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Thread: Radiometric Dating and it's "Assumptions"

  1. #1 Radiometric Dating and it's "Assumptions" 
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    I've been exchanging emails recently with a seemingly more reasonable young earth creationist. I am more knowledgeable about evolutionary biology and while I should know radiometric dating and how it works like the back of my hand, after reading books on Paleontology and taking Physical Geology and Archaeology classes, I do not. I tend to forget those details.

    So to make it easier for me and save some time, if any of you on the boards would care to help me out, and point out where the e-cquaintance is mistaken (or correct) that would be awesome. I do have a book by Eugenie C. Scott that might have answers to this, and I will refer to my Geology and Archaeology books, which I kept, but I may not find time for that until tomorrow or the next day.

    Below is the email in spoilers for space and wrapped in a quote...



    I found this information that I have been using to support my arguments that tend to focus on radiometric dating.

    It gives the assumptions that are made when analyzing different fossils and rock to find their ages or how old they are.

    I'm going to list them as they are given and then give my own interpretation of what errors might be made if these assumptions are incorrect.

    1. The Radioactive element decays at a constant rate
    -If the specific decay and production rates vary throughout time and approach equilibrium, but have not yet reached equilibrium as is the case for Carbon-14 which would take a minimal 20,000 to 30,000 years as denoted in the error analysis section of Dr. Libby's work on Carbon-14 dating, how can we say that we can accurately measure the age of anything outside of our realm of knowing the average specific decay and production rates?

    What I'm trying to say is that given the correct starting amount of carbon and the relatively current SPR and SDR then we can find the age of the material accurately. For material that is older than what we have known values for the SPR and SDR, then we have to assume that the SPR and SDR values are the same back millions or whatever large value of years are the same as they are today. Which I think if I worded that correctly, you would agree that these SPR and SDR values are constantly approaching equilibrium at different rates that are not currently understood. If this was the case, then maybe millions of years ago the specific rate of production was much less than the Specific rate of decay which would cause most of all radiometric dating not very scientifically accurate.

    2. The rock/mineral being analyzed has not been contaminated throughout the years by the end product that is being analyzed in order to determine half-life.
    -If you are looking to find that U-238 being radioactively decaying into U-236 over the known half-life of 4.5 billion years [which is based upon assumption 1. that the radioactive element decays at a constant rate determined by today's current value] and you find a specific amount of Uranium-236, you have to assume that at no point of time did uranium enter the rock/mineral and that all of the Uranium-236 that is found had decayed from Uranium-238.

    Given 4.5 billion years of possible contamination, this could cause the results to be completely unrelated to today's value associated with radiometric decay which given assumption 1 and 2 are true so far, then radiometric dating by definition should work.

    The question is, are these two first assumptions true? They both have to be true in order for radiometric dating to be accurate over a span of 4.45 billion years which could cause major changes throughout time with SPR and SDR and contamination of the rock/mineral being dated.

    3. The rock/mineral being analyzed contained no end product when it was originally formed
    -If a rock is dated based on the amount of end product which is used to determine a relative date, how can you know for sure that when the rock was originally formed that it contained no end product? If this is able to be determined, how can you be sure that you have an accurate amount of end product accounted for from the beginning? (not radioactively decaying)

    Assumption 3 is important as well because if the rock/mineral is being tested for (let's stay focused) is the Uranium 236 from the Uranium 238, and it is supposed that all the uranium 236 came from the uranium 238, you are going to get a date much older than the true date. would you agree with this?
    (It would take a lot longer for lets say 200 atoms of Uranium 236 to form than just 20 atoms from uranium 238, what if only 20 of the atoms of uranium 238 actually radioactively decayed to 236 and the rest was present at formation?)

    4. Leaching of the parent element does not occur.
    -If a rock has a date that is relative to both the end product and the radioactive material, then the date is measured by taking the amount of end product and comparing it to the amount of radioactive material and determining that the age by looking at how many atoms of Uranium 236 must have decayed from Uranium 238. If the parent material is almost completely non-existent, then we can safely say that all of the atoms have successfully radioactively decayed from the parent element right? What if the parent element exited the system? How do you know that this could not occur? given the Earth is an open system.

    Assumption 4 is necessary to finding the values for the half-life of elements that measure dates back much further than carbon-14 can and according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology the dates can be measured with fair precision.
    NIST is assuming that assumption 4 is true, which in open systems if often not the case. How can we be sure that when evaluating the standards that over 4.45 billion years, the sample has not released any parent product into the atmosphere and out of the mineral? (The effect of this assumption being wrong could make all measurements seem much older than they might actually be).

    Something more easily observable within the Human life span (carbon-14) can still achieve accurate rates, but only relative to the time periods it is measuring. (obviously once you are measuring billions of years, a thousand years or so isn't going to make much of a difference) However, the way that carbon-14 can be most accurate is by knowing how old the product was and how much time the carbon-14 had to decay and then calculating in the SPR and SDR which are not known past our research from the last maybe 150 years.

    Four assumptions don't seem like too many, but if you look at the effect they can have on the results, especially for radioactive materials that we have had less time to research, they could be completely innacurate. We could debate all our lives on whether or not each of these assumptions are true, but if they are wrong, then we could be spoonfeeding lies into the classrooms about the age of the Earth, something that you and I both know would take a long time to correct.


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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Stop right there. Just shove the argument right back at the creationist.


    "Creationism and its assumptions."


    Apparently it is a problem that there are assumptions to the technique of radiometric dating. Reverse logic. Throw back argument at opponent.

    This makes much more sense than to go into a pointless debate with a moron. Especially when the information he needs can be googled without any effort.


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  4. #3  
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    all science starts with initial assumptions
    where science trumps creationism is that further observations and experimentation validate these assumptions

    verified assumptions can't be treated on a par with wild guess assumptions, such as creationists often make when trying to discredit solid science
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Doesn't the convergence on the same dates by other Radioisotopes support even further that the dates are correct?
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  6. #5  
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    The thing about assumptions is this: explanations that require the fewest, particularly the newest and least tested or testable, are nearly always the best explanations.

    For instance, an unknown light dances across the sky. Among many, two hypotheses can be made: 1) an alien spacecraft (a.k.a. UFO was observed); 2) car headlights from a highway on the other side of the hill were observed.

    The second hypothesis assumes there were low-clouds to reflect, that automobiles exist and have headlights, that headlights can reflect on clouds, that it was dark, etc.

    The first hypothesis assumes that aliens exist, that they visit Earth, that they are able to traverse vast distances, that they have overcome the barrier of lightspeed or that they are very patient as the trip would take millions of years, that visiting Earth is worth the expense, that they would then "dance" their spacecraft across the sky like car headlights reflecting from clouds.

    Creationist arguments are very much along the same lines. Radioisotope analysis has long been corroborated and calibrated with other methods such as dendrochronology, paleomagnatism, astronomy, electron spin resonance, thermoluminescence, etc.
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  7. #6  
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    Assumptions 2, 3 and 4 are not actually made by practioners of dating techniques. The reverse is true. Analysts, for example, assume a sample may have been contaminated and use a variety of methods to exclude this possibility, or to correct for it. Of course this leads to creationists claiming evolutionists pick and choose samples.
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    -If the specific decay and production rates vary throughout time and approach equilibrium, but have not yet reached equilibrium as is the case for Carbon-14 which would take a minimal 20,000 to 30,000 years as denoted in the error analysis section of Dr. Libby's work on Carbon-14 dating, how can we say that we can accurately measure the age of anything outside of our realm of knowing the average specific decay and production rates?
    So for the part above, under Assumption 1, how do scientists solve this? I guess what he's trying to ask, is how do we know the ratio of 1 C-14 atom to 1 trillion C-12 atoms in the atmosphere has always been the same?

    I just went to wikipedia and read the following under The need for calibration on the Radiocarbon page;

    "A raw BP date cannot be used directly as a calendar date, because the level of atmospheric 14C has not been strictly constant during the span of time that can be radiocarbon dated. The level is affected by variations in the cosmic ray intensity which is in turn affected by variations in the Earth's magnetosphere [12]. In addition, there are substantial reservoirs of carbon in organic matter, the ocean, ocean sediments (see methane hydrate), and sedimentary rocks. Changes in the Earth's climate can affect the carbon flows between these reservoirs and the atmosphere, leading to changes in the atmosphere's 14C fraction."

    Then the following calibration methods;

    "The raw radiocarbon dates, in BP years, are calibrated to give calendar dates. Standard calibration curves are available, based on comparison of radiocarbon dates of samples that can be dated independently by other methods such as examination of tree growth rings (dendrochronology), deep ocean sediment cores, lake sediment varves, coral samples, and speleothems (cave deposits)."


    If I understand this correctly, there have been variations in the rate of variation of production of C-14 in the atmosphere in the past and that radiocarbon dates are now calibrated to account for those fluctuations?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erebus
    ...Then the following calibration methods;

    "The raw radiocarbon dates, in BP years, are calibrated to give calendar dates. Standard calibration curves are available, based on comparison of radiocarbon dates of samples that can be dated independently by other methods such as examination of tree growth rings (dendrochronology), deep ocean sediment cores, lake sediment varves, coral samples, and speleothems (cave deposits)."


    If I understand this correctly, there have been variations in the rate of variation of production of C-14 in the atmosphere in the past and that radiocarbon dates are now calibrated to account for those fluctuations?
    That's the gist of it. The isotopic decay itself is a constant. The volume of the isotope is a variable through time. To calibrate, paired C-14 and tree-ring dates allow for the calibration for about the last 12,400 calendar years or so. From about 12,400 to about 26,000 years, we calibrate against paired C-14 and high-precision U-series (Th-230 to U-234) dates on corals. We also get C-14 dates on planktonic foraminifera from annual varves in the Cariaco Basin northwest of Venezuela. The age of each varve layer can be independently estimated from its position in the complete sequence.

    Beyond 26,000 years ago, calibration dates are uncertain at best, for a variety of reasons, mostly due to discrepancies between calibrating data which are not in agreement. Examples include oxygen-isotope analyses compared to paired C-14 and U-series ages on corals and cave carbonates (speleothems). But, on thing that is sure, the ages arrived at beyond 26,000 are actually underestimates. This is because the ancient atmosphere between 22,000 and 50,000 years ago was a carbon rich one. The disagreement about just how much carbon was present presents the discrepancies, thus the safest ages to go with are the underestimates.

    So, while creationists have a point that there are some problems with radiocarbon, they totally miss the boat when it comes to understanding what the problems are and completely ignore the fact that problems present underestimates for ages rather than overestimates.
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  10. #9  
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    What creationists also overlook is that a single dating method is rarely used today. Here is an example form the current edition of PNAS.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/46/19726.abstract

    from the abstract:
    Here we show that two independent techniques, the combined electron spin resonance/U-series method used with mammal teeth and infrared radiofluorescence applied to sand grains, date the type-site of Homo heidelbergensis at Mauer to 609 40 ka.

    So the researchers use two different materials and two different techniques to determine and age, with both methods providing a check against the other. There is an assumption here, of course. Several. We assume that careful, well validated, systematic analyses, founded on diligent sample collection and preparation, and rigorous, consistent application of technique will produce meaningful results unless interfered with by a spiteful, supernatural being.
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  11. #10  
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    Not only does this young man not seem to be acquainted with science, but he also doesn't seem to know the scriptures.

    The earth is 6k years old starting from the fall of Adam and Eve, not from it's creation.

    Still doesn't answer a lot of questions brought up by archeology and such, though...
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  12. #11 Re: Radiometric Dating and it's "Assumptions" 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erebus
    1. The Radioactive element decays at a constant rate
    I've noticed that creationists typically focus on carbon dating but ignore (or are simply ignorant of) other isotope dating systems such as U-Pb, Pb-Pb, K-Ar, Rb-Sr, Nd-Sm, and Re-Os which are just as relevant to geological research, if not more so. Each system takes into account different factors, and the importance of certain mechanisms vary between methods - for example, 14C production in carbon dating, which is not relevent to any other system.

    This is often completely lost on creationists.

    2. The rock/mineral being analyzed has not been contaminated throughout the years by the end product that is being analyzed in order to determine half-life.

    3. The rock/mineral being analyzed contained no end product when it was originally formed
    These two assumptions are entirely contingent on the isotopic system used, as well as the minerals used. For example, U-Pb considerations differ from, say, Rb-Sr considerations, and within the U-Pb system, considerations for zircon may be completely different than a mineral such as monazite.

    If you consider Pb-Pb dating, for example, 204Pb is a primordial isotope created prior to the formation of the solar system. It's not a decay product of U or Th, so it can be used as a test independent of primary daughters.

    Again, creationists are completely oblivious to this. Their 'education' solely consists of creationist propaganda, not a formal treatment of the subject (to say nothing of an advanced, graduate-level isotopes course).

    It's embarassing, actually, how little creationists understand.

    4. Leaching of the parent element does not occur.
    This assumption is closely related to 2 and 3, and typically relies on two things: mass diffusivity of solid states, and good old fashioned geological skill.

    Different isotopic systems require different minerals, which themselves exhibit different closure temperatures. A closure temperature is a threshold below which ions do not typically escape the lattice of a mineral (mass diffusion). Geological skill comes into play in knowing whether or not the closure temperature is relevent to your radiometric technique.

    So how is this actually applied? As an example, if my study area contains minerals like plagioclase, hornblende, and biotite, but shows evidence for a metamorphic textural overprint (i.e. relict grains), I'm likely dealing with amphibolite facies metamorphism. Please understand this is a gross simplification, but we could say this means the terrane's been cooked up in the ballpark of ~500C, and therefore has likely reset the Rb-Sr atomic clock of my constituent biotite (with a closure temperature of, oh, ~250-300C), dating the end of that metamorphic episode instead of the time of rock formation.

    So what to do? Well, you could plot your data on an isochron and identify both your age of formation and metamorphic episode. Or you could find another mineral to target - zircon for U-Pb, perhaps. But what if your terrane consists of mafic or ultramafic rock? Do you think zircon dating is likely that setting? Why or why not?

    Do you think a creationist knows?

    They have no clue, whatsoever. They've never even heard of these considerations - to expect them to *understand* them is completely bonkers on our part.
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  13. #12 radiometric dating 
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    hello, number 3., I think is the same question I too wish to know more about.
    How do you know there was no daughter in the rock tested, or, conversely, how do you know how much of the daughter was originally in the rock tested.

    If for example this planet, earth, formed in space from a homogeneous dust/gas "soup" of atoms of all elements, including daughter isotopes, how can we say the rocks tested have any age at all, as they may just have formed that way yesterday from whatever levels of elements were in the original element soup.
    thankyou
    A Creationist (of sorts)
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR View Post
    all science starts with initial assumptions
    where science trumps creationism is that further observations and experimentation validate these assumptions

    verified assumptions can't be treated on a par with wild guess assumptions, such as creationists often make when trying to discredit solid science
    How does one observe and experiment with events which occurred beyond observation and expermentation. Macroevolution cannot be confirmed using the scientific method.
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    Extraordinary claims require extra ordinary evidence. The crux of creationist arguements is that science can't prove that at some point in the past the rate of radiologic decay was not much faster than the rate observed now, by scientists. This is true, however, the corresponding question to creationists is can they show any experimental data that demonstrates that radiologic rate of decay can be increased? If you are saying it happened in the past it is reasonable to ask you to prove it can happen.
    If I accuse you of burning the records, then it is appropriate for you to ask me to demonstrate that the material the records were written on can actually be burned.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan1956 View Post
    Macroevolution cannot be confirmed using the scientific method.
    Uh oh. Now you’ve done it....
    Last edited by pineapples; August 23rd, 2014 at 04:55 AM. Reason: removed hotlink!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan1956 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR View Post
    all science starts with initial assumptions
    where science trumps creationism is that further observations and experimentation validate these assumptions

    verified assumptions can't be treated on a par with wild guess assumptions, such as creationists often make when trying to discredit solid science
    How does one observe and experiment with events which occurred beyond observation and expermentation. Macroevolution cannot be confirmed using the scientific method.
    Incorrect, as macroevolution has been observed, and is simply micorevolution over a longer number of generations, (not time)
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    The claim that the rate of readiologic decay was not constant in the past still requires some evidence that under some set of conditions the rale of decay can be speeded up. So far there is no such evidence. The ball is in the creationists court. You are challenged to do some real science or shut up.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paleoichneum View Post
    Incorrect, as macroevolution has been observed, and is simply micorevolution over a longer number of generations, (not time)
    actually it's not... I thought this too at first.
    Microevolution and macroevolution are creationist terms.
    They are not valid scientific terms.
    You need to understand what they really mean.

    Microevolution for a creationist, is simply the selection of genes that are alredy there. A population is alredy diverse, and has recessive and dominant genes. Microevolution is simply picking the ones that you are interested in. They accept that natural selection can do the selection here.

    Strictly speaking, this is mostly true. What we see, is almost always selection among genes that are alredy there. I mean genes, that are alredy wide spread and old. This is basically 99% true.

    Macroevolution for a creationist, is the appearance of new genes. They completely deny that. So random mutations creating a useful gene, is impossible according to creationists. They say that it "adds information", and that's "impossible". I think it's just psychiatric denial here.

    It took me a while to understand the distinction they were making.
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    They are not creationist terms, as I have used them and seen them used and defined in college level text books and curricula.

    While creationists see a distinction that is insurmountable, evolutionary biologists do not and simply look at the time frames as to which is being referenced.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paleoichneum View Post
    They are not creationist terms, as I have used them and seen them used and defined in college level text books and curricula.

    While creationists see a distinction that is insurmountable, evolutionary biologists do not and simply look at the time frames as to which is being referenced.
    I just had a look in Wikipedia. They are scientific terms O_O ....
    Macroevolution - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I speak two other languages and interested in science. I never saw these terms used in any other context then from creationist. Even then, it's basically American creationists. Creationism in Europe is not significant. In the general biology courses i took, i never encountered the terms. In documentaries, i never hear the terms either...

    I think the terms are just an American thing, due to the presence of a strong creationist lobby. I doubt a lot of Europeans know the terms in any other contexts then in the American creationist context. Probably the rest of the planet too...

    I don't see any value, in making two terms, then just to say, that they are both just evolution.... O_o

    In any case. We need to understand what is been meant, by the terms in context. In the usual creationist context, they are meant the way i described them. It took me a while to understand what they were saying, because i was taking for granted the obvious scientific meaning.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quantum immortal View Post
    Microevolution and macroevolution are creationist terms.
    They are not valid scientific terms.
    Well, they are valid terms - creationists just don't understand that they are the same thing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quantum immortal View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Paleoichneum View Post
    They are not creationist terms, as I have used them and seen them used and defined in college level text books and curricula.

    While creationists see a distinction that is insurmountable, evolutionary biologists do not and simply look at the time frames as to which is being referenced.
    I just had a look in Wikipedia. They are scientific terms O_O ....
    Macroevolution - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I speak two other languages and interested in science. I never saw these terms used in any other context then from creationist. Even then, it's basically American creationists. Creationism in Europe is not significant. In the general biology courses i took, i never encountered the terms. In documentaries, i never hear the terms either...

    I think the terms are just an American thing, due to the presence of a strong creationist lobby. I doubt a lot of Europeans know the terms in any other contexts then in the American creationist context. Probably the rest of the planet too...

    I don't see any value, in making two terms, then just to say, that they are both just evolution.... O_o

    In any case. We need to understand what is been meant, by the terms in context. In the usual creationist context, they are meant the way i described them. It took me a while to understand what they were saying, because i was taking for granted the obvious scientific meaning.
    You find them a lot in actual peer reviewed biology papers, not just in America. Google scholar returns around 20,000 hits for the term macroevolution alone
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    Quote Originally Posted by billvon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Quantum immortal View Post
    Microevolution and macroevolution are creationist terms.
    They are not valid scientific terms.
    Well, they are valid terms - creationists just don't understand that they are the same thing.
    Wikipedia:
    Contrary to claims by creationists, macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan1956 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR View Post
    all science starts with initial assumptions
    where science trumps creationism is that further observations and experimentation validate these assumptions

    verified assumptions can't be treated on a par with wild guess assumptions, such as creationists often make when trying to discredit solid science
    How does one observe and experiment with events which occurred beyond observation and expermentation. Macroevolution cannot be confirmed using the scientific method.
    This is an old chestnut that creationists are always trotting out.

    It is false to say that only phenomena that can be directly observed can confirm a theory. There are examples throughout science of theories that are based on indirect observation. For example, the whole particulate theory of matter (atoms and molecules) was developed without any direct observation of an atom or a molecule. What was observed was a series of phenomena that were accounted for if matter were made up of atoms and molecules. Furthermore, it was found that the theory of these atoms and molecules enabled further observations to be predicted correctly. That is what makes a theory science.

    Doing "experiments" is not necessary either. Whole branches of science (e.g. geology, meteorology, astronomy) rely on observations that are not "experiments". Science is not all done by people in white coats with test tubes.

    Evolution successfully accounts for and predicts the magnitudes of the relative similarities and differences in DNA, and for the sequences in which fossils are found in the geological record. And it it successfully predicts what intermediate or similar forms might be found in what geologic formations. These are the kinds of observations which confirm the theory. There is no distinction to be made between these and the sorts of observations scientists rely on in other theories.

    It seems to me significant that I have yet to meet a creationist who understands science. The whole creationist stance is founded upon ignorance of science.
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    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Alan1956 View Post
    How does one observe and experiment with events which occurred beyond observation and expermentation. Macroevolution cannot be confirmed using the scientific method.
    This is an old chestnut that creationists are always trotting out.
    It is false to say that only phenomena that can be directly observed can confirm a theory.
    It would also undermine a lot of criminal convictions:
    "We found the victim's blood on his clothes; with found GSR on his sleeve; he was seen going in to the victim's home; the bullet in the victim came from his gun; his fingerprints were on the victim; his DNA was on the victim.......but since we didn't directly observe the murder we will not convict him."
    SayBigWords.com/say/3FC

    "And, behold, I come quickly;" Revelation 22:12

    "Religions are like sausages. When you know how they are made, you no longer want them."
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  27. #26  
    Forum Professor Zwolver's Avatar
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    But this doesn't put a large group of religious nuts at ease, while disproving radiometric dating would.
    Growing up, i marveled at star-trek's science, and ignored the perfect society. Now, i try to ignore their science, and marvel at the society.

    Imagine, being able to create matter out of thin air, and not coming up with using drones for boarding hostile ships. Or using drones to defend your own ship. Heck, using drones to block energy attacks, counterattack or for surveillance. Unless, of course, they are nano-machines in your blood, which is a billion times more complex..
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