Saturday, April 16, 2011

Florida Shows New Creationist Attack Strategy

Creationists have been on the retreat for many years. Once upon a time, public school districts insisted that Genesis be taught as history, causing religious indoctrination to be foisted upon children whose parents might object. Naturally, the courts struck that down. Not long after that, the approach changed. "Scientific Creationism" became the vogue new flavor, and this made its attempt at getting into the public school science classroom. Again, the courts saw through the ruse and struck it down. More recently, Intelligent Design made its appearance, watering down creationism even further, with the hope of inserting itself into public school science classes and casting doubt upon evolution that way. In Dover, PA, this was again seen for the ruse it was, and struck down.

Now, Florida, and Tennessee, are both illustrating the next two phases of creationist back-door tactics. In Tennessee, they've introduced legislation requiring the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution to be taught, while in Florida, they're using the even further watered-down standard of requiring "critical analysis" of evolution.

This illustrates several things: First, it's clear that creationism, as a movement, exists for one thing, and that's to indoctrinate public school kids. Science became the major emphasis of schools after 1957, when Sputnik forced the U.S. to emphasize science education. The Space Race was on! Seemingly in response to this, James Woodmorappe and Henry Morris published 'The Genesis Flood,' the book that arguably launched the modern creationist movement as we know it today. Then, Murray v. Curlett won the case for removing prayer, and with it religious favoritism, from public school classrooms 1963. Madalyn Murray O'Hare loudly boasted that she "Kicked God out of public schools," as if one could kick God, of all people, if he even exists, out of anywhere. "Scientific Creationism" gained major strengths as a popular movement afterwards.

In short, if public school kids had not been targeted by science, there wouldn't be much of a creationist movement today. It would be the backwater nonsense promulgated almost exclusively by Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, just as it was prior to 1957.

Second: This recent set of events in Florida and Tennessee illustrate just how subtle creationism has to get in order to try and sneak its way in. "Strengths and Weaknesses" sounds fair, until you realize that the point is for certain teachers being able to wrongly claim that the veracity of evolution has weaknesses. "Critical analysis" sounds good, except the critical analysis is meant to be aimed at evolutionary evidences alone. The critical analysis of the Bible - which rules out biblical literalism, and with it creationism, to begin with, is not discussed. (How can it be within a science classroom?)

So it's all about the kids, folks. No, not the kids of creationists. They're already free to indoctrinate whatever they want upon them, in their homes, Sunday schools, and Bible camps. No, the children they want to indoctrinate are those who belong to other parents. They want to evangelize not only their own kids, but yours as well. And they don't want your permission.

Today, we're having a second "Sputnik moment," and its even more important than the first. In the 1980's, computers were emphasized in education, because we recognized that if America wasn't adequately prepared to compete on a global market with information technology, we would falter. But we dropped the ball, and India picked it up and scored their touchdown. Those jobs which were supposed to sustain us, went to them. Now, the new technology revolution involves medical technology, DNA, and the ability to engineer cells and tissues.

Only public schools which emphasize quality biological science will be able to prepare our children for this new economic boom. Children who deny evolution will not be able to adequately understand the workings of biological systems and will be unable to compete in a global marketplace of designer DNA and home-grown organs for transplant.

These are important reasons for emphasizing evolution now. We can meet the demands of tomorrow, but we can't do it by teaching crap science, and then hoping our colleges and universities can clean up the mess.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ronald Numbers

I recently attended the Madison Science Pub to hear the speaker, Mr. Ronald Numbers. He's the author of Creationists: From Scientific Creationism To Intelligent Design, which is the definitive book of the history of creationism in the United States. (Highly recommended.) I learned two important things from his talk. One, he happens to be a professor at the University of Wisconsin, which means I'm going to have to try and take one of his courses sometime. And two, creationism is expanding worldwide.

The late Stephen Jay Gould was once asked about creationism, and, according to Numbers, replied that it was a primarily American phenomenon, confined mostly to the southern states, and would never catch on in countries abroad.

That prediction proves that brilliance is no guarantee against being dead wrong.

Today, creationism has taken strong root overseas, primarily in the pan-Arab world, and is surprisingly strong in Europe. We secularists, who once bragged about how enlightened and secular Europe was in comparison to the United States can no longer be quite so smug. According to Numbers, those who doubt evolution has risen to a shocking 40% in Great Britain, fueled by a conservative revival and an influx of Muslim immigrants. Islamic immigration is a pan-European phenomenon as well, with cultural clashes taking place in France, Germany, Holland, The Netherlands, and even the Scandanavian triad.

Meanwhile, creationist arguments which have been so effective in the U.S. have been picked up and echoed by Muslims in the East. Turkey is now the most hostile country to evolution in the entire world. Islamic fundamentalism feeds off of creationist doctrine, fanning the flames of religious extremism to white-hot temperatures in the Arab world.

And now I hear on the news of potential revolution in Syria.

This is damned serious, folks. What happened in Tunisia last January has erupted into a pan-Arabian revolt against all dictators. They want democracy. Good for them. But democracy creates dangerous opportunities for radical fundamentalists to rob people of freedom. Hell, the U.S. has been ample proof of that!

So, folks, it's time to stop handling creationists with kid gloves. In order for democratic freedom to stabilize in the Arab world, fundamentalism must be toned down.

And that means creationists in every country, especially this one, had better shut up! Human freedom depends on it! So if you just happen to be a creationist...

Back the fuck off!


Friday, March 25, 2011

Ken Ham: Expelled!

Thanks to P.Z. Myers and his blog, Pharyngula, for bringing to light an interesting recent occurrence. Apparently, a group of young-earth-creationists who hold conventions for home-schooling children have disinvited Ken Ham from their upcoming convention and all subsequent conventions thereafter. Ken apparently made defamatory comments regarding their material and questioned the salvation of some of them. This was too much, even for these guys. The actual letter they sent to Answers In Genesis follows:

After much prayer and deliberation over the weekend, Great Homeschool Convention's Advisory Board has unanimously decided to disinvite Ken and AIG from all future conventions, including the Cincinnati convention next week. The Board believes this to be the Lord's will for our convention and searched the Scriptures for the mind of the Lord and the leadership of the Holy Spirit before arriving at this decision. The Board believes that Ken's public criticism of the convention itself and other speakers at our convention require him to surrender the spiritual privilege of addressing our homeschool audience.Please know that our Board is 100% young earth and we largely share AIG's perspective from a scientific standpoint. That is why Ken was originally invited and treated so graciously and extremely generously in Memphis and Greenville (far beyond what we do for other speakers or their ministries). Our expression of sacrifice and extraordinary kindness towards Ken and AIG has been returned to us and our attendees with Ken publicly attacking our conventions and other speakers. Our Board believes Ken's comments to be unnecessary, ungodly, and mean-spirited statements that are divisive at best and defamatory at worst.

One of the core values of our convention is that we believe that good people c an disagree and still be good people. We believe that Christians do not need to personally question the integrity, the intelligence, or the salvation of other Christians when debating Biblical issues. Ken has obviously felt led to publicly attack our conventions and a number of our speakers. We believe that what Ken has said and done is unChristian and sinful. A number of attendees are demanding explanations from our board and we must respond to them.

We believe that Dr. Ham is very intelligent and deliberate and that he decided that publicly slandering our conventions and defaming a number of our speakers is what he wanted to do. Whereas Ken chooses to conduct himself in a way that we believe to be unscriptural, we cannot countenance that spirit as we believe it would not honor the Savior whom we serve.

A public statement will be prepared for distribution at the convention explaining our Board's decision. Anyone who inquires regarding Dr. Ham or AIG will be referred to that statement. We have no intention to defame or publicly slander Dr. Ham, the Creation Museum, or the work of AIG. Our Board would respectfully request that Dr. Ham and AIG prayerfully consider doing the same. Our Board takes seriously the admonition of Jesus in John 13:35, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another."


Brennan Dean
Great Homeschool Conventions, Inc.

Wow. What else can one say to something like that?

Here's what: Creationists love to insist that evolution leads to immoral behavior. It seems that creationism is certainly no guard against immorally attacking fellow Christians, either.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grand Canyon - A Different View?

My, how hard creationists work to make sure that visitors to the Grand Canyon believe that Noah's flood could have done it. In a book written by Steven Austin (not the "Stone Cold" WWE wrestler) titled "Grand Canyon: A Different View," the idea is profferred that a massive flood event could have both laid down the sediments and then rapidly carved them afterwards due to a damming event. In short, it took a lot of water over a little time, as opposed to a little water over a lot of time.

Now, I've known for some time about the holes in this idea. Desert footprints in the Coconino sandstones, for example. Or travertine deposits in the Tapeats sandstone from an extinct and buried riverbed which had been carving its own canyon prior to being buried by new sediments from an advancing sea. But I've just come back from a fantastic road trip with my dad, and it seems that the holes in the creationist idea are even more gaping than I'd originally thought.

You see, the Grand Canyon is only part of the story. The layers which comprise the Grand Canyon are part of the overall Colorado Plateau, and these layers correlate to each other, making any creationist attempt to explain the Grand Canyon being carved by a breached dam from a now-extinct lake being left over from Noah's deluge a half-assed attempt, at best. It's like blaming one kid for all the graffiti in Chicago -- it's just too simple an explanation to be true.

Here's what I saw on my trip: The uppermost layers of the Grand Canyon, the Kaibab limestone, make up the lowermost layers of Zion National Park in Utah, whose towering canyon peaks are a sight to behold! Furthermore, the uppermost sandstone layers of Zion national park's mountain-peaks comprise the lowermost layers of Bryce Canyon National Park, also in Utah. These three make up what's known as the Grand Staircase (even though an area in the center of these three has been recently dubbed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument). That means that any "breached dam" creationists propose has to not only carve out the Grand Canyon, but also carve out Zion canyon, and somehow erode Bryce Canyon in a way which leaves hundreds and hundreds of hudoos (a hudoo being a towering chimney composed of eroding sedimentary layers, with larger tops than bottoms). Any rushing water would topple any column structures of Bryce Canyon, even if it were part of the creationists' bogus breached dam area, which it isn't, and even if Zion canyon weren't too far to the West to get carved out by said dam, which it is.

And there's more. Precambrian schist which is contemporaneous with the Vishnu shist at the bottom of Grand Canyon can be seen in Durango, Colorado, located on the Durango-Silverton rail line. Clearly visible from the tourist train is the layers of shist, and a v-shaped area where a river once carved out a channel before the whole area became embedded with sediment once again. Now, this layer would long predate any flooding event proposed by a Noachian hypothesis, so it again makes for a proper headache for biblical literalists. And these layers are also contemporaneous with the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, whose half-mile high cliff walls are composed entirely of pre-Cambrian schists. There's simply no way this ultra-hard canyon rock could have been laid down by Noah's flood, just as it is equally impossible that such ultra-hard rock could have eroded such a massive canyon in less than 6,000 years.

So the next time some creationist tries to spin-doctor Grand Canyon, ask him, what about Zion? What about Bryce Canyon? And what about the Black Canyon of the Gunnison? How do those fit Noah's flood.

Chances are, he'll not know. Not only because he hasn't confronted the question before, but because these geologic features don't fit his absurd world-view at all.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MadScience, and John Baumgardner

Well, as it turns out, I was unable to attend John Baumgardner's talk in Whitewater. These days, I'm working for MadScience, doing science demonstrations for kids, and there was a schedule conflict. Lucky for him, since I don't think he has an adequate response for my question about why he didn't use quartz crystal as a control for his R.A.T.E. experiment.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dr. John Baumgardner coming to town

Well, no sooner do I publish a blog which is critical of Dr. John Baumgardner than he decides to show up here in Wisconsin. He's speaking at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater, 3:00PM on April 15th, Hyland Hall, room 1000. I have every intention of going there to hear him speak, and asking him face-to-face why he didn't use a quartz crystal in his evaluation of radio-carbon-neutral samples such as coal and diamond. I'll let you know what he says.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

R.A.T.E. and Carbon-14 Dating

In the first RATE book (Volume 1), it was formally decided that any research into carbon-14 dating should not be done as it was not as relevant to the overall aim of researching radioisotopes with long half-lives. However, with a highly successful fundraising campaign, they apparently had a change of heart before the second book was to be published. Carbon-14 became a priority once again, and they did a research project on it that was probably the most interesting out of them all.

John Baumgardner did the presentation paper on 14C. To research the effectiveness of radiocarbon as a geologic clock, he turned to one of creationism’s oldest tricks: dating zero-sum samples. This is a tactic with a long tradition, going back to the 1960’s and 70’s, when recently deceased mollusks would be sent to laboratories to be carbon-dated, and they were found to be 2,000 years old, or more, in radiocarbon years.(1) (Isaac, 2005) Penguins or other Arctic/Antarctic creatures would sometimes also be used, ignoring the fact that ice is a repository for Carbon-12. For this test, however, a different kind of zero-sum was used. Instead of recently deceased samples, Baumgardner looked to the other end of the timeline, and dated extremely old samples. Coal, in fact.

It sounds absurdly simple: Do a radiocarbon date on a lump of coal, and because it’s so old, there should be virtually no 14C present. But the idea of doing a 14C date on a sample which should be completely radiocarbon-dead is not new. Creationists had claimed 14C trace-amount discrepancies inside coal and oil ever since at least the early 1970’s. (Whitelaw, 1970) But it had been noticed by other, more secular, scientists that trace amounts of radiocarbon were to be found in samples which are clearly far older than 50,000 years, even after the development of more accurate equipment, such as acceleration mass spectrometry, or AMS. Baumgardner has no end of fun in citing these sources in the opening sections of his paper. For example, he cites an article published by German scientists at the University of Kiel, stating how a barrier of 40,000 years could not be breached in dating the shells of foraminifera in sea-floor core samples due to apparent 14C contamination whose origin could not be determined. (Nadeau, et al., 2001) Another article cited openly states how “contamination” (Baumgardner’s quotation marks, not mine) is named as the cause of inaccuracy beyond the 40-50 thousand year mark. (Bird, et al., 1999). He even lists an exhaustive table detailing major scientific journals and the results of their radiocarbon measurements on samples deemed to be older than 100,000 years.

At this point, Baumgardner has successfully made his case, and no experiments really need to be done. But these cited sources do not simply establish the awareness among geochronologists of the problem. They also establish that the RATE team was well aware of this type of phenomenon, and saw an opportunity to use it.

For this study, samples of coal were obtained form the U.S. Department of Energy Coal Sample Bank maintained at Pennsylvania State University. These had previously been collected in 180kg quantities from recently exposed areas of active mines, placed in 115 liter steel drums, and then were purged with argon. The samples were then processed into representative 300g samples with .085mm particle size, and sealed under argon in foil multi-laminate bags. Ten out of 33 available coal samples were selected. These were then taken to “one of the world’s best AMS laboratories.” Baumgardner does not say which one, tacitly implying that there may be some legal consequences if it were named. The samples were combusted into CO2 and then converted to acetylene using a lithium carbide synthesis process. The acetylene was then dissociated in a high voltage AC electrical discharge to produce a circular disk of graphite on spherical aluminum pellets, which were to be the “targets” of the AMS system. Each target was then analyzed on 16 different spots as a variance check to help reduce any potential contamination of the sample. Four measurements were then done on each of the ten samples, with a standard background of 0.077±0.005 pMC (that’s percent of modern carbon) applied.

The results? Not surprisingly, trace amounts of 14C were found. In pMC the results ranged from 0.163 to 0.492. Faint traces, to be sure, but traces nevertheless.

So, Baumgardner showed that this discrepancy was much more than academic references to the scientific literature. It really was there. But the RATE team wasn’t quite done beating this dead horse just yet. Not content with their results on coal, they included another set of samples even more devoid of original radiocarbon – diamond!

About 50mg of sub-millimeter diamond chips were cut from a diamond obtained from the Kimberley district in South Africa. The sample had been shattered using a sapphire mortar and pestle. The diamond chips were then included with the ten coal samples sent to the unnamed AMS laboratory. These proved to be a challenge for the lab, since it had never before attempted to oxidize diamond. However, they were eventually successful, even though the results took considerably longer.

And those results? There were traces of 14C detected as well. This time, results on six measurements ranged from 0.1 to 0.15, ±.03, but no standard background correction was applied this time. These results, Baumgardner tells us, are statistically equivalent with the values given by the coal – approximately 0.12 pMC, or roughly the equivalent of 55,700 years. This, he says, confirms the accelerated decay model. Clearly, the reason these coals and diamonds are still showing some minute traces of age is because they aren’t the millions of years they are purported to be. Rather, they stem from the catastrophic geotectonic events surrounding the Flood event, with much of the coal stemming from the buried organic material which resulted.

The anomaly in 14C radiometric dating that Baumgardner helps unveil is interesting. But the conclusions he draws from them are questionable. The implication is that the 55,000 RCY produced in these 14C measurements somehow actually indicate a real age of something around 6,000. But Baumgardner cites the wrong sort of evidence for this. Were his scenario true, the accelerated decay, which he and every other RATE researcher seems to have decided took place during the Flood, and not the Creation Week, would have happened about 4,400 years ago – the time Biblical scholars have calculated that Noah’s flood happened. That means that 14C dating should show a consistent half-life pattern on all samples between modern-day and 4,400 years ago, but then suddenly leap into absurdly old ages on anything older than that. In other words, charcoal from, say, a Phonecian campfire, dated by other methods to be 5,000 years old, would yield a radiocarbon date of over 50,000 years! Baumgardner, however, cites nothing like this. Also, the trace amount of 14C does not quite fit the revised timeline of accelerated decay. As Baumgardner himself notes, any value of alpha decay large enough to produce 500 million years worth of decay in 87Rb with a half life of 48.8 billion years would entirely wipe out any and all 14C that might have been present before such an event occurred. In other words, coal and diamond should be radiocarbon dead anyway! His response?

"An important issue then arises as to how an episode of accelerated decay during the Flood might have affected a short half-life isotope like 14C. The surprising levels of 14C in fossil material from organisms that were alive before the cataclysm suggests that perhaps only a modest amount of accelerated 14C decay took place during the cataclysm itself, an amount insufficient to eliminate the 14C that existed in these organisms prior to the cataclysm. Accordingly, we here offer the tentative hypothesis that, whatever the physics was describing the decay acceleration, it did not operate in so simple a manner as to reduce temporarily the effective half-lives of all radioisotopes by the same factor." (Vardiman, et al., 2005:620)

The solution, it seems, is more fantastic than the puzzle!

Some procedural problems are noteworthy in Baumgardner’s work. For example, he doesn’t include the standard background of 0.077±0.005 pMC in his results for the diamond chips. Why did he do this? He fails to say, but one can surmise he did so in order to present results that looked more similar to his results on coal. Also, if a true test for contamination were intended, Baumgardner could have suggested a test be run upon a sample that is not only radiocarbon-dead, but outright carbon-devoid. Quartz would be an ideal choice, both because its structure is silicon dioxide, containing no carbon whatsoever, and because silicon has many properties which are similar to carbon, allowing a sample to be better prepared for the AMS. If, using quartz, some trace amount of 14C were detected, we would know the results were due to sample contamination from some outside source. This would have been a good control for Baumgardner’s experiments, and would have made his work a genuine bit of science instead of a deliberately planned foregone conclusion.

One thing bears noting: The RATE team does point out a legitimate anomaly in 14C dating techniques. Trace amounts of radiocarbon simply shouldn’t be present in coal or diamond. So how did it get there? The lack of information to be found on this matter seems to indicate that scientists have yet to adequately address this problem. But a likely answer, which is consistent with everything we already know, is that it’s simply a matter of trace amounts being detectable in anything, if the instruments are sensitive enough. Carbon 12 makes up 98.9% of all carbon, with Carbon-13 making up 1.1% The percentage taken up by Carbon-14 is already a trace element at today’s levels, only a million-millionth, or 10-8 %! The fact that we can do any radiometric dating at all with such tiny amounts is remarkable. The sources for the trace amounts of 14C could come from literally anywhere – the sweat of a coal miner’s brow, the oils secreted by fingers handling the sample without gloves, or even the CO2 exhaled by a nearby scientist. But even with painstaking precautions, the 14C seems to find a way into the AMS every time. It would be worthwhile to find out why.

Perhaps the most important lesson the RATE team has taught us, is that we oughtn’t be quite so smug. Even a blind squirrel may find a nut, and a legitimate criticism can come from any source, no matter how misguided. If nothing else, creationists force us to go over the data one more time, and that’s always a good thing.

(1) This was due, of course, to the reservoir effect, in which mollusks or certain benthics get the carbon in their shells from radiocarbon-dead source material, such as dissolved limestone.

R.A.T.E. and Fission Tracks

One might be tempted to say that of all the RATE team’s projects, the one dealing with radiohalos was the weakest. But the one dealing with fission tracks is equally poor, if not outright worse. Andrew Snelling again takes point on this project, and an objective reading will safely conclude that his work is again profoundly rickety, at best. A thorough recount will therefore neither be needed nor given here. Only a brief overview is needed.

Now, to clarify some things, it would help to give a crash-course in fission-track dating. The idea is that after a crystal forms, radio-decay will emit particles out of and through the solid crystal. This has the effect of "scoring" or "scratching" the crystalline structure at the atomic level, because the mass of the emitted particle slices through the surrounding atoms. This leaves a track, much the same way that a bicycle tire leaves a track through gravel. If acid is added to the crystal surface, the tiny atomic tracks can be widened, because with each successive layer of atoms removed by the acid, the "groove" becomes deeper. Eventually, one can see these tracks with a high enough resolution microscope, and then be able to count them. From this, one can make an estimate as to the age of the crystal, dating from the time it initially hardened.

To conduct his study, Snelling selected samples from a few locations, including the Cambrian Muav and Tapeats tuffs from the western Grand Canyon (which he ascribes to being “early Flood”), Jurassic Morrison Formation tuff beds in southeastern Utah (“middle Flood”), and the Miocene Peach Springs Tuff, southeastern California (“post Flood”). The fission track ages of the zircon grains in these samples was determined by Action Laboratories in Ontario using the external detector method and a zeta calibration factor. The fission track dating estimates were the same as the ages determined using U-Pb isotope measurements, and a thermal resetting event in the Grand Canyon samples corresponded precisely with the onset of the Laramide uplift of the Colorado Plateau. These results clearly indicated that more than 500 million years worth of radioisotope decay has taken place (“at today’s rates”), yet Snelling concludes that this is evidence for the same sort of accelerated nuclear decay that has been cited in the other RATE research papers.

There is nothing in Snelling’s evaluation of fission tracks that would, by itself, cause one to conclude that millions of years worth of radioactive decay had taken place. In other words, nothing indicates accelerated decay. To make that case, he calls upon independent verification of such a conclusion from other sources. And which sources does he cite? Why, you guessed it! The same work by Humphreys, Austin, and himself, as cited in earlier on this blog! (He also cites one other reference by Baumgardener, which will be dealt with shortly.) He simply researches the fission tracks, obtains dates reasonably consistent with old-earth geology, and then claims they support a young earth anyway. Not only does the Emperor have no clothes, but the clothes have no Emperor, either.

Even more fatal to his interpretation is the annealing of the fission tracks in the Grand Canyon samples, caused by the same geologic events responsible for the Kaibab upwarp. Snelling claims that it was accelerated decay which heated the zircons enough to erase the fission tracks and reset the radioisotope clock. But this same accelerated decay is also purportedly responsible for more than fifty million years of fission tracking since that point. So there is an inherent contradiction in his version of events. Either the accelerated decay would have heated the zircons enough to all but completely wipe out any fission tracks, or the accelerated decay did not take place within the past 50 million years – more than enough to disprove his 6,000-year creationist paradigm anyway. To reconcile this problem, Snelling again invokes the obligatory “rapid cooling” event, for which he has no evidence.

R.A.T.E. and Nuclear Decay Theory

The R.A.T.E. team's research project to “conduct a literature search for evidence and models of accelerated nuclear decay and adapt to a creationist worldview if appropriate” fell to Eugene F. Chaffin. He describes his approach:

"In this chapter we will advance the hypothesis that the coupling constants for the strong and possibly the weak force are actually not constants but variables. We shall point out many instances in the scientific literature where physicists have considered this as a real possibility." (Vardiman et al., 2005:526)

And, Dr. Chaffin does precisely that. There are, in fact many working scientists who have openly considered the possibility of whether or not the coupling constants of atomic nuclei were always as they are now. However, the context in which these speculations have been made have been regarding the conditions shortly after the “Big Bang,” or in singularities such as black holes. Chaffin finds lots of fun references in the scientific literature, though, citing everyone from Edward Witten in relation to string theory (or “M” theory, as it’s now called), to Stephen Hawking. He discussed everything from Kaluza-Klein theory to Calabi-Yau shapes. He left very few stones unturned in terms of modern quantum mechanics.

So how did he do? Did he point out any instances in which accelerated decay had been observed? No. Did he suggest any mechanism by which the Fermi coupling constants might shift? No. If the strong or weak forces had shifted, did he suggest when? No. Did he suggest any means by which accelerated decay might be detectable? Ah! Here he was just a little bit successful!

Chaffin suggests that one means of detecting accelerated decay involves double β-decay. This rare type of decay occurs when two electrons are emitted in the same decay, (not just two β-decays in succession). The only useful isotope for which the half-life for double β-decay has been directly measured is 82Se. So, Chaffin suggests, it is possible to use this to see if accelerated decay is indicated. If the Fermi constant (GF) is changing, then the half-life for double β-decay should change relative to that for ordinary β-decay. Hence, he suggests, what is needed is a suite of samples for which 82Se and its decay product 82Kr have been measured, and also some other measurements such as K/Ar or Rb/Sr.

To be completely honest, the logic behind this is somewhat lost on me. I don’t know enough about quantum mechanics to be able to say that the Fermi constant would be seen as shifting if the half life of double β-decay changes or not. However, it is a pure research proposal which goes to learning more about the precise nature of the atom. With continued experiments along these lines going on every day, particularly at the recently repaired Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe, such an experiment may accidentally yield a glimmer of insight into such physics. As such, I’m in favor of Dr. Chaffin’s proposal. A good suggestion is a good suggestion, regardless of whether the person doing the suggesting might possibly be a complete crackpot with an axe to grind.

Would this sort of experiment find any confirmation for the creationist viewpoint? I strongly suspect not. In fact, if it is shown that the Fermi equation is “shiftable,” then it would have to have shifted after the onset of the existence of planet Earth, and I highly doubt that is the case. I agree with the other scientists quoted, that the “shift” would have occurred close to the point of the “Big Bang,” or perhaps within black holes.

All in all, Chaffin’s research project achieved very little in terms of advancing his agenda. But it made for some damned interesting reading!