Reactions to these finds follow one of three schools of thought. Some in the scientific community (like myself) beleive that the soft tissue is from the creatures that made the fossils and is therefore evidence that the fossils are not millions of years old, since there is no plausible mechanism by which soft tissue can stay soft that long. Some believe that the soft tissue is from the creatures that made the fossils and are seeking a means by which it could stay soft for millions of years. So far, those attempts have not been successful (see here, here, and here). The rest accept the seemingly obvious fact that soft tissue cannot possibly stay soft for millions of years and therefore argue that the soft tissue that has been found cannot be from the creatures that made the fossils. The results of a recent study at least partially support the view of those in the third camp.
Now the focus on soft tissue in fossils is changing. Scientists are trying to find some chemical mechanism that would allow soft tissue to avoid decay and fossilization over such a long period of time. Dr. Schweitzer herself did experiments to suggest that iron might help to stave off decomposition and fossilization, but from a chemical standpoint, it simply doesn’t work (see here and here).
A reader recently asked me about another proposed explanation that I had somehow missed. The study was published late last year, and while it attempts to explain how soft tissue can avoid decomposition over millions of years, it doesn’t achieve its goal. Instead, it actually gives more evidence that the fossils in the study are very young. However, it does produce some interesting results that require further investigation.
Six years ago, I wrote an article about Anderson University, where I am an adjunct professor. While the university clings strongly to the essentials of the Christian faith, it does not force its faculty to conform to one interpretation of Scripture. As a result, students are exposed to many different views that exist within Christendom.
In addition, rather than just trying to proselytize for their own view, the faculty are committed to making sure students understand the different ways Christians interpret the world through the lens of Scripture. This is best exemplified by an example. One of the science professors is an old-earth creationist, but he regularly invites me into his classes either to give a young-earth view of the science the students are learning or to engage in a friendly debate with him on the issue of the earth’s age. I especially like the latter, since students see that two people can engage in serious disagreements and still be good friends.
Just before Christmas, someone I respect and admire sent me an article that I wanted to share with my readers. It gives you another example of a Christian College (in this case, a seminary and Bible College) that gets it. To fully appreciate the article, however, you need to know the history behind it.
The apparent correlation of the events with storm systems leads us to hypothesize that they are caused by electrical discharges to the stratosphere or ionosphere.
This generated interest among certain research groups, so ground-based observatories, airborne detectors, and other space-based observatories began looking for the same thing. It is now well-known that lightning is accompanied by the production of high-energy gamma rays.
While these gamma rays are of high enough energy to induce nuclear reactions, until now there has been no conclusive evidence that such reactions are actually occurring in connection with lightning storms. However, thanks in part to a Japanese academic crowdfunding site, we now have strong evidence that lightning does, indeed, produce nuclear reactions in the atmosphere!
Nearly six years ago, I wrote about Dr. Daniel Shechtman. He had recently won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and I wanted to highlight him because had the term been popular in his day, he would have been called a chemistry denier. His own research demonstrated the existence of quasicrystals, despite the fact that the science of the day said (quite conclusively) that they couldn’t possibly exist. He faced a lot of opposition from his fellow scientists, even though all he was doing was following the data.
There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.
Despite the fact that the head of his own research group asked him to leave because of “bringing disgrace” to the team, Dr. Shechtman persevered, and he was eventually vindicated. Even though science conclusively said that quasicrystals don’t exist, Dr. Schechtman showed that they did.
I recently learned from one of my chemistry colleagues that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote an article about Dr. Schechtman’s story. It is called Crystals of Golden Proportion, and if you have any interest in chemistry, you might find it worth the read. I certainly did.
The article discusses the ridicule Dr. Schechtman received from his fellow scientists, and then it makes this statement:
Dan Shechtman’s story is by no means unique. Over and over again in the history of science, researchers have been forced to do battle with established “truths”, which in hindsight have proven to be no more than mere assumptions…Keeping an open mind and daring to question established knowledge may in fact be a scientist’s most important character trait.
I have said the same things many times. Unfortunately, this obvious truth is lost on most people, including most scientists. If a scientist dares to question established truth, he or she is immediately labeled a “denier.” If you point out the uncertainty in our understanding of global climate, you are a “climate change denier.” If you question the “accepted” age of the earth, or flagellate-to-philosopher evolution, you are a “science denier.” As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences admits, however, the “deniers” are right in many cases, and established scientific “truths” are sometimes just incorrect assumptions.
Science would be better served if more people (including more scientists) understood this.
I first noted that there might be a problem with their conclusion over two years ago, when other researchers tried to duplicate their results using a more precise technique. They found small changes (significantly smaller than the Purdue group) and no indication that those changes were correlated with the distance between the earth and the sun. Since then, two more papers have been published that pretty much seal the case that the Purdue results were wrong.
The first paper comes from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since NIST is responsible for all sorts of standards, several of their groups monitor radioactive isotopes for extended periods of time. They are also concerned with precision, so their procedures are focused on making sure there are no outside influences acting on their experiments.
Their paper reports on the results of experiments carried out in 14 laboratories across the world. A total of 24 different radioactive isotopes were studied, including those that decay by alpha emission, beta emission, electron capture, and positron emission. Some experiments covered “only” 200 days, but others covered four decades! Eleven different experimental techniques were used. All of the experiments saw very small variations (less than one-hundredth of one percent), and none of them saw any correlation between those tiny variations and the distance between the earth and the sun. In addition, the variations were different from experiment to experiment, so the most likely explanation for them is variation in the instruments that were used.
While the NIST paper obviously makes a strong case that the Purdue results are not real, I think a more recent paper gives us the final word. The authors used the same detection technique as the Purdue researchers, but they performed the experiment in a sealed chamber that had constant pressure, humidity, and temperature. They studied five radioactive isotopes for over a year, and like the NIST teams, they saw only small variations that were not correlated with the distance between the earth and the sun. This indicates that whatever the Purdue researchers saw was related to changing weather conditions, not changing radioactive half-lives.
While it would have been exciting for radioactive half-lives to be dependent on the distance between the earth and the sun, it almost certainly isn’t the case.
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.
As I indicate in my “Links to Investigate” list on the right, one of the few blogs I read regularly is written by Dr. PZ Myers. While I disagree with nearly everything he writes, I do think he provides an entertaining, “new atheist” perspective on science. Of course, if you dislike foul language, it is best to avoid his blog. Some people are adept at defending their point of view with reason and intelligence, while others specialize in crude insults. It is rather obvious which camp Dr. Myers is in.
Imagine my delight when I was doing my “light reading” this past weekend and found that a blog post of mine was the focus of one of his diatribes! The post is entitled, “Think, creationists, think,” and it is an attempt to discredit Mark Armitage’s excellent work of isolating soft cells from a dinosaur fossil. The problem, of course, is that Dr. Myers didn’t actually bother to read up on the issue, and as a result, he makes some rather silly statements.
For example, when discussing the carbon-14 found in Armitage’s Triceratops fossil, Dr. Myers claims that someone with a PhD in nuclear chemistry (like me) should know that the presence of carbon-14 in the fossil means nothing. After all,
C14 dating uses the ratio of carbon isotopes; it can’t be used on material above about 50,000 years because the quantity of carbon-14 is too low to be reliable, not because it’s nonexistent. 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.
Well, had Dr. Myers bothered to click on the link given in my post, he would have seen that an age was reported: 41,010 ± 220 years. As I state in that link, this is well within the accepted range of carbon-14 dating, and it is younger than many other carbon-14 dates published in the literature. In addition, the process used to make the sample ready for dating has been spelled out in the peer-reviewed literature, and it is designed to free the sample of all contamination except for carbon that comes from the original fossil. Now as I said in my original post, it’s possible that the reading comes from contamination. However, I find that unlikely, given the process used on the sample, the cellular evidence that Armitage found, and the fact that such carbon-14 dates are common in all manner of fossils that are supposedly millions of years old or older.
Despite the hard work of the Inquisition, Armitage is still investigating his amazing discovery. A couple of years ago, for example, a sample of the fossil was analyzed for carbon-14 content. If it really is 65 million years old, there should be no carbon-14 in the fossil. Nevertheless, carbon-14 was found. Of course, there is always the chance that the carbon-14 is the result of contamination, but combined with the presence of soft bone cells, it seems obvious to me that the fossil is significantly younger than 65 million years!
As someone who has studied radioactivity in detail, I have always been a bit amused by the assertion that radioactive dating is a precise way to determine the age of an object. This false notion is often promoted when radioactive dates are listed with utterly unrealistic error bars. In this report, for example, we are told that using one radioactive dating technique, a lunar rock sample is 4,283 million years old, plus or minus 23 million years old. In other words, there is a 95% certainty that the age is somewhere between 4,283 + 23 million years and 4,283 – 23 million years. That’s just over half a percent error in something that is supposedly multiple billions of years old.
Of course, that error estimate is complete nonsense. It refers to one specific source of error – the uncertainty in the measurement of the amounts of various atoms used in the analysis. Most likely, that is the least important source of error. If those rocks really have been sitting around on the moon for billions of years, I suspect that the the wide range of physical and chemical processes which occurred over that time period had a much more profound effect on the uncertainty of the age determination. This is best illustrated by the radioactive age of a sample of diamonds from Zaire. Their age was measured to be 6.0 +/- 0.3 billion years old. Do you see the problem? Those who are committed to an ancient age for the earth currently believe that it is 4.6 billion years old. Obviously, then, the minimum error in that measurement is 1.4 billion years, not 0.3 billion years!
Such uncertainties are usually glossed over, especially when radioactive dates are communicated to the public and, more importantly, to students. Generally, we are told that scientists have ways to analyze the object they are dating so as to eliminate the uncertainties due to unknown processes that occurred in the past. One way this is done in many radioactive dating techniques is to use an isochron. However, a recent paper by Dr. Robert B. Hayes has pointed out a problem with isochrons that has, until now, not been considered.