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Reply to Woodmorappe's Critique of My Web Page

Copyright 2003 G.R. Morton. This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made. (home.entouch.net/dmd/woodrad.htm)

John Woodmorappe has just put out a page defending his 1979 article on radiometric dating. It can be found at http://www.trueorigin.org/ca_jw_02.asp. He is defending his article from my criticisms which were made originally in the Creation Research Society Quarterly in 1982 but which are currently available on my web page home.entouch.net/dmd/age.htm. Woodmorappe can't claim that this criticism was made by an evolutionist because I wasn't one at the time the criticism was first made. I was a thorough-going young-earth creationist at the time.

My criticism is that Woodmorappe specifically searched through the literature excluding any good dates and collected all dates which were out by 20% from the expectation. He then lists 350 or so of these dates which he says are 20% out of expectation. Then he illogically concludes that radiometric dating doesn't work. If one looks for bad dates and mistakes and then uses only mistakes as a method for determining what works and what doesn't, he will be able to conclude that nothing works. If one collects the mistaken speech of TV news presenters and compiles it all in a tape, it would be funny, but it wouldn't be logical to conclude that TV presenters can't talk. If one collects automobile crash statistics and then publishes them in a paper, it would be illogical to conclude that cars can't go anywhere without crashing. Yet this is the logic of Woodmorappe's methodology. Show some bad dates then claim that dating doesn't work.

I am curious that Woodmorappe claims his list was to show how ‘frequent discrepant isotopic results occur in the literature’. Since he didn't tell us how many correct dates he excluded, he couldn't possibly tell us the frequency. He himself puts down the claim he makes that bad dates are not published. He writes:

“An objective comparison between the number of fitting vs. the number of anomalous dates in the Phanerozoic is hindered (if not prevented) by the fact that anomalous dates frequently (or usually) are not reported in scientific journals.” (Woodmorappe 1979, p. 113)

And then he goes on to publish 350 examples of PUBLISHED bad dates. One can't have it both ways. Either the bad dates are published or they are not. He proves that they are.

Woodmorappe thinks that radiometric dating doesn't work. A friend related to me that this is demonstrably falsified by an economic argument. If the date returned from radiometric dating laboratories were merely a crap-shoot, then why would anyone pay as much as $1 million per sample for Rb-Sr isochron dating? Even evolutionists aren't that stupid!

  In Woodmorappe's article he claims that I must meet 7 conditions for my critique to be valid. Most of these conditions are demands that I do work which Woodmorappe should have done himself when he published that 1979 article. Why he wants me to do the work he should have done in order to make his claims is beyond me. He claims

A. I should make a list of all valid dates which escaped inclusion in his list.

  • This is a laughable requirement. Woodmorappe was the one who knows what articles he looked at and which ones he didn't include in his list. Am I supposed to read his mind and tell the world what dates he didn't include? When making the claim that radiometric dating doesn't work, it is up to him to prove the case, not up to me to read his mind.
  • As noted above, Woodmorappe doesn't show us what percentage of all published radiometric dates, his ‘discrepant’ dates are. Are they 1%? Are they .05%? Woodmorappe should have kept track of how many radiometric dates he didn't include in his list and then tell his readers how many good dates there were. But here he wants me to do his work via mind-reading, I guess.

B. That I should tell the world whether or not the points on my graph are single dates or an average or what. If I don't do that, I am accused of mixing apples, oranges and sand.

  • This is easy. I merely took the dates listed in Woodmorappe's 1979 article. If a single date was given, I used it. If multiple dates for a single sample was given, then I averaged the dates for that sample. The averaging is why you see some dots on my graph near the solid line. If I am mixing apples, oranges and sand, then it is the apples, oranges, and sand given me by Woodmorappe himself in the 1979 article.

C. That I would have to prove that the dates came from isochron techniques were from identical magmas.

  • This is an interesting claim that I, using Woodmorappe's data, must prove what Woodmorappe failed to prove himself. It is his data I plotted. It is he who must prove that the isochron dates WEREN'T from the same magma. This criticism is an interesting case of asking someone else to do the work which you were unwilling to do yourself.

D. That I should show that severely discrepant results are published as often as mildly discrepant results.

  • This, once again, isn't my job. I consider 20% discrepancy (which was Woodmorappe's minimal number) to be highly discrepant. Woodmorappe has proven (assuming his list correctly represents what is actually in the literature) that 350 highly discrepant dates have been published. A 300-million-year-old Carboniferous rock which dates off by 20% means the rock could be anything between Devonian to Triassic. That IS a serious discrepancy. Remember, Woodmorappe's minimal value for inclusion into his list was 20% error. Twenty percent isn't mildly discrepant. Two percent is mildly discrepant.
  • No one evolutionist is arguing that radiometric dating is perfect and without erroneous values. Error occurs in all of life's activities. Mistakes are made even with DNA fingerprinting resulting in the conviction of innocent men or the acquittal of the guilty. But just because mistakes occur doesn't mean that it doesn't work in the vast majority of cases. To my knowledge, I have never heard Woodmorappe admit that he ever made any mistake. Interesting that life's rules don't seem to apply to him.

E. That I should prove that dates 20% too old are published as often as dates which are 20% too young.

  • Why should I do that? Woodmorappe is the one who claims that dating doesn't work. It is his assertion that bad dates aren't published, (in spite of the 350 he found) thus it is his job to prove that more aren't published. Once again, Woodmorappe is asking me to do work which he should do in order to prove HIS point. The challenger of any idea in science has the duty to prove his case. Sadly, Woodmorappe apparently has not only failed to prove his case, but the very fact that he is now putting out a web site on my criticism means that even his fellow YECs are pressuring him to explain his work. And that means that my criticisms have hit home.
  • Even if ‘old’ dates are published less often than ‘young’ dates, it doesn't negate the fact that Woodmorappe never tells us what percentage of total dates he looked at these 350 cases are. Are they 1%? Are they .05%? He acts as if by listing a few discrepant dates he can avoid the question of what percentage of the total dates made this list represents.

F. That I should prove that dates which are too young for Cenozoic rocks are published as often as dates which are too young for Paleozoic rocks.

  • A look at the graph of Woodmorappe's data, shown at home.entouch.net/dmd/age.htm, shows that the density of dots below the solid line is about the same between 0 and 65 million years (the Cenozoic) as it is between 245 and 600 myr (the Paleozoic). Thus a look at my graph shows this condition is met.

G. That I have not normalized Woodmorappe's list for igneous outcrops.

  • Hey, it is Woodmorappe's list, not mine. If that should have been done, then he should have done it. Why is he criticising me for not doing what he didn't do?

Woodmorappe then criticises my web page home.entouch.net/dmd/age.htm, quoting me:

John Woodmorappe (1979) went through the scientific literature looking for radioactive dates which are 20% too old or too young. He specifically excluded from his search any date which matched the expected age. This type of selective editing is exactly what Young earth Creationists charge the Evolutionists with. Woodmorappe says

“An objective comparison between the number of fitting v. the number of anomalous dates in the Phanerozoic is hindered (if not prevented) by the fact that anomalous dates frequently (or usually) are not reported in scientific journals.” (Woodmorappe 1979, p. 113)

Thus while he criticizes the old-earther for selectively publishing radioactive dates, he does the very same thing by only publishing bad dates. This seriously hurts his credibility.

Woodmorappe then replies:

“To even try to equate the tabulation of published discrepant dates, in a review-type article, with the non publishing of obtained discrepant dates, in an original research paper, is another act of complete intellectual dishonesty on his part.”

Woodmorappe's statement ASSUMES, without any proof, documentation, or data, that this ‘non-publishing’ of discrepant dates occurs. Where is his documentation for the assertion? Is he going to ask me to provide that documentation as he has above asked me to provide other work which he should have done in the first place? One friend suggested the following. To expand the above analogy with cars, it can be noted that some car crashes are not reported because it would cause the driver's insurance rates to go up. So, just because some car crashes are not reported does that mean that cars don't work? Similarly, if Woodmorappe is correct and some radiometric dates are not reported, it doesn't mean that radiometric dating doesn't work. Some dates might not be reported because they are no different than previously published dates. Can Woodmorappe tell us how many good dates aren't published?

Finally, a comment on Woodmorappe's last paragraph. He says, that I was ‘claiming to be a creationist.’ It wasn't merely a claim. I became a YEC in 1969 when I became a Christian. I was told that was what a Christian should believe, so I did. I buried my scientific doubts at that time. I spent the 70's quietly working and struggling with the geologic data I saw every day at work (something John doesn't have to do since he doesn't work as a geologist but works as a teacher at last report). When I started publishing in 1979, I already had problems with the standard creationist theories. I was advocating what I thought was a solution to the difficulties. I must admit, that I was stupid enough to think that anyone in the creationist camp cared about those problems. I actually thought that other creationists were as worried about the data which contradicted the global flood/young-earth view as I was. As 2 decades have shown, I was sadly wrong.

I knew that Woodmorappe was a reviewer of some of my papers. But I was also a reviewer of some of his. He probably didn't ever realize that until now. I was probably kinder to his articles, (actually suggesting that they be published), than he was to mine. But Woodmorappe finally had his way. When Armstrong gave up the editorship to Emmett Williams, two articles which Armstrong had accepted for publication were summarily rejected by Williams. One of those articles talked about the heat issue which arises from condensing rain during the flood. The other discussed how slow uplift and subsidence of continents were and that if creationists wanted to sink the continents as a cause of the flood, it had to be done miraculously. But William's rise to the editorship was the end of my publishing career with CRSQ. The only exception was a paper put together from my letters to George Howe. It was my words and ideas, but edited by Howe. It seems that Woodmorappe's idea of a perfect creationist journal is one which contains no ideas which disagree with his own.

As to Woodmorappe's claim that my rejection of YEC didn't represent a major change in my thinking, he is terribly wrong. I agonized for years over that change before finally giving YEC up in 1993. It was the most painful ideological shift I have ever experienced. It was a major change but, of course, Woodmorappe would neither know this nor would he have sympathy for such a struggle.

Written April 6, 2003

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