A critical response to Don Pearce's Dec 2013 response to criticism of his Nov 2013 article - 2

By Ken Gilmore. Source: Click here.

Editor's Note: More from the keyboard of Christadelphian Doctor Ken Gilmore. The Christadelphian community have never seen anything like it. He's singlehandedly dragging them into the 21st Century.

They are kicking and screaming and crying for their old Fideist, YEC culture; but the weight of evidence that Ken is producing is overwhelming. We wholeheartedly support what he is doing and commend his valiant efforts to explain the truth about Evolution and to reform the Christadelphian religion for the better.

By Ken Gilmore
My first post examining Don Pearce’s response pointed out mistakes such as his conflation of evolution with an ancient Earth, his use of the argument increasingly common among YECs that viewpoints colour interpretation of evidence, his failure to justify the literal hermeneutic he used to interpret Genesis, as well as the lack of any attempt to examine the creation narratives in light of their ancient Near Eastern background. This alone is enough to undermine his credibility on this subject.
The second half of Pearce’s response included a frankly pathetic attempt to rebut the evidence for an old earth which consisted simply of long-rebutted special creationist talking points, an assertion made without any supporting evidence that the “assumptions on which long ages are built are being constantly challenged by more recent findings which throw strong doubts on their validity” and ended by making the claim common to evangelical Christians that God’s plan of redemption becomes meaningless if physical death predated Adam. Pearce’s response serves to show just how deep-rooted YEC idiocy has become in parts of our community.
Pearce began his attack on the evidence for an old earth badly:
The formation of sedimentary rocks, yet the rapid deposition of strata in the 1980 Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic eruption clearly shows such rocks can be formed rapidly.[1]
His assertion, which is simply an uncritical regurgitation of YEC arguments shows monumental ignorance of the principles of sedimentology and stratigraphy. The overwhelming majority of geological strata are not produced by volcanic eruption, but are formed when sediments are deposited on land or within bodies of water.  Sedimentary rocks fall into three general groups:
  • Siliclastic: composed of silicate materials formed by the weathering of rocks, and include sandstone, shale and conglomerates
  • Biochemical/Chemical: formed from minerals precipitated from water by organic or inorganic processes and include limestone, chert and evaporites
  • Carbonaceous: include a considerable amount of material of organic matter of animal or plant origin. Coal and oil shale are the best known examples of carbonaceous sedimentary rocks[2]
 What Pearce fails to appreciate is that what we saw at Mt St Helens was the rapid deposition of stratified volcanic ash. This is not the same thing as shale, limestone, chert and oil shale. In confusing rapidly deposited stratified ash with sedimentary rocks, Pearce has destroyed his credibility just in one sentence.
His following sentence contains not one but two major blunders. He begins with a frank non-sequitur:
The fact that the majority of the surface rocks are sedimentary points to the Flood…[3]
No, it doesn’t. Pearce provides no evidence for his assertion, one which betrays his ignorance of the fact that diluvialism, the theory which posited that Noah’s flood was responsible for shaping the Earth’s surface was abandoned by geologists by the early 19th century – well before Darwin – because the geological evidence did not support it. Evangelical geologist Davis Young notes:
[A]dvances in understanding about the nature and distribution of strata and fossils placed great strains on diluvialism as a suitable theoretical framework. Almost as soon as it was published, Woodward’s thesis of gravity stratification was discredited by the recognition of numerous instances in which lower density strata occurred below higher density strata.  Careful mapping and description of successions of European strata throughout the eighteenth century led naturalists to recognize that sedimentary rock piles were thousands to tens of thousands of meters thick. These vast thicknesses consisted of hundreds to thousands of variably thick individual layers occurring in unvarying order and traceable for tens to hundreds of kilometers over the countryside. Even very thin layers only a few centimeters thick could be traced for long distances. Could a single-year flood, even a catastrophic one, account for the enormous thicknesses of strata, for the orderly successions of strata, and for very thin yet extensive layers?
Certain rock types could not be reconciled with diluvialism. Catcott’s field notebooks indicate his puzzlement over conglomerate. The rounded pebbles in conglomerates came from previously existing consolidated rocks such as limestone or sandstone that were supposedly deposited as soft sediments by the flood. But how could the flood deposit soft sands and lime muds which would be solidified, then torn off and reincorporated as worn pebbles into a newer soft deposit of gravel while the entire globe was under water?
By the early nineteenth century diluvialism was even less credible. Detailed stratigraphic studies in the 1790s through 1810s disclosed systematic relationships between strata and their contained fossils. William Smith in Great Britain and Cuvier and Brongniart in France independently discovered that successive superposed strata were characterized by distinctive organic remains. Moreover, successively higher strata contained increasingly complex fossils. Layers containing marine fossils were commonly found interstratified with layers containing continental remains. Why would a turbulent flood produce such striking regularities of fossil distribution as well as alternations of thinly layered marine and continental sediments?[4]
Again, this took place before Darwin published the first edition of “The Origin of Species” which makes Pearce’s assertion:
 thus undermining the very basis of evolutionary assumptions.[5]
frankly ludicrous, as diluvialism was rejected by geologists who were special creationists. The principles of stratigraphy have nothing to do with evolution, and yet again we see Pearce trying desperately to link evolution with an ancient earth.
Pearce’s completely off-topic attack on evolution spills over into the next paragraph where instead of advancing more “evidence often given for an old earth”, he makes a rather confused argument against evolution:
The development of genetic diversity is not evidence of the ability of a species to evolve, because that would need added genetic information. Instead, this observable fact is a wonderful testimony to God’s forethought, enabling His creation to adapt to changing circumstances.
When geologists advance evidence for an ancient Earth, they don’t refer to the development of genetic diversity. Pearce, like most YECs appears incapable of differentiating between the concept of an old earth, and the evidence for evolution. It is also difficult to know exactly what he is talking about with his reference to genetic diversity and evolution, but in implying that natural processes cannot create genetic information, Pearce betrays a profound ignorance of biology as well as geology.
Mutation, natural selection and replication can readily add genetic information to biological systems. Molecular information theorist Thomas Schneider has employed computational techniques to demonstrate how natural selection can result in information gain, and notes how his model:
shows explicitly how this information gain comes about from mutation and selection, without any other external influence, thereby completely answering the creationists.[6]
as well as demonstrates
demonstrates that biological information, measured in the strict Shannon sense, can rapidly appear in genetic control systems subjected to replication, mutation and selection.[7]
In fact, the literature is replete with examples[8] of how genetic mutations ranging from point mutation to whole genome duplication results in evolution:
  • A point mutation in the apolipoprotein A gene results in the creation of a mutant version of apolipoprotein A, apoA-IM. This beneficial mutation has been linked with reduced rates of atherosclerosis in those heterozygous for the apoA-IM mutation.[9] The clinical significance of this mutation has been explored in many studies.[10],[11]
  • The CCR5 gene codes for a chemokine receptor that, along with the CD4 T cell co-receptor is used by the HIV-1 virus as an entry point. A mutation in the CCR5 gene conveys resistance to HIV infection in people homozygous for the mutation, while HIV-1 infected individuals heterozygous for the mutation have a two to three year delay before they develop AIDS. The particular mutation is a 32 base pair deletion that results in loss of the CCR5 receptor.[12]
  • Bacteria have evolved the ability to metabolise nylon breakdown products. This was achieved by a frameshift mutation which created a unique enzyme that gave the bacteria the opportunity to access a never-before utilised food source.[13]
  • In 2008, the evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski published a landmark paper on the evolution by a colony of E. coli bacteria of the ability to metabolise citrate under oxic conditions, something that E. coli is not normally able to do. Over the previous twenty years, Lenski had cultured 12 colonies of E. coli, taking samples every 500 generations to provide a “fossil record”. After 31,500 generations, one colony evolved the ability to metabolise citrate in an oxic environment. The two hypotheses to explain this were (1) an extremely rare mutation or (2) a mutation that was contingent on an earlier mutation to evolve the ability to metabolise citrate. Lenski’s analysis favoured the latter, “Our results instead support the hypothesis of historical contingency, in which a genetic background arose that had an increased potential to evolve the Cit_ phenotype.”[14]
  • Evolution of vertebral steroid receptors and the endocrine systems associated with them involved duplication of an ancestral steroid receptor gene, and mutation of the duplicate.[15],[16]
  • Evidence of chromosomal translocation and segmental duplication in Cryptococcus neoformans.[17]
  • Genome duplication in yeast as a source of evolutionary novelty.[18]
  • Whole genome duplication as a source of genetic variety is not restricted to yeasts. Examination of the genomes of chordates has shown the existence of multiple copies of genes in the same gene family
 It is clear that Pearce knows nothing about how mutation, duplication and selection can add information to the genome. He is as painfully uninformed in biology as he is in geology.
Pearce manages to return back to the subject of evidence for an old earth in his third point, but does nothing to show that he understands the subject he criticises when he alleges:
The use of radioactive decay to indicate long ages is utterly dependent on assumptions that go contrary to the information that God has provided.
I am puzzled as to how the constancy of radionuclide decay constants goes contrary to the information God has provided in the Bible. There is nothingin the Bible about isotope geochemistry, radiometric dating or geophysics. Patently ludicrous arguments such as this do little more than brand Pearce as yet another hopelessly uninformed YEC
Radiometric dating, contrary to what Pearce alleges, is a reliable, well-established method of proving absolute ages to rocks. In short, when a rock crystallises, it can trap a certain amount of a radioactive element, A. Over time, this element will undergo radioactive decay at a known, stable rate, and change into another element, B. By measuring the amount of radioactive material A remaining in the rock, the amount of decay product B, and a knowledge of the decay rate, we can calculate the amount of time which has elapsed since the rock formed.
Critical to the concept of radiometric dating is that the rock being tested is a closed system:
The fundamental assumption in radioactive dating is that the box (the rock or mineral) has remained closed, that is, it has neither lost nor gained parent or daughter nuclides through exchange with its environment since it first closed.
Now, while this assumption is accepted for parent elements nestled in suitable crystallographic sites (Rb in place of K, U in place of Zr, etc.) it is less obvious for daughter elements. The daughter isotopes produced by radioactivity are intruders in the crystallographic lattice. They have been introduced “artificially” by radioactive transmutation. Why should they stay there? This is particularly true of rich systems, since these radiogenic isotopes are very abundant. They have been produced in a mineral which is “unfamiliar” to them, and will therefore tend to escape from it.[19]
A tool is only as good as the person using it, and any competent geologist will know when it is appropriate to test a rock sample using the proper dating technique, and whether the rock is a closed or open system. Having said that, what many YECs overlook when asserting that radiometric dating is unreliable is that, as Allegre notes above, it is more likely that the daughter element will leave the rock, producing an age which is too young.[20] Geologists employ the concordance / discordance method to determine whether the value measured is likely to reflect the true age.
Essentially, the concordance / discordance method involves measuring the ages of different mineral samples of the rock whose age we are interested in determining. If the measured ages are close to each other, we can assume that the system is closed, and the measured ages are concordant, and therefore are close to the actual age. If however the ages do not agree, they are discordant, and geologists know that the ages are unreliable. The criteria geologists employ to determine whether a reading is concordant is actually quite strict, and involves testing several mineral samples with the same radiometric method, testing the same mineral type with different radiometric methods, and testing several mineral samples with different dating methods.
Geologists have created a number of testing methods that take into account real-world problems (abundant or negligible initial radiogenic isotope, closed or open system), of which the isochron method is arguably the most powerful, as it does not require the assumption that the amount of daughter element is negligible, and automatically tests whether the rock being tested is a closed system or not.
Isochron dating makes use of the fact that over time, the ratio of the decay product of the parent element to a stable isotope of the decay product will increase. The classic model used to illustrate isochron dating is the rubidium-strontium method. Rubidium-87 decays to strontium-87; its half life is nearly 50 thousand million years. Over time, the amount of strontium-87 compared with its stable isotope strontium-86 will increase. At time zero however, all parts of the rock will have the same ratio of strontium-87 to strontium-86. A plot of Sr-87/Sr-86 against Rb-87/Sr-86 will lie on a straight line, the slope of which will allow one to calculate the age of the rock. The isochron method is self-checking as if the rock system is disturbed, the sample points will no longer lie on a straight line.
A rubidium-strontium three-isotope plot. When a rock cools, all its minerals have the same ratio of strontium-87 to strontium-86, though they have varying amounts of rubidium. As the rock ages, the rubidium decreases by changing to strontium-87, as shown by the dotted arrows. Minerals with more rubidium gain more strontium-87, while those with less rubidium do not change as much. Notice that at any given time, the minerals all line up--a check to ensure that the system has not been disturbed. (Souurce: Roger Wiens "Radometric Dating: A Christian Perspective http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html)

The original amount of the daughter strontium-87 can be precisely determined from the present-day composition by extending the line through the data points back to rubidium-87 = 0. This works because if there were no rubidium-87 in the sample, the strontium composition would not change. The slope of the line is used to determine the age of the sample. (Souurce: Roger Wiens "Radometric Dating: A Christian Perspective http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html)
No method is perfect, but as respected geologist G. Brent Dalrymple has stated of inaccurate ages:
Most…are caught by appropriate safeguards, like standards and repetition, but some go unrecognized until long after the data have been published. In short, radiometric dating methods give reliable results most of the time, but not always…With sufficient cross checks, care and experience, we don't really get fooled very often and when we do it is usually not for long.[21]
YECs are needless to say well aware of the powerful evidence for an ancient earth provided by radiometric dating. One argument that they have advanced is that decay constants are not constant, and that under certain circumstances they can increase, which, they argue, would mean that the calculated dates would give an artificially high value. Certain decay modes are sensitive to environmental change, which means that half lives can vary, but usually only by a few percentage points at best, which is nowhere near the rate required to lower ages from thousands of millions of years to thousands of years.  
Some YECs have tried to salvage this argument by referring to a paper[22] that showed that the decay of  187Rhenium to 187Osmium, which has a half life of 41.6 × 109 years, under certain circumstances can be reduced to an amazing 33 years. However, what the YECs fail to appreciate is that the rhenium atoms are fully ionised. Had the creationists bothered to read the paper, they would have found out that the paper was referring to conditions within a star:

Hwever, one uncertainty in its calibration has been pointed out by Takahashi et al.:  187 Re may become highly ionized in the hot plasma of a star, and bound-state ╬▓- decay may decrease the half-life from 42.3 +/- Gyr by more than 9 orders of magnitude.[23]
This paper has zero relevance to radiometric dating on the Earth, unless one’s idea of Earth is the hot plasma inside a star. Decay constants, even when the source isotope is subjected to extremes of pressure, temperature and electromagnetic fields remain constant to within a fraction of a percent.[24]
Finally, even if decay rates could be accelerated by several orders of magnitude, this would result in a considerably increased rate of release of heat and radiation which would melt the crust of the Earth, and subject any living creature to lethal doses of radiation. Even YECs acknowledge this problem. Larry Vardiman, a YEC involved in RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth), a YEC project which attempted to show that decay constants had accelerated during Earth history noted:
Of greater concern to both supporters and skeptics of the RATE project is the issue of how to dispose of the tremendous quantities of heat generated by accelerated decay during the Genesis Flood. The amount of heat produced by a decay rate of a million times faster than normal during the year of the Flood could potentially vaporize the earth’s oceans, melt the crust, and obliterate the surface of the earth.[25]
Vardiman made two attempts to wave away the problem. His first was to declare that God would take away the heat and radiation, which needless to say is a copout, particularly since the YECS call themselves scientific creationists. If the YECs try to invoke accelerated rates of radioactive decay to worm out of the problem they post to their YEC worldview, then the burden of proof lies on them to show how this problem can be solved, rather than invoke a miracle when cornered. His second was an appeal to fringe scientist Russell Humphreys:
Dr. Russell Humphreys, a member of the RATE group, has suggested one possible mechanism that may explain this dilemma. He has found evidence, both scientific and scriptural, that cooling of the earth by the expansion of the cosmos may have occurred simultaneously with the heat produced by accelerated decay.
Humphreys’ assertions are not shared outside of the YEC community. In fact, they have been rebutted in two[26],[27]papers written by physicists who are also Christians. The YEC claims against radiometric dating are not taken seriously both because they are scientifically vacuous, and because they are based on theological, rather than scientific objections.
Pearce’s fourth point fails to address any more evidence for an old earth, but merely piles on the rhetoric:
Radioactive decay cannot show beyond any doubt that the planet is several billions of years old, because man wasn’t there to verify it!
This response is pathetic. We weren’t there, but the rocks we test most certainly were, and as the methods on which radiometric dating are based are quite solid, as has been shown, we can have every confidence in the answers. One wonders whether Pearce accepts the conclusions of archaeology, history, textual criticism or forensic pathology, given that he wasn’t there to verify any of these events.
Pearce’s comment further degenerates into farce when he asserts:
The evidence can be interpreted to point to billions of years if that is one’s viewpoint. Equally, with a Biblical viewpoint, one can show the falseness of the assumptions that have produced a long-age interpretation.
This is ludicrous nonsense. Take the distribution of radionuclides in the Earth’s crust for example. Excluding those which are generated naturally, we see no radionuclides with a half life less than 80 million years. One does not need an a priori commitment to an old earth to recognise that this means the Earth has existed for so long that all the short-lived radionuclides have decayed away. However, the YEC, who is committed a priori to a young Earth cannot honestly explain this data within his worldview. The only options are to assert that this distribution has occurred solely by chance, and the odds of this occurring are so remote as to be negligible, or that God has deliberately created a young earth to look old by planting only long-lived radionuclides into the crust. This view, needless to say, turns God into a liar and trickster.
Unfortunately, his final sentence suggests very strongly that Pearce gives serious consideration to the belief that the Earth was created with an appearance of age:
They take no account of a worldwide flood, nor of a God who created a mature earth with, for example, fruit trees already bearing fruit.
 The reference to a worldwide flood is irrelevant as Pearce provides no evidence for a worldwide flood, let alone a reason as to how a worldwide flood would alter decay rates or somehow make a young Earth look old. The reference to a ‘mature earth’ ignores the fact that there is no reason why God would need to create an Earth with a faked history, complete with strata whose relative ages correlated perfectly with absolute ages derived from radiometric dating, along with fossils showing large-scale evolutionary change.
Pearce asserts that “this statement also ignores the extensive evidence indicating a young earth” but he provides no references to this ‘extensive evidence indicating a young earth”. Just the radionuclide distribution alone makes a mockery of his claim, let alone the fact that there is in fact overwhelming evidence for an ancient Earth.[28] One is simply left shaking one’s head in disbelief at his claim that:
The assumptions on which long ages are built are being constantly challenged by more recent findings which throw strong doubts on their validity.  There is so much evidence to show that the present isn’t the key to the past as was thought.
Pearce of course neglects to provide any references to support his assertion, and as we’ve seen, the special creationist arguments against an old Earth have been well refuted. Given his demonstrated ignorance of the basics of biology and geology, Pearce simply has lost the right to be taken seriously on this subject.
 It is embarrassing to see someone so utterly ignorant of biology and geology not only make a fool of himself in public, but score an own goal for opponents of our faith.
Pearce sententiously declares that:
Let’s not be afraid to stand up for the clear teaching of the Bible and show the strength of our case.
Pearce’s case is feeble, and an embarrassment to our faith. Augustine’s comments in The Literal Meaning of Genesis are not a little appropriate:
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticised and rejected as unlearned men.
If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture  for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

[1] Letters: Don Pierce The Christadelphian (2013)  150:533
[2] Boggs S Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy (2006: Pearson Education) p xvii
[3] Letters: Don Pearce The Christadelphian (2013)  150:534
[4] Young, D.A. “Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part One)” Westminster Theological Journal  (1987) 49:23–24.
[5] Letters: Don Pierce The Christadelphian (2013)  150:534
[6] Schneider TD Evolution of biological information (2000) Nucleic Acids Research (2000) 28:2794-2799
[7] ibid, p 2799
[8] This section is taken from here and is used with permission of the author.
[9] Franceschini G, Sirtori CR, Capurso A, et al. A-I Milano apoprotein: decreased high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels with significant lipoprotein modifications and without clinical atherosclerosis in an Italian family. J Clin Invest. 1980;66:892–900.
[10] Sirtori C.R. et al “Cardiovascular Status of Carriers of the Apolipoprotein A-IMilano Mutant” Circulation. 2001;103:1949-1954.
[11] Shah P.K. et al “High-Dose Recombinant Apolipoprotein A-IMilano Mobilizes Tissue Cholesterol and Rapidly Reduces Plaque Lipid and Macrophage Content in Apolipoprotein E–Deficient Mice” Circulation. 2001;103:3047-3050.
[12] Stevens J.C. et al “Dating the origin of the CCR5-Delta32 AIDS-resistance allele by the coalescence of haplotypes.” Am J Hum Genet. 1998 Jun;62(6):1507-15.
[13] Ohno S “Birth of a unique enzyme from an alternative reading frame of the preexisting, internally repetitious coding sequence” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (1984) 81:2421-2425
[14] . Blount Z.D., Borland C.Z., Lenski R.E. "Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2008 105:7899-7906
[15] Thornton J.W. "Evolution of vertebrate steroid receptors from an ancestral estrogen receptor by ligand exploitation and serial genome expansions" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (2001) 98:5671-5676
[16] . Bridgham J.T., Carroll S.M., Thornton J.W. “Evolution of Hormone-Receptor Complexity by Molecular Exploitation” Science (2006) 312:97-101
[17] Fraser J.A. et al "Chromosomal Translocation and Segmental Duplication in Cryptococcus neoformans" Eukaryotic Cell (2005) 4:401-406
[18] Kellis M, Birren B.W, Lander E.S. “Proof and evolutionary analysis of ancient genome duplication in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae” Nature (2004) 428:617-624
[19] Allegre CJ Isotope Geology (2008: Cambridge University Press) p 59
[20] ibid, p 61. I remain sceptical that YECs will therefore argue that the true age of rocks is older than the date given by radiometric dating.
[21] Dalrymple, G. Brent, 1991. The Age of the Earth. (1991: California: Stanford University Press) p 1
[22] Bosch, F.; Faestermann, T.; Friese, J.; Heine, F.; Kienle, P.; Wefers, E.; Zeitelhack, K.; Beckert, K. et al. "Observation of bound-state╬▓– decay of fully ionized 187Re:187Re-187OsCosmochronometry". Physical Review Letters (1996) 77:5190–5193.
[23] ibid, p 5190
[24] Emery, G.T. "Perturbation of Nuclear DecayRates". Annual Review of Nuclear Science (ACS Publications) (1972) 22:165–202.
[25] Vardiman L “Rate in Review: Unsolved Problems” http://www.icr.org/article/rate-review-unresolved-problems/
[26] Morton G, Murphy GL "Flaws in a Young-Earth CoolingMechanism" Reports of the National Center for Science Education (2004)  24.1, 31
[27] Pitts JB "Nonexistence of Humphreys’ “Volume Cooling”for Terrestrial Heat Disposal by Cosmic Expansion" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2009) 61:23-28
[28] Dalrymple, op cit.
By Ken Gilmore. Source: Click here.
Our use of Ken's material is with permission, but does not mean endorsement by him of anything else on this site, or approval of the aims of this website.

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