Friday, 8 May 2009

Challenging science

The nice christian, JL, in her quest to convert my (rather pleasant) heathen ways went on the attack about carbon dating and it's 'wildly inaccurate' results.
Being on the back foot, I had some misconceptions about carbon dating but, in my defence, they were craftily worded fundie traps which I fell into. (eg. saying that carbon dating cannot measure age of fossils, so what proof is there?)

However, EVEN IF carbon dating methods were wrong, just because 'the bible says so' is not magically the only viable alternative. *sigh*

Tree rings are accurate to 9000 years. Pay attention - this is something most kids learn in primary school! You won't find a 50 year old tree with thousands of rings. NEWSFLASH - Trees predate the Abrahamic god! "But the bible says the sky pixie made trees! Whhhaaaahhh!!!!"

Redshift - How light frequency is affected by the fantastical speeds of astronomical phenomena moving away from us (creating light towards the infra red spectrum)

Carbon dating is a very good way of estimating. The biggest inaccuracies have occured when objects of 20000 years old have had an error of 3500 years. An error margin of up to 17%.
Even accounting for this extreme measure - hmmm - basic maths here - more than 6000 years!

The trap I fell into (because I simply don't know everything) was that you cannot use carbon dating for fossils. (Or diamonds, which are REALLY old! I just assumed that being made of carbon... doh!).

The above link explains more concisely the methods used and refutes the claims of creationist (and I use the word sarcastically) 'scientists'.

JL's mission was to get me to doubt scientific reasoning and to not take scientific opinion as the truth. And yes, we SHOULD not just believe everything we hear. We must make informed decisions based on evidence. We must be willing to accept that with our limited knowledge and senses (we can only see a razor thin slice of the EM spectrum for example) that we will make mistakes and improve upon our knowledge.

And that is what I love about science. For every opinion, theory and proposal in the public domain, it must be tested, scrutinised and every possible attempt is made to prove it wrong or come up with a better explanation with the evidence and reasoning to back it up. It is inspiring, it is challenging, it is dangerous, it gives us the tools to make sense of this amazing existence... it is truly humbling to realise that there is so much in existence that we will never know.

What I find demeaning, insulting, patronising, illogical and offensive to human intellect is that theists label 'don't know' with 'god'.

Science has been answering many 'don't knows' for centuries. People no longer need to fear myths and superstitions; worry about angering vengeful gods; conduct strange rituals; wear lucky charms etc. Thanks to science, we have grown up and matured as a species.

Science is not the enemy of religion but religion has suffered because of it. Ahhh, life was so much SIMPLER 6000 years ago.

Conclusion: Just because science freely admits the limits of our understanding and is constantly trying to improve its knowledge doesn't make the bible true! (Bl**dy obvious I know, but SOME PEOPLE... tsk)


  1. Ha, A post I can really get my teeth into. Carbon dating. I can profess to be some what an expert in the field, having working with radioactivity for the past 6 years!

    Carbon 14 is mostly used to date organic material. It cannot be used directly to date rocks;

    And you are correct because of the rapid rate of decay of 14C, it can only give dates in the thousands-of-year range and not millions.

    C14 unlike other carbon isotopes is unstable and decays, emitting radiation as it becomes nitrogen.

    Nitrogen in the atmosphere gets bombarded with sun rays and becomes carbon (very simplified!)

    C14 as well as C12 and C13 get absorbed into animals, obviously when we die we stop absorbing carbon. The C14 starts to decay...

    The C12 and C13 do not decay...

    So theoretically is you can measure the ratio of C14 to C12 you can determine how long ago that organic matter stopped living?

    2 simple things to know...

    1... how fast does decay occur?
    2... what was the original ratio?

    The inaccuracies come from not knowing the initial ratio and basing is soley on the atmosphere today.

    It has been shown that the ratio doesn't remain in equilibrium.... W. Libby's work

    If you are really interested check this out..

    Again, I don't know how important this is to anything. Proving the earth is older than the bible says by spurious methodologies seems a little far fetched.

    You may want to research the geological column, circular reasoning and such :D

    K xxx

  2. And what if disproving the bible is a conspiracy? what if these theories, which frankly are not sound are simply distributed to turn you away from God.

    Science and religion should be as one, both want truth, they have just got distorted along the way.

  3. Science and religion both seek truths. I like that.

    BUT. (Notice the BIG BUT) Religion claimed 'truth' thousands of years ago. Mankind had not even come close to modern scientific methods of proof and science has proven many religious claims false.
    eg) We are not ill because a god is punishing us, there are these PROVEN organisms that make us ill. (There are MANY more false claims...)

    As for the age of the Earth - blimey, that would be the most AMAZINGLY well coordinated conspiracy across all the countries of the globe, involving tens of thousands of chemists, geologists, archaelogists, astronomers, physicists, biologists, map makers, paleontologists...
    I dunno... they could ALL be wrong I suppose.

    Science evolves. Theories disproved and criticism is encouraged to refine our knowledge. Just because scientists have the decency to have a 'theory' doesn't mean it can be easily dismissed. I can't prove that if drop a ball that it will fall down tomorrow. But I am almost certain it will!

    What is sad is that so many religions require an act of intellectual suicide* to follow dogma, ritual, believe in myths, act against their own moral ideals in order to be a 'true' believer.

    * Also known as 'faith'

    And Kezia, I suspect you may know a certain JL who may have directed you this way? :-)

  4. I do indeed know Miss L. I was interested in your blog.

    I agree about your intellectual suicide theory. I think it is true of ample religions and cults. This is in fact where Christianity differs, although of course some individual will inevitably get caught up in the dogma and ritual. Christianity is simplistically a relationship.

    I am a moral person and I was long before I became a Christian, I was also (and am still) a scientist. There is a point when searching for the truth becomes frustrating, circular and evidence seems to be condtradictory.

    Fact of the matter is that some times Christians are so convinced by what they believe that they will give a snap response to a challenge that hasn't truely been thought out. "I don't believe that dinosaurs existed" for example.

    I like this quote "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

    It isn't my quote,

    My point about theories is that they are not proven. If they were they would be scientific law. There is enough doubt in the scientific community about their accuracy. Nothing more. Science is vital to our society, medicine in particular and pathology. It is our nature to know the way things (and us) work.

    I have faith in God, and I'd like to explain...

    I believe, that is the easy bit... okay it is a huge amount of research, questioning and soul searching. But I believe I have a relationship with God

    I have faith. I trust that God will see right by me, I thought that God wanted me to leave my job and that was a big leap for me. I did it and I have supported, timing has been perfect and I have been very lucky(?)

    Faith is willing to put your belief in action.

    I think that "belief" can be intellectual suicide. Depending on the belief, the journey to get there and the obsticals on the way.

    K xx

  5. It appears we have a similar worldview however I am of the opinion that the bible is 'frustrating, circular and evidence seems to be condtradictory'.

    For me, there is no clear message in the bible. (And I do look, I assure you.) People offer me suggestions in the scriptures but seem to ignore the dark, violent, sexist, racist, slave promoting, atheist killing, gay hating side. (Rather convenient!) If the bible is the 'truth' then who decides which parts? When does the metaphor/analogy end and facts begin? Why are there differing accounts of the same events? I could continue... :-)

    I will discuss a 'relationship' with a god in a later post.

    Science has given me reasonable answers to questions I ponder over. Scientific method is a fair, robust way of determining 'why?'. Science does not answer every question and it has never claimed to. Sadly, many theists see it as an 'enemy of religion' and treat it with contempt as it makes them question their beliefs. Some attempt to discredit science by making spurious claims with ill thought out arguments. Some will just cover their ears and ignore any attempt at rational debate.

    But, science is only one reason why I am an atheist. Morality, logic, personal experience actually feature MUCH higher.

    If everyone was a 'true' scientist - the world would be an imaginative, progressive, caring, inspiring, discovering place.

    And in all fairness, if everyone was a 'true christian' (and by this I mean the 'humanist kind with an imaginary friend') then I'll admit, the world would be nicer too. ;-)

    As always, thanks for the comment.


Comments are unmoderated (free speech and all that) but I have decided to take off anonymous posting. If I can stick my head over the parapet, then common decency suggests that anyone wishing to debate should at least introduce themselves. :-)
Thanks. And feel free to comment about anything!