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An Ageless Story

John Blanton and Jeff Umbarger

From the Newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics Volume 6 Number 5, May 1992

Part II

In last month's issue we started our discussion of MIOS chairman Don Patton's arguments for a young Earth. In his talk at the February MIOS meeting Don cited numerous references to legitimate scientists, references that he indicated would prove that the methods of mainstream science were useless in estimating the age of the earth.

Last month we detailed the context of one of Don's citations and showed how the meaning of the original article had been seriously misrepresented in the MIOS lecture. This month we complete our analysis by examining another of the citations used in the MIOS lecture.

The second and last of the MIOS citations we will describe here deals with dating of moon rocks. Here is the text from the handout under the heading "DATING OF MOON SAMPLES: PITFALLS AND PARADOXES."

What complicates things for the uranium-lead method is that non-radiogenic lead 204, 206, 207 and 208 also exist naturally, and scientists are not sure what ratios of non-radiogenic to radiogenic lead were early in the moon's history. ... The problem of how much lead was around to begin with still remains. ... If all of the age-dating methods (rubidium-strontium, uranium-lead and potassium-argon) had yielded the same ages, the picture would be neat. But they haven't.

Looks like a bad day for science, doesn't it. It turns out to be a bad day for creation science. Note the ellipses (...) that appear in the MIOS text. Now this may sound naive, but to most of us this means that irrelevant or redundant text has been omitted. See how wrong we can be? Here is the text from the article by Everly Driscoll in Science News.

Trying to unravel lunar history by long distance, or even by sampling six or seven areas of the surface, is a precarious job and subject to much interpretation. Much controversy during the past two years has centered around the interpretation that should be given to the ages of the lunar material -- ages yielded by studying its radioactive history. If all of the age-dating methods (rubidium-strontium, uranium-lead and potassium-argon) had yielded the same ages, the picture would be neat. But they haven't. The lead ages, for example, have been consistently older.
In addition to uranium 238 converting to lead 206, uranium 235, with a half-life of 713 million years, decays to form lead 207, and thorium 232, with a half-life of 14 billion years, decays to form lead 208.

What complicates things for the uranium-lead method is that nonradiogenic lead 204, 206, 207 and 208 also exist naturally, and scientists are not sure what the ratios of nonradiogenic to radiogenic lead were early in the moon's history. Wherever there is nonradiogenic lead 204, however, there is usually nonradiogenic lead 206, 207 and 208.

To arrive at the percentage of nonradiogenic lead present on the early moon, one can take the ratios of nonradiogenic lead 206 to 204, 207 to 204 and 208 to 204 found in meteorites (these ratios are 9.5, 10.5 and 20 respectively); but the question unanswered is, are these meteoric lead ratios the same as those that existed on the moon? Those scientists who are willing to accept the 4.6-billion-year-old age of meteorites and apply that to the moon are often not willing to apply the lead ratios found in meteorites to the moon.
Another example is with sample 14163. This sample, says Silver, has already shown that some parts of the lead could not have formed more recently than 4 billion years ago, and it probably includes some components considerably older than 4.0 billion years. Silver heated the sample. At 550 degrees C. the lead that came off had very high lead 207 to 206 ratios. One would have expected to see a ratio of 0.6 lead 207 to 206 for lead that had been forming continuously since 4.5 billion years ago. But what he saw were ratios of 1.2 or 1.3. "This isotopic composition has never been observed anywhere in the material of the solar system," says Silver.

If these lead ratios were interpreted as other ratios, the lead would have apparent ages as high as 5.5 billion years. But, says Silver, "We are probably looking at lead 207 made very early in the solar system before it could be diluted with lead 206, and this large amount of lead 207 has had more time to move around." Lead that is similarly bound comes off at the same temperatures. There is usually a correlation with the age of the lead, but the implications of this are not fully understood.

Tatsumoto and Doe have been working with lead at different temperatures (1,000 to 1,350 degrees C.), and they are getting similar results. The most significant has been isolating lead that consistently dates at 4.6 billion years old (SN: 12/18/71, p. 423).

The Problem of how much lead was around to begin with still remains. This could be partially solved by dating all of the soil samples from the moon, determining the over-all effects on each soil sample and getting a convergence point.

The broader implications of the history of volatile metals are apparent even if not all of the results and answers are yet. Volatile metals such as mercury, lead, zinc, cadmium, bismuth, rubidium and potassium are important to man. If scientists could unlock the history of these chemical reservoirs -- what the chemical pot started from, how it evolved and what makes it work -- says Silver, and if they could understand these processes on the moon, they might know how to use them today on earth and predict for tomorrow. "We don't know the total chemistry for the earth, but our best chance of understanding it is on the moon."

Obviously the forgoing does not make as interesting reading as the MIOS text, especially since Driscoll did not see fit to arrange the original text in an order that would later be useful to the creationists. What the complete text shows is scientists working without the master blueprint (as they often do) and trying to make something useful of the information they have at hand. What the complete text does not show is scientists expressing doubts that the moon is billions of years old, as was implied during the lecture. Also, we plead guilty of using the notorious ellipses to shorten the extracted text and to avoid completely reprinting Driscoll's article.

Perhaps it was our mistake but on listening to the MIOS presentation, we felt the speaker was telling us that a representative of mainstream science was reporting in a reputable journal that radiometric dating in general and the uranium-lead analysis in particular is fraught with such perilous assumptions as to render it completely unreliable.

We were further led to believe that we should conclude that all claims of a 4-billion plus year-old earth (that goes for the moon, too) were false, based on this line of reasoning (Don ended up stating his belief that the earth is less than 10,000 years old). It appeared to us that the MIOS audience generally reached this conclusion. Perhaps they would have reached this conclusion even if the full text been presented. Perhaps they would have been bored to tears.

Don's lecture consisted of a slide presentation that closely paralleled the material handed out at the conclusion, and he additionally presented some slides that represented his ideas photographically. The greatest difficulty the two of us had was with the quotes extracted from texts and journals and presented as supporting the invalidity of scientific aging methods. In all, there were seventeen citations in the handouts from various journals and texts, including Science, Science News, Scientific American, Nature and Journal of Geology.

Additionally, the handouts included citations from William D. Stansfield's Science of Evolution. An entire page printed front and back consisted mainly of quotations from the book. There were other citations from the slide presentation that were not available in the handouts. Jeff managed to track down seven citations in the library at first pass, and in general, while they may contain phrases critical of certain aspects of various age dating techniques, the entire texts of the citations do not support the conjecture of the MIOS presentation -- that claims of an earth over four billion years old are invalid. Where we have been able to crosscheck the citations against the actual text, we have noted that the classic out-of-context stunt is being pulled to make it appear that mainstream science supports the MIOS view.

In a phone interview later in the month, Don Patton claimed authorship of all the materials presented at the lecture. This dispels our idea that MIOS gets all of its literature from the Institute for Creation Research. Don says he does his own research, mostly at local libraries, and prepares the presentation materials himself. He announced that the next MIOS lecture, on the first Tuesday in March, would continue the same theme to the scientific evidence for the age of the universe.

MIOS holds monthly meetings with talks by Don Patton and other prominent MIOS members as well as by outside lecturers. The meetings have traditionally been held on the first Tuesday of each month at the Ridgewood Recreation Center on Fisher Road in Dallas. They start about 7:30 PM and are open to the public. I urge NTS members and others interested in the issue to attend one or more of the MIOS lectures to get a firsthand experience with the local version of "creation science." Call John Blanton at (214) 416-8038 [now 972-306-3187] in advance of the meeting to confirm the schedule and current topic.


E. Driscoll, Science News 101, 12

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