PZ Myers Needs Better Reading Skills Than That

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

I was delighted to see that another blog post of mine is the subject of yet another diatribe by Dr. PZ Myers (Creatonists Need Better Evidence Than That). For those who missed it, my post on Mark Armitage’s groundbreaking original research bothered Dr. Myers, and he wrote a response that showed he didn’t really bother to read much about the issue. I wrote a reply that was designed to educate him on the issue. His newest diatribe is a response to that reply. Unfortunately, while Dr. Myers has shown more of an ability to read than he did in his first attempt, he needs to sharpen his reading skills if he ever wants to be informed on the issues that he is attempting to discuss. Perhaps this post will help.

Let’s start with Dr. Myers’s first problem. He doesn’t like the fact that carbon-14 has been found in a Triceratops fossil that is supposed to be millions of years old. In his first attempt at ignoring the data, he claimed:

If the bone was really young, you wouldn’t just be reporting that there was some C14 in it, you’d be reporting an age derived from a ratio.

In my response, I noted that this is just what was reported. The fossil was given a C-14 age of 41,010 ± 220 years. Of course, now he claims that such an age is meaningless. Why? He says that the date indicates there is very little carbon-14 in the fossil – so little that it could be explained by a source other than the Triceratops itself.

But had Dr. Myers bothered to read the post carefully, he would have seen that there are many reasons to discount such an idea. First, as I point out, the processing done on the sample has been worked out in the peer-reviewed literature and is designed to get carbon from the fossil itself and get rid of contaminants.

Second, while a date of 41,010 ± 220 years is near the practical limit of carbon-14 dating, it is not at or over that limit. As I point out in my post, there are much older carbon-14 dates in the peer-reviewed literature, and they are thought to be accurate. Some of those dates are produced with the exact same process as what was performed on Armitage’s Triceratops fossil. If those dates don’t represent a misuse of carbon-14 dating, then Armitage’s date doesn’t, either.

Third, as I mention in my post, there are a lot of other dinosaur bones that have been dated via the carbon-14 system, and they give dates that are even younger. In fact, twenty dinosaur samples gave carbon-14 dates that are all under 40,000 years old. One hadrosaur fossil dates as “young” as 22,380 ± 800 years. These dates are clearly not the result of using the carbon-14 system too near its practical limit.

But here is the statement that makes it clear Dr. Myers has not read up on this issue at all:

Date a carbon sample that’s a hundred thousand years old; it will return an age of 50,000 years. Carbon date a chunk of coal from the Carboniferous, 300 million years ago, and it will return an age of 50,000 years.

This, of course, is false, and anyone who has read up on carbon-14 dating should know that. First, the link above lists 20 dinosaur samples, all of which are supposedly older than 100,000 years old, and all of them return an age of well under 50,000 years. Either the samples aren’t older than 100,000 years, Dr. Myers’s statement is wrong, or (most likely) both.

Second, it is common in the literature to report radiocarbon dates in terms of a lower limit. In this study, for example, a sample is reported to be “>52,000” years old. Such a date means that any carbon-14 signal which might have been detected from the fossil could not be distinguished from the noise. If something really is too old to return a carbon-14 age, the age is generally reported that way. Thus, if something really is 100,000+ years old, it should return a value of “>X,” where X represents the maximum radiocarbon age that can be determined in the experimental setup.

Dr. Myers also suggests that underground radioactive sources might have generated the carbon-14 detected in the dating process. While that might sound reasonable, anyone who has read up on this issue knows it can’t explain what has been measured. As calculations presented on my blog indicate, neutron capture simply cannot produce a significant amount of carbon-14 from carbon. Also, the radiocarbon dates of dinosaur bones are not correlated with the amount of radioactivity in the rocks. If radioactive processes were producing carbon-14 in the fossil, the carbon-14 dates would be younger for the fossils from rocks that contain more radioactivity. They are not.

I have spent most of this discussion on the carbon-14 content of Armitage’s fossil, because that is the subject upon which Dr. Myers seems to be the least informed. However, he also doesn’t like the fact that soft Triceratops cells are found in the fossil. At first, he tried to pass them off as cells from insects, fungi, or bacteria, but my response to his first post must have alerted him to his basic histological error: that insects, fungi, and bacteria do not have bone cells. He has now changed his stance to:

My answer to that is…I don’t know. It’s weird.

He seems to think that since it was hard for him to isolate and observe single cells, there is no way that Armitage could do it. That’s hardly a reasonable argument.

I suggest that Dr. Myers actually attempt to read Armitage’s peer-reviewed paper or his Microscopy Today paper. If he does that, he can at least begin to understand the data. Perhaps he will also pick up some laboratory techniques for better isolating and observing single cells.


  1. Gregory Batz says:

    “He seems to think that since it was hard for him to isolate and observe single cells, there is no way that Armitage could do it.”

    That is almost exactly what I replied in reddit to someone who alerted me to Myer’s response.

    I was hoping for a reply from you regarding his update so I could add it to my reddit discussion. Thank you!

    1. JoeCoder says:

      If you are on reddit you should join our community at reddit.com/r/creation, if you haven’t already.

      1. Jay Wile says:

        Thanks for the offer, but I typically don’t do online communities. I am not against them. I just do other things.

  2. John says:

    My instincts say PZ is slightly intrigued. As a scientist, how could you not be ?

    1. Jay Wile says:

      I don’t think so. In his mind, creationists are idiots, so there is no way they could produce anything even the slightest bit intriguing. I could be wrong, of course. I hope I am.

      1. Bill McClymonds says:

        Dr. Wile, you mentioned the mind of Dr. PZ Myers. I thought you might be interested in his video debate with Dr. Fuz Rana. It reveals what he thinks about his mind and memory.


        About the one hour twenty seven minute mark of the debate on YouTube (by Reasons to Believe) between Dr Rana and Dr. Myers, a question is asked by Dr. Rana. The question concerns the reliability of the human mind given the evolutionary history of the development of the mind. In response, PZ states “one of the things that is absolutely true is that our minds are unreliable” . He also said “memory is unreliable, we often make logical fallacies”. While pointing at his head, he also stated, “these are not, strictly speaking, truth generating computational machines… they are survival generating machines”. He goes on to say that is why we have science….to get beyond the limitation of the mind.

        My first difficulty with the statements by PZ is that he has made an absolute truth claim. His claim is that it is absolutely true that our minds are unreliable. He then goes on to say our minds are not, strictly speaking, truth generating machines. Given that he believes our minds do not necessarily produce true statements, he has made a statement of absolute truth. I’m not sure how he can support an absolute truth claim without belief in a mind capable of generating absolute truth.

        Another difficulty I have with his logic is that it takes a rational and reliable mind to develop and to accurately interpret any scientific experiment. The scientist doing the experiment also has to know what is true if he or she is to properly understand the results of the experiment. PZ seems think human mind and memory are not reliable, or necessarily truth generating, so I am not sure how science can rescue him from that situation. If he thought the findings of science could convince him of the reliability of his mind, that would be more reasonable (perhaps that is what he was trying to say). Instead, he says mind and memory are unreliable. I am assuming he included his own mind in his generalization of the human mind. If that is the case, I am not surprised that he makes silly statements as you previously noted. what did surprise me is that he used the word mind instead of brain since the mind is immaterial.

        The other problem I had with PZ’s logic was that he was doing a debate, not a science experiment. He was using his mind and memory in a non scientific situation to try to show that Fuz Rana was wrong and that he was right. If I was a debater and had an opponent in a debate who admitted his mind and memory were unreliable, I would have asked the person how he ever expected to win any debate without a reliable mind and memory.

  3. John D. says:

    Just watched his debate with Fuz Rana. I can’t believe that same man is capable of all that swearing and impoliteness. I guess he would argue that there is a place for formal debate and informal diatribe. I personally would never want to have the reputation of maintaining two faces in such a way.

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