Friday Falsehoods #5

1. Original Animal Protein in Fossils?, Brian Thomas, Creation Ministries International, 9 February

We have a fine fossil fish with original collagen fibres featured on an office wall at ICR (see photo above). It is from the Green River Formation in Wyoming. How do we know it is actually original fish collagen? First, it is a different colour, hardness, and texture from the surrounding rock. One visitor said that it looks like beef jerky. Second, the paleontologists who prepared it wrote that it was collagen. To dispel any doubt, scientists used four independent techniques to directly test fossil lizard skin from the same formation as our fish. They wrote,

“Taken together, all the analyses performed in this study strongly suggest that the fossilized reptile skin in BHI-102B [the lizard fossil] is not a simple impression, mineralized replacement or an amorphous organic carbon film, but contains a partial remnant of the living organism’s original chemistry, in this case derived from proteinaceous skin.”

So the ICR has another fossil? That’s interesting. More important though is how none of the evidence given above shows that his fish has extant collagen. The physical appearance of fibres doesn’t mean that, chemically, they are collagen. Nor doest the presence of “a partial remnant of the living organism’s original chemistry” in a different fossil mean that we have anything more than the decay products of tens of millions of years. And if it really is fragile collagen then shouldn’t it be decaying incredibly rapidly up there on the wall?

Deeper reading: The paper from which Thomas quotes, Infrared mapping resolves soft tissue preservation in 50 million year-old reptile skin, can be read in full online these days. There are at least two further points that come from this that upset Thomas’ claims. First, they say:

The Green River Formation is universally recognized as a major hydrocarbon reservoir and has been studied in detail for over 80 years. These hydrocarbons are derived from the degradation of ancient organisms (higher plants being the likely dominant contributor) and not from modern sources. Therefore, the survival of organic compounds for 50 Myr within the Green River Formation is not problematic.

(Emphasis added.) The second thing to note is that the source of the organic compounds is not collagen at all, but the breakdown of keratin. In other words, it doesn’t lend any support towards what Thomas is claiming for his own fossil.


2. New Cambrian Fossil Quarry Beats Burgess Shale, David Coppedge, Creation Evolution Headlines, 11 February

So these dumb animals “developed” hard parts. Right. They did it “to protect themselves.” They met in war rooms to discuss plans for their “arms race.” They “drove” evolution. This is all the fallacy of personification. It won’t work for a theory that champions unplanned, unguided, aimless, blind natural processes.

I’m torn over whether this is an example of the fallacy fallacy – the false dismissal of a conclusion because the argument is fallacious – or just dumb. I am, however, leaning towards the latter, and not just because I’m not fond of the game of spotting fallacies.

Coppedge is apparently unable to tell the difference between a fallacy and a metaphor. I believe I’ve talked in an earlier installation of this series about playing around with an evolution simulator, and in doing so observing a process that could very easily be described in exactly those terms. That I would be personifying the artificial organisms to an extent doesn’t mean that it didn’t actually happen. Would Coppedge prefer scientists use impenetrable jargon instead?


3. New Craters Found on Mars, David Coppedge, Creation Evolution Headlines, 13 February

Let’s do a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation of cratering on Mars from the figure given: at least 200 new impacts per year 12 ft across or more. That should yield 900 billion craters over the lifetime of Mars – close to a trillion. Assuming a fraction of those would be large enough to loft debris to form secondary craters, and some of those could create orbiting bodies that would fall later, that total seems unreasonably high. The same rate would produce over a million craters in just 6,000 years – plenty, but credible. If anyone would like to refine these estimates, they would need to consider the rate of erasure of craters by dust storms and other impacts, and factors that could vary the impact rate from a steady state. The rate we measure today, for instance, may not reflect rates in the past. Planetary scientists frequently propose a “Late Heavy Bombardment” of large impactors, for instance, but such hypotheses are speculative.

Coppedge isn’t the only one who can do back of the envelope maths: dividing the surface area of Mars by his million craters shows that according to young Earth creationism there should be only a crater of more than a 12.8ft/3.9 metre diameter in every 140 square kilometres. This is not nearly enough, considering what we observe from our probes. In contrast, a trillion craters total comes out at one in every 140 square metres, which is comparatively reasonable, though it’s now too dense as of course the surface of Mars isn’t all 4.5 billion years old. The thing about back of the envelope calculations, you see, is that you need to check whether or not the answer you get makes sense: that’s what they’re for.

Deeper reading: There are of course many more small craters than large ones, and it’s only really practical to count the those that are fairly big. As Stuart Robbins discovered, presumably to his horror, there are around 385,000 craters on Mars that are more than 1 kilometre across, let alone a mere dozen feet. Coppedge is way off, and to accommodate all these craters within his YEC worldview he would need to posit an increase in the cratering rate by hundreds of thousands of times, which only brings us back to issues that have come up repeatedly in this series.

Here’s a picture of the 22-metre Eagle crater, containing the Opportunity lander, and some surrounding craters many of which are also going to be more than 4 metres across.

Eagle crater, with the opportunity lander

Needless to say, if Coppedge’s calculations were correct none of those other craters would be there.


4. On Camels & C-14 Dating, Part 1, (Unknown), Theology Archaeology, 14 February

Second, dating a secondary site to a certain period then declaring everything in that site s [sic] from that time period is circular reasoning. The bones are from the 11th-9th centuries because the site is from the 11th to 9th centuries and vice versa. There is nothing in that site that indicates those bones were buried at that time.

This is an unusual formulation of a common creationist claim – that “the rocks date the fossils, and the fossils date the rocks.” It would be somewhat more accurate to say that “the rocks date the fossils, and the fossils date other rocks,” and which the claimed circularity vanishes.


11 thoughts on “Friday Falsehoods #5

  1. Not even close to the point being made.Why don’t you address the real issue which is that there is nothing in that site connecting those bones to that time period.

    • You, by which I mean the website, mentioned circular reasoning and Peter chose to address that remark. ‘Spot the Fallacy’ is a pointless game, as Peter notes elsewhere in this post, but it is a favourite of Creationists. It’s a particularly pointless exercise in relation to articles in the Press. Journalists seek to create controversy in order to sell copy. They are not usually adepts at the Ancient Greek game of Debating.
      In the same vein, no serious scholar is ‘accusing’ the Bible of anything. Biblical literalists and by extension Creationists present the Bible as a divinely dictated document in which is the delivery of propositional truths to be received as having non-negotiable verbal authority. Anyone, whether they profess belief or not, who has a different view of Scripture is not a true Christian. At a stroke, then, are dismissed most of the serious theologians, apologists and biblical scholars since Augustine of Hippo.
      You say that the archeologists who have come to these conclusions are biased by their unbelief, but you not only fail to see your own bias you actually consider it a virtue that you see everything through your interpretation of Scripture; an interpretation for which you have no evidence and only a rather doubtful warrant from the Christian tradition.
      In the post Peter quotes from you have chosen one rather shaky paper out of the mass of evidence from archeology, paleontology, linguistics and textual analysis that points to the Bible being a very human document.
      Follow your cult if you must but please stop trying to make out that you alone are the true Church.

  2. I fail to see what beef Coppedge has with a large number of small (<12 ft) craters on mars, even trillions over its lifetime. The irony is that he neglects the much bigger cratering problem for YECs, which is how humans and most other large organisms on Earth survived all the large large craters that it must have suffered during it's history (judging from the numbers on other planets and moons), if you try to cram them into several thousand yeas, and humans were here the whole time. He seems to be seeing a spec in the "evolutionist" eye, while having a beam in his own.
    As I mentioned, the recent (Jan 2014 Answers Research Journal) feeble attempt by Danny Faulkner to deal with the cratering problem resulted in him finding no scientific explanation whatsoever, and instead suggesting Earth escaped the bombardment because God used special creative processes for it, or that God miraculously shielded the Earth–similar to the way the RATE project authors resorted to "miracles" to explain how radioactive decay could accelerate enough to fit in a YEC timetable, or how the Earth could avoid being cooked to a crisp if it did.

  3. theologyarcaeology, what are you talking about? If the bones are buried in the same sediments as artifacts known to be from the 11-9th century, and there is no evidence of intrusion or reworking, then it is reasonable to conclude that they are the same age. If someone is in doubt C14 dating of the bones can resolve it. While YECs obsess about minutia like this, they fail to explain the major patterns of radio dates from several independent methods, that give largely consistent results, and a sloping pattern from stratigraphically younger to older rocks. The conclusions of the RATE project in fact confirmed that YECs have no plausible scientific explanation for those patterns,and the massive amount of radio decay found in the geo record, other than to propose vague, extra-Biblical miracles to cause vastly accelerated decay, then more unspecified miracles to protect the Earth and all life from the lethal heat it would generate.

  4. Correction, I should have written >12 ft, but it’s irrelevant to the main point, which is that by far the biggest cratering problem is on the YEC side. .

  5. It’s hard for me to say which misrepresentation is the worst among today’s excerpts, but Coppedge’s simplistic comments really chap me. First, the words he places in quotes are from Stephen Meyer (and ID advocate), who implies they’re what evolutionist say about these fossils, but without specific attributions. Second, even when conventional scientists use such personifications, they are _metaphors_ for natural selection, and I think Coppedge knows this. He also must know, or should, that no mainstream workers “champions” evolution as an “unplanned, unguided, aimless, blind natural processes.”; indeed, it’s major driver, natural selection, is not a random process. Ironically, it is YECs and ID advocates who assume a driving being or force behind creation or speciation. Last, even if some theistic evolutionists do as well, it does not invalidate the extensive evidence that evolution did happen. .

  6. http://www.icr.org/article/7899/

    “This stance rejects biblical history not because of data, but before the data are even approached…”. Yet Thomas simply IGNORES other data, and calls the study of it ‘DOGMA’, because of his faith that the Bible offers an infallibly historic and scientific account of origins. Young Earth creationists do not understand the irony of their position and the hypocrisy that is contained with their dogmatic complaints and pronouncements about ‘dogma’. Clearly.

    The YEC technical paper cited by Brian Thomas at his footnote 7 does NOT appear – in either its Abstract or its Conclusion – to claim or demonstrate that “a new data-first study of mitochondrial DNA reports that mankind only carries a few thousand years’ worth of polymorphic sites”. (However I have not tried to wade through the whole very lengthy paper – I wonder whether Thomas has done so.)

    Thomas is a ridiculous ideologue not a scientist.

    I think I may have mentioned previously that the ICR BLOCK all emails from me (as far as I can tell, short of their facebook page perhaps, email is the ONLY way anybody can contact the ICR online).

  7. Hard to choose which is the most egregious, but #2 gets my vote as the most ridiculous, a grotesque parody of things evolutionists do not think or say in the first place.

  8. Sadly, YECs who _are_ intelligent and should know better, seem to get most of their exercise doing mental gymastics, twisting evidence, jumping to conclusions,and pushing their dogmatic view, instead of frankly facing what the vast bulk of evidence shows, namely, that the earth has a long and complex history.

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