We are the 99%

December 21, 2010

American Ignorance

Hard to believe, but it's true. From a recent Gallup poll:
Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.
Only about one out of six got it completely right? Now that's just sad.

This was the question that generated the above percentages:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings -- 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?
There's a lot about of interesting stuff in the Gallup numbers (the more Republican you are the more likely you'll get the science wrong, the more educated you are the more likely you'll get the science right and so on) but I don't want to spend my time there.

I wanna talk science and logic and belief.

If, as 40% of Americans believe, human beings were created in their present form no more than 10,000 years ago, then what are we to make, say, of the Chauvet Cave in southern France?

Science tells us that human beings lived there some 20,000 to 30,000 years ago but the creationists tell us humans are no older than 10,000 years old. Both can't be right. Both can be wrong, of course, but both can't be right. One way to resolve the impasse is to look at the foundations for each belief. For the science, one main piece of the foundation is radiocarbon dating.

What is that, exactly? It's a method of dating the age of once living tissue based on the rate of decay for an isotope of carbon (namely carbon-14). Isotopes, by the way, are atoms of the same element (hydrogen, uranium, and so on) that differ in their atomic weights because they have a different number of neutrons in their respective nuclei. Carbon-13 has, for instance, 7 neutrons and 6 protons in its nucleus while carbon-14 has 8 neutrons and 6 protons in its nucleus (7+6=13 and 8+6=14, get it?).

Science tells us that carbon-14 is very unstable and decays into an isotope of nitrogen at a known rate. It's formed constantly in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays interact with some of the nitrogen up there and filters down into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide where it enters the food chain (from CO2 to photosynthesis to animals). When something is alive the amount of carbon-14 in its system more or less matches the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. But once that thing dies, no more carbon-14 is added and the carbon-14 that remains begins its decay into nitrogen.

In a nutshell, by knowing the rate at which carbon-14 decays and knowing how much is left in the once living tissue, scientists can pretty accurately estimate when that thing died.

And science has dated the presence of human beings in the cave at least twice the age that creationists allow.

So if the creationists are correct, then all of the physics used in radiocarbon dating must be wrong, for instance, carbon-14 mustn't be decaying the way physicists say it does. But if that's wrong, then so much else of physics is also wrong because it's all an interconnected web.

On the other hand, we have the strength of belief among creationists.

If they're right about the age of the human beings then a whole lot of science is wrong. How's your TV working these days? The nuclear plants powering the USS Ronald Reagan? Both built on nuclear physics. The science of each connected to carbon dating in one way or another. If carbon dating is wrong, they shouldn't work.

But yet they do.

American ignorance - if we are a superpower in decline, this is the reason.

(H/T to Huffingtonpost)

6 comments:

Lady Elaine said...

Bones that are dated over 10,000 years ago are a liberal conspiracy planted by non-believers and the government. At least, that's what I heard.

Heir to the Throne said...

How's your TV working these days? The nuclear plants powering the USS Ronald Reagan? Both built on nuclear physics. The science of each connected to carbon dating in one way or another. If carbon dating is wrong, they shouldn't work.
I understand the basics of a TV and a Nuclear Reactor. What is the common thread you are going for?
Radioactive Decay? You do know CRTs and LCDs work on different principles.

What is your Degree in again?
Music?
Since Science's ability to determine the past is infallible, how to you explain "Hide the Decline" from Climategate?
Where the proxies for Temperature in the past are not matching up with current Temperature reading.

Ol' Froth said...

Look over heeeeeeeerrrrr!!!!!

Ol' Froth said...

Despite your attempt to change the subject from anthropology to climatology Heir, I will tackle part of your assertation. Science doesn't claim to be infallible. It claims to be self-correcting. In fact, in order for a theory to be valid, it must be falsifiable. Its been written that evolution can be disproven easily, just show us a pre-cambrian rabbit.

You also misuse the concept of proxy data in relation to climate. Proxies give us the ability to check our assumptions. You can't draw assumptions from one set of data, say, inferences derived from atmospheric samples drawn from deep ice core samples, or as per your example, tree rings. You can however check them against each other.

The example you cite, the "Hide the Decline" email concerns proxy data drawn from a set of tree rings that didn't match what other proxy data sets were predicting. However, what you, like other climate change deniers leave out, is that we have actual hard temperature data for the period in question, and the other proxies correlated with this data. Knowing that, the scientists tossed out the tree ring data as an outlier, as it didn't match the other proxies or, most importantly, the actual thermometer readings.

The lesson to be drawn from this is that when using proxies, be sure to use multiple proxies, and not just a single data set. It has nothing to do with if global temperatures are rising or not.

EdHeath said...

HTTT, to pick up on what Froth said, I remember finding an article in Science magazine (I believe) that addressed the anomalous tree ring data, linking to the progression of climate change itself affecting the rings in question. Having found it once, I am not going to look now, you may have the pleasure and evaluate the information yourself. And out of curiosity, what's your degree in? (mine's in political science and economics, FWIW).

Of course, one thing overlooked in any discussion of religion versus science is that God, being God, can do anything, even alter the physics of fossils to make them appear older than they really are.

Maybe I'd better say "MERRY CHRISTMAS" just in case (I really am going to hell, aren't I).

Ol' Froth said...

So long as we're disclosing our academic creds, I have B.A. degrees in History and Theatre.

No, that's not science, but I consider myself an frustrated scientist. I've always been interested in it, and if I had any mathmatical ability, I'd have gone into the sciences. Unfortunatly for me, I count on my fingers.

That said, for a layman, I'm probably better read on science than the typical Earthican.

Mr. Heath, I've also seen the article on why the tree ring data didn't fit the predictions. IIRC, it was speculating on why that particular data set was so off kilter, which would be an interesting topic of study in its own right.