’ (1998) own admission, most of the rock samples are highly altered. Moreover, several of the samples (especially those high in potassium) contain abundant glass. When volcanic glass is altered, its ability to retain argon (an assumption of the K-Ar method) is significantly lowered. Faure and Mensing (2005, p. 121) put it this way:
“Samples that have been altered or that contain devitrified glass…and xenoliths or xenocrysts should be avoided…the Ar retentivity of devitrified or hydrated glass is questionable.”
From the outset, there is no reason to expect that the whole-rock samples of Austin and Snelling (1998) met the conditions assumed by the K-Ar method. If anything, they should be analyzing mineral isochrons, where some quality control is practical. Instead, we must expect that altered volcanic glass sufficiently retained the argon over time. If it did not, however, we might expect to see significant scatter in the isochron plots. In fact, that is exactly what we find.”
“Even apart from the model above, there is good geological and statistical foundation on which to reject the isochron from Austin and Snelling (1998) as an indicator of the rocks’ age (crystallization or metamorphism). Coincident magmatic events are recorded on the North American continent, and date near 1100 Ma using several methods (Rb-Sr, U-Pb, and K-Ar).
Furthermore, several good 40Ar/39Ar dates (with undisturbed age spectra) are available for the dikes/sills, and agree with the Rb-Sr isochron age of 1103 Ma (Weil et al., 2003; Timmons et al., 2005). For the argument of Austin and Snelling (1998) to have any relevance, they must be able to account for this data. Instead, they propose the unrealistic “model” of accelerated nuclear decay (i.e. change in decay rates) to account for the apparent discordance, despite the fact that it would contradict regional K-Ar and Rb-Sr data already available to them (e.g. Larson et al., 1994). Despite their in-depth, technical discussion of the isotope geochemistry and petrology of Grand Canyon samples, the conclusions of Austin and Snelling (1998) are the result of bad scientific practice and a propagandist effort to dissuade uninformed readers from lending any credibility to geochronology.”
Let me end this with a link to an article in Earth: the Science Behind the Headlines titled “Creationism Creeps Into Mainstream Geology” for a bit more about how creationism wearing scientific clothing and putting out faux science in trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.
In a world dependent on science, this deception is dangerous.