Jonathan Sarfati's "Refuting Evolution": Refuted by Reality
Dr. Kevin R. Henke
Dr. Kevin R. Henke
(Some links updated: 9 July,
(Some links updated: 9 July, 2003)
Young-Earth creationist Jonathan Sarfati has written a book entitledAmazon.com
"Refuting Evolution" See:
Like most young-Earth creationist books that I've read, Jonathan Sarfati's "Refuting Evolution" is full of elementary errors in astronomy, chemistry, geology and the nature of science. For example, when arguing for a "young" Universe, Sarfati (p. 113) claims that no stage 3 supernova remnants exist in our or neighboring galaxies. However, 166.2+2.5, 180.0-1.7, 189.1+3.0, 279.0+1.1, and 290.1-0.8 are just five undisputed examples of these "nonexistent" remnants. For more information on Sarfati's mistaken views of astronomy and cosmology, see Supernovae, Supernova Remnants, and Young-Earth Creationism FAQ by Dave Moore, which includes additional discussions on third-stage remnants and many supporting references.
Sarfati (p. 113) also claims that a "lack" of helium escape from the atmosphere supports its "youth." However, recent NASA images show helium and other gases being SWEPT from the Earth's atmosphere into deep space. One event occurred on September 24-25, 1998 after a solar coronal mass emission (see Solar Wind Blows Some of the Earth's Atmosphere into Space and Solar Wind Squeezes Some of the Earth's Atmosphere into Space). Also, see Young earth "Proof #14: Helium and the "Young" Earth by Dave Matson.
So, why don't creationists use heavier gases (e.g. argon) that won't readily escape into space when they try to date the Earth's atmosphere? Perhaps, it's because the atmospheric 40argon/36argon is consistent with an ancient Earth (Dalrymple, 1984, p. 83; Krauskopf and Bird, 1995, p. 576) and it cannot be distorted to support their interpretations of Genesis.
Using poorly known numbers from his allies, Sarfati (p. 114) argues that salt concentrations in ocean water should be much higher if the oceans were billions of years old. However, as discussed at The Sea's Salt by Glenn Morton, this argument also fails. When hot basaltic lavas erupt onto the seafloor, they remove sodium from seawater as they quench (Hyndman, 1985, p. 556-560).This process, called albitization, refers to the accumulation of sodium in the cooling rocks during quenching. Because young-Earth creationists ignore this important sodium-removal mechanism, their salinity calculations underestimate the age of the oceans.
Sarfati (p. 110) also claims that radioactive potassium and uranium are "easily dissolved" in water and that the leaching of these parent radionuclides from rocks supposedly can disrupt radiometric dating calculations. Sarfati should know better than to make such blanket statements (doesn't he have a Ph.D. in chemistry?) As taught in any introductory chemistry course, water solubility and the ability of uranium, potassium and other elements to weather out of minerals depend on the compounds that contain the elements and the oxidation state of the elements.For example, uranium (IV) is generally insoluble in water, but (UO2)+2 is highly soluble (Langmuir, 1997, p. 495-496). Potassium chloride is very soluble in water, but potassium muscovite is not and it's low on Goldich's weathering series. Even if Sarfati's accusations were true, they're irrelevant to radiometric dates on rocks from the airless and waterless Moon.
Geologists know that sediments may be deposited slowly and gradually in some cases. In other situations, sediments may be deposited rapidly by mudslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and other NATURAL catastrophes (no Genesis Flood is required). Yet, Sarfati (p. 105) describes the deposition of 7.6 meters of volcanic material in one afternoon at Mt. St. Helens as if it were profound news to geologists. Before Sarfati makes such "proclamations", he should look at the literature and learn some geology. Of course, scientists knew about natural catastrophes when they began to excavate the ruins of Pompeii in the middle 1800s. Besides Pompeii, geologists have known for years that volcanic materials are often rapidly and catastrophically deposited (Fisher and Schmincke, 1984, p. 107-115, 191, 192, 198-206, 247-256; Schmincke et al., 1973; Carey, 1991).
Sarfati (p. 106) also mentions as "news" creationist Berhault's lab work on the rapid formation of sediment layering. However, Berhault's results are similar to layering in catastrophic turbidites, which geologist Bouma described in 1962.
Furthermore, Sarfati (p. 105-107) is mistaken to believe that local natural catastrophes on the Earth or Mars can just be scaled up to produce Noah's flood. There are limits to the effects of fluid flow, chemical reactions and gravity.
Geologists discovered by 1840 that nature refutes Noah's Flood and young-Earth creationism (Young, 1982, p. 51-54). Today, the evidence against young-Earth creationism continues to accumulate. For example, Young (1977, p. 197-198) argues that the Franciscan Formation in California took millions of years to form. The Franciscan Formation consists of fossil-bearing marine sediments that contain glaucophane and other blueschist minerals. Laboratory studies indicate that glaucophane, jadeite and other blueschist minerals can only form under high pressures and relatively low temperatures. Specifically, mineral assemblages in parts of the Franciscan Formation indicate metamorphic conditions of about 450 +/- 50C and pressures around 8 +/- 1 kilobars (Turner, 1981, p.428). Pressures of 8 kilobars are obtained by burying rocks to depths of 27 kilometers or about 18 miles (Winkler, 1979, p. 5), which can easily occur in subduction zones (Turner, 1981, p. 609-610, 661). Thermodynamic and mineralogic data indicate that blueschist minerals will not form at higher temperatures and lower pressures. Furthermore, because they form at relatively low temperatures, the thermal conditions are too sluggish for the minerals to rapidly grow. That is, blueschist minerals need TIME to develop. The fossils in the rocks indicate that they were originally at the surface. They were then subducted to a depth of 18 miles, held there LONG enough for sluggish-forming blueschist minerals to grow, and then uplifted to the surface. Such burial and uplift movements and mineralogical reactions are totally incompatible with the maximum young-Earth creationist time scale of 10,000 years.
Thick salt deposits are too soluble to have formed during Noah's Flood, including the widespread and delicate salt varves of the Castile Formation (Blatt et al., 1980, p. 550-553). Based on their trace element chemistry, thick salt deposits are clearly non-hydrothermal and formed from the slow evaporation of seawater in isolated basins (Krauskopf and Bird, 1995, p. 370).
Many minerals do not exist in ancient Earth rocks because they become unstable OVER TIME. If all of the geologic record was only a few thousand years old as Sarfati claims, then we would expect to find volcanic glasses, aragonite, tridymite, and many other metastable minerals and "mineraloids" in Precambrian and early Paleozoic rocks. Although these minerals do not exist in very ancient rocks on Earth, some of them may occur in meteorites or Moon rocks, which have been isolated from oxygen and water. For example, the oldest glass-bearing welded tuffs on Earth are about 70 million years old (Phillips and Griffen, 1981, p.330). Although geologists find the alteration products of obsidian or volcanic glass throughout the geologic record, obsidian is rarely found in rocks older than the Miocene or about 25 million years ago (Phillips and Griffen, 1981, p. 330). These absences are due to the fact that volcanic glasses and tuffs tend to alter to quartz or other minerals over time. Opal is also unstable over time. Rate calculations indicate that opal will alter to quartz in about 180 million years at 20C or in about 4.3 million years at 50C. Not surprisingly, the oldest known opal is Lower Cretaceous or about 120 million years old (Blatt et al., 1980, p.581).
Young-Earth creationists may speculate that pressures were higher during the earlier parts of the "Flood" and that certain minerals did not form. However, aragonite, a calcium carbonate mineral, is more stable under higher pressures. Aragonite tends to alter over time to calcite unless it is deeply buried and kept under very high pressures. Yet the oldest known aragonites are from the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian periods (Blatt et al., 1980, p. 491-492).So, why is aragonite present in modern sediments but absent in early Paleozoic rocks despite burial? The only answer is that the Paleozoic rocks are much older than the Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks. Only vast amounts of time can explain these changes in mineralogy.
Other indicators that the Earth is ancient include fossil soils (paleosols, see Radiometric Dating, Paleosols and the Geologic Column: Three strikes against Young Earth Creationism), extinct short-lived radionuclides (Dalrymple, 1991, p. 376-387), the Green River Formation with its varve cycles that beautifully conform with the Earth's 100,000-year eccentricity (see More Errors On True.Origin: J. Sarfati's Support of Flood Geology), The Oklo "reactor", in place coral reefs and their growth rings (Young, 1982, p. 84-86; Wonderly, 1977; Reefs and Young-Earth Creationism), fossil desert ventifacts, and the fact that radiation from the Sun's core takes about 1 million years to migrate to the surface and escape into space (see Sun). Odom and Rink (1989) have even provided a natural, old-Earth explanation for young-Earth creationist Gentry's famous and supposedly miraculous polonium haloes.
Sarfati (p. 107) and other creationists often claim that polystrate trees are "evidence" of rapid sediment deposition and supposedly lend support to "Noah's Flood". Polystrate trees consist of tree trunks that have been buried by sediments. They may quickly form from mudslides and hurricanes. However, sometimes the formation of polystrate trees is much slower than Sarfati (p. 107) realizes. For example, in 1700 AD an earthquake caused some coastline trees in Washington State to sink to a few meters below sea level. Contrary to Sarfati's claims (p. 107) that dead trees won't remain standing for centuries, these trees are still standing today and are slowly being buried to form polystrate trees. Photographs of these trees and how polystrate trees can form without Genesis are shown at the following web sites:
Cascadia Subduction Zone Slide Show
The Effects of Subsidence on Coastal Vegetation
Other modern polystrate trees occur in Texas and at Mt. St. Helens, all without Noah's Flood. Furthermore, the tree ring record (dendrochronology) alone has a well-established and complete history back to least 11,000 years ago (Beck et al., 2001 and Bard, 2001). Creationist Aardsma (1993) probably saw this day coming when he committed "heresy" and admitted that tree rings require that "Noah's Flood" occurred more than 10,000 years ago.
Sarfati (p. 110) mentions how creationist Austin obtained "anomalously old" radiometric dates from recently erupted volcanic dacites at Mt. St. Helens. Austin's photograph (Figure 4) at Excess Argon within Mineral Concentrates from the New Dacite Lava Dome at Mount St. Helens Volcano) clearly shows zoned feldspar xenocrysts in the volcanics. Zoned feldspars typically form as the calcium concentration of the host magma declines and the sodium concentration is enriched. The zoning indicates that the feldspars have a long cooling history. The cores of the feldspars could be hundreds of thousands or a few million years older than the rims. As others have pointed out at anti-creationism web sites, the zoning is probably why Austin got a K/Ar age of 340,000 years for his feldspar/glass concentrate. The glass may have crystallized in the 1980s as Austin expected, but the feldspars may be much older. Bowen's reaction series (Perkins, 1998, p. 93-95) states that olivines, pyroxenes and Ca-feldspars are the first minerals to crystallize out of a mafic to intermediate magma. As the magma cools and the temperature drops, hornblendes and more sodium-rich feldspars may crystallize. As the temperature continues to drop, feldspars even richer in sodium, crystallize. By this time the magma may reach the surface and the remaining melt may be rapidly quenched to a glass. If Austin really wanted to date the 1986 eruption, he should have only sampled the glass. This is NOT an easy task and it may not be possible with a messy rock like this dacite. Austin's K/Ar dates are consistent with Bowen's reaction series. The pyroxene fractions, which should have crystallized first, provide the oldest ages of 1.7 - 2.8 million years. The amphiboles, which crystallized later, are in a fraction that provided a younger age of 0.9 million years. His glass and feldspar fraction is probably a mixture of young glass, old Ca-feldspars, and sodium-rich feldspars that have an intermediate age. Not surprisingly, this mixture gave a younger date of about 340,000 years. His whole rock date of 350,000 was no doubt affected by a mixture of young glass, older feldspar and pyroxene phenocrysts and some possibly ancient xenocrysts or lightly colored (hard to see) xenoliths. In conclusion, Austin's results do NOTHING to refute the validity of K/Ar dating.
Sarfati (p. 18) is correct that science only favors natural explanations. Natural explanations are superior to the wild, untestable supernatural speculations that originate from the boundless imaginations of creationists. If creationists believe that it's suitable to invoke supernatural explanations in biology, why don't they advocate their use in courtrooms, forensic labs, sanitariums and hospitals? Obviously, even creationists realize that bacteria better explain diseases than demons. Furthermore, any defense attorney would be disbarred if he/she argued that a demon and not the suspect committed the crime. Whether we're dealing with a murder victim, thick salt deposits, diseases, snow flakes, or craters, viable explanations don't involve gods, demons, Noah's Flood or Jack Frost.
While creationists object to the lack of eyewitnesses and repeatability in paleontology, how many of them will object to the sole use of forensics with its lack of repeatability and eyewitnesses in criminal trials? Murderers are often solely convicted on forensic evidence without any eyewitness testimony. Forensic scientists may even have less evidence for the death of a victim than paleontologists have for the death of a dinosaur. However, unlike paleontology, innocent people may be executed if a forensic scientist misinterprets a past event. How many creationists will demand eyewitness testimony before suspects may be convicted and executed?
Sarfati (p. 15) claims that creationists rely on science, but they really rely on "god-of-the-gaps". Whenever science finds natural explanations and the gap closes, young-Earth creationists simply remold their plastic Bible interpretations to claim that the Bible had the answers all along (e.g., Sarfati, p. 97-98) or that the obviously ridiculous verses are just non-literal "poetry" (e.g., Sarfati, p.100-101). While Sarfati (p. 100-101) clearly admits that verses in the Psalms are not literal, it's too bad that he won't make the same admission with the talking snakes and magical fruit in Genesis.
Sarfati repeatedly attacks contemporary Christians that support an old Earth, but he (p. 26) has different standards for famous unorthodox Christians of the past. Despite Sarfati's contempt for contemporary old-Earth advocates (such as Hugh Ross), he praises Buckland, Cuvier, Agassiz and Kelvin, whose views of Science and Religion were more like Ross' than Sarfati's. Kelvin, for example, believed that the Earth was older than 20 million years. Sarfati (p. 26) also admires Newton, but ignores his Unitarianism (see Sir Isaac Newton on the Bible; Force and Popkin, 1999). Sarfati (p. 29) even praises Wernher von Braun, but overlooks von Braun's nazism. Von Braun was an SS officer, although historians don't agree about his dedication to the nazi party and how involved he was in the use and killing of slave laborers (Excerpts from "Power to Explore"; "The Rocket Man's Dark Side"). Von Braun's nazi ties were so well-known and controversial that comic genius Tom Lehrer wrote a satirical song about him circa 1965: Tom Lehrer's "Salute" to Wernher von Braun.
Galileo, Copernicus and Steno were creationists as Sarfati (p. 26) states, but considering the intolerance of Catholics and Protestants back then, everyone HAD to accept the dogma or face persecution. Nevertheless, Sarfati and Galileo's persecutors have at least one important frightening characteristic in common. They both believe that theology or biblical interpretations have final authority over the meaning of scientific discoveries. This essay only discusses a few of the numerous errors in chemistry, geology, biology, astronomy and the nature of science in Sarfati's book. Because of the fatal flaws in "Refuting Evolution," this book fails to refute anything.
[See also Does Dr Jonathan Sarfati Have Any Integrity?]
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Bard, E., 2001, "Extending the Calibration Radiocarbon Record," Science, v. 292, n. 5526, p. 2443-2444.
Beck, J.W.; D.A. Richards, R. L. Edwards, B.W. Silverman, P.L. Smart, D.J. Donahue, S. Hererra-Osterheld, G.S. Burr, L. Calsoyas, A.J.T. Jull, and D. Biddulph, 2001, "Extremely Large Variations of Atmospheric 14C Concentration during the Last Glacial Period," Science, v. 292, n. 5526, p. 2453-2458.
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Bouma, A.H., 1962, Sedimentology of Some Flysch Deposits, Elsevier Pub., Amsterdam.
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Dalrymple, G. B., 1984, "How Old is the Earth?: A Reply to 'Scientific' Creationism," in Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science, vol. 1, pt. 3, Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites (Eds).
Dalrymple, G.B, 1991, The Age of the Earth, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.
Fisher, R.V. and Schmincke, H.-U., 1984, Pyroclastic Rocks, Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Force, J.E. and R.H. Popkin (eds.), 1999, Newton and Religion: Context, Nature and Influence, Kluwer Academic Pub., Dordrecht.
Hyndman, D.W., 1985, Petrology of Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks, 2nd ed., McGraw-Hill, New York.
Krauskopf, K.B. and D. K. Bird, 1995, Introduction to Geochemistry, 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, Boston.
Langmuir, D., 1997, Aqueous Environmental Geochemistry, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Odom, A. Leroy and William J. Rink, "Giant Radiation-induced Color Halos in Quartz: Solution to a Riddle," Science, vol. 246, October, 1989, p. 107-109.
Perkins, D., 1998, Mineralogy, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Phillips, William Revell and Dana T. Griffen, 1981, Optical Mineralogy: The Nonopaque Minerals, W. H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco.
Sarfati, J., 1999, Refuting Evolution, Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas, USA.
Schmincke, H.-U., R.V. Fisher, and A.C. Waters, 1973, "Antidune and Chute and Pool Structures in the Base Surge Deposits of the Laacher See Area, Germany," Sedimentology, v. 20, p. 553-574.
Turner, Francis J., 1981, Metamorphic Petrology, 2nd Ed., Hemisphere Publishing Co., Washington, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York.
Winkler, H. G. F., 1979, Petrogenesis of Metamorphic Rocks, fifth edition, Springer-Verlag, New York.
Wonderly, Daniel E., 1977, God's Time-Records in Ancient Sediments, Crystal Press, Flint, MI.
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