Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ken Ham on the age of the Earth

In my last post, An Evening with Ken Ham, I stated:
[Ham] would never address a real scientific question. Ham's approach to science is is entirely superficial, and his interest in science ends the moment he finds a trivial sound-bite that he can use in his sermons.
I thought I might follow up on that with my favorite quote from the evening; a self-contradictory statement which is wrong on two levels. This was a shorter version of this quote I am using here, taken from the Ham-Nye debate of February 4, 2014 [my emphasis added]:
Image source: Patheos.com
Ham: Now, a lot of people say, by the way, the Earth's age is 4.5 billion years old. And we have radioactive decay dating methods that bound that. We certainly observe radioactive decay, whether it's rubidium –strontium, uranium – lead, or potassium-argon, but when you are talking about the past, you have a problem. Let me give you an example. In Australia there were engineers that were trying to search out about a coal mine, so they drilled down and they found a basalt layer, or lava flow that had woody material in it, branches and twigs and so on, and when Dr. Andrew Snelling, our PhD geologist sent that to a lab in Massachusetts in 1994, they used the potassium-argon dating method and dated it at 45 million years old. Well, we also sent the wood to the radiocarbon section of the same lab, and they dated it at 45,000 years old. 45,000 year old wood in 45 million year old rock. The point is, there is a problem [1].
Yes there is a problem - Ham just said the Earth is at least 45,000 years old. If he really believes the Earth is just 6000 years old he should reject this estimate too. Is the dating right, or is it wrong? MAKE UP YOUR MIND PLEASE!

I could be more generous; perhaps he meant there is a problem between 45,000 years and 45,000,000 years. Here too the problem is self-evident. In fact it is such a boner that I didn't catch the 6000 years bug at first. Here it is again:

... we also sent the wood to the radiocarbon section of the same lab, and they dated it at 45,000 years old ...
If you know anything about radiocarbon dating, then you know it is limited to organic materials no more than about 50,000 years old (~75k years with more recent refinements). Anything older than that and too much of the carbon-14 will have decayed to determine anything more than "older than ~50,000 years". Snelling used a technique that cannot give a correct answer in this instance. There is also the matter of contamination from more recent carbon sources, and if the sample was actually petrified wood in the first place. There was never a peer reviewed publication of Snelling's analysis, never any independent verification of the results, and good reason to suspect the sample was not what Snelling claims it to be. This result has never been replicated by anyone else. Ever. 

Ken Ham really doesn't care if anything he says is correct, he only cares that if the lie sounds good enough to fool people who don't know any better. 
Image source: Hyperphysics

Reference:
[1] Browning, B. (2014, February 10). Transcript of Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Debate. Retrieved November 19, 2015, from http://www.youngearth.org/index.php/archives/rmcf-articles/item/21-transcript-of-ken-ham-vs-bill-nye-debate