Seriously? If I hadn’t read your…“interesting” post which introduced this thread implying that evolutionary theory had no “useful” scientific benefit, I might have assumed that you were making a joke—probably meant to recall with a chuckle the kinds of age of the earth debates we’ve all seen on forums frequented by Kent Hovind and Ray Comfort fans. When people with no science background bring an ICR-level slogan to a venue where real scientists are posting, the abrupt collision with reality can bring things to an uncomfortable halt. (“Did he actually say that?”)
OF COURSE a laboratory will ask for a rough quantification before assigning a sample for measurement! You don’t have to be a scientist to deal with that in a host of measurement situations in our daily lives.
If I’m selling wheat from the recent harvest, the first thing they determine at the grain elevator is which scale to use. Why? Each scale is appropriate for a different range of weights.
If I’m measuring the distance from my house to my mailbox, I’m going to use a different means of measurement, appropriate to the scale, than if I’m measuring the distance to the nearest town. Could the tape measure I used to measure the distance to the mailbox be used to determine the mileage to the city limits of that nearby town? Yes. And I doubt that I’d have to explain to anyone why using the tape measure for such relatively large distances would produce a lot of accumulative error because of the repeated measurements, point-by-point along the way.
Yes, I could try to use the odometer on my car to measure the length of my driveway just as I could use it to measure the distances between cities. Imagine if a car odometer happens to be digital instead of analog. In that case, using the car odometer to measure the length of my driveway could easily produce a ridiculous measurement of ZERO.
If my tape measure says the driveway is 50’ long but the digital odometer says that the driveway is 0.0 miles long, are you going to tell us that:
(1) our distance measuring devices and methodologies are unreliable and inconsistent?
(2) If you telephoned me and asked me to come over to your house and measure the length of your driveway, are you going to criticize me for asking you questions so that I can know whether to bring a tape measure, a surveyor’s transit, a hand-carried GPS unit, or just my car? Seriously? (You are using that same poor logic in complaining about radiometrics labs.)
(3) Are you going to proclaim “All car odometers are useless in measuring distances” because a car jacked up on blocks (so as to allow the car to be put in gear without the tires touching the ground) can be run for an hour and give a measured distance of 20 miles----even though the car has actually moved zero inches?
Those are exactly the kinds and calibers of ridiculous, nonsensical arguments against radiometric dating that you will find on many science-illiterate Young Earth Creationist websites. Why not consult actual scientists who specialize in radiometrics instead of propagandists who prey on sincere, good people who simply happen to lack appropriate backgrounds in analytical methods and laboratory procedures? (And yes, I call them “propagandists” because that is what they are. Ken Ham, for example, is neither a scientist nor a Biblical scholar. He is a origins-ministry entrepreneur, one of many who have made their fortunes selling disinformation to a lot of good people who deserve the truth instead.)
I worked in a lab which did all sorts of laboratory measurements on both a contract and walk-in basis, including some types of radiometrics. Yes, there was a multi-page “application for laboratory services” document which asked the client all sorts of questions including information that the client didn’t necessarily always have. But even rough approximations and guesses as to provenance, potential contamination, etc. would eventually prove useful. With all but the most experience clients, I had to go through an “interview process” to help them complete the application and to help them better prepare and protect the next sample they might bring in.
All sorts of contamination scenarios not only made things like age determination more difficult and uncertain, it also could have extreme impact on the total cost. That is, if the client lacked various kinds of information about the sample, the only way to reduce uncertainty was to undertake additional expensive tests.
[I remember my boss showing me a fossil a guy brought in that had been passed down through his family for several generations. It was glued to a beautifully polished pieces of hardwood in order to make it look almost like a trophy. (And the glue had been applied so liberally as to practically encase it in the clear glue.) The guy wanted it “carbon dated” but my boss had gotten exasperated explaining to him that the fossil was basically saturated with carbon because even without running tests for organic compounds, the glues of the likely era were usually plant or animal derived. The client finally said, “Then use your common sense and just take some nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to remove the glue! I’ve used that before to dissolve this kind of glue on my grandfather’s old taxidermy mounts!” Yes, my boss had to explain that those organic compounds had also saturated the sample with carbon. I can just imagine some Young Earth Creationist take that to one lab after another until he got somebody to go through the motions of a Carbon-14 measurement—and then declaring it proof of young age! And yet JohnZ is trying to tell us that questions about provenance and estimated age are some kind of gotcha smoking gun!]
By the way, at the time I worked in that lab, I was still an anti-evolution Young Earth Creationist. And the Assistant Director of the lab was personally skeptical of evolution, although he certainly affirmed the billions of years of earth history. Yet both of us would ask clients for the same basic “intake information” so that we knew what methods to use and how to aim for the most accurate test measurements using the appropriate procedures which would accrue the lowest possible costs. Belief in evolution had nothing to do with it.
In case my explanations are not completely clear: Of course the radiometric dating laboratory will want to know everything that is known about a sample and a rough idea of its likely age is very helpful in reducing costs and saving time. But if it was ever the case that nothing was known about a sample, its provenance, its likely age, there are plenty of examinations and tests we could perform to ballpark the age of the sample and verify that rough estimate before moving on to the actual radiometric measurements. Yet, as @johnZ illustrated, it is far more effective and convincing with a science-illiterate audience to simply recite a standard anti-evolutionist slogan while pretending that it somehow makes sense as a criticism of carefully perfected methodologies developed by thousands of scientists scrutinizing, cross-checking, and refining over many decades and further improving their procedures with the help of the peer-review process.
When someone repeats the illogical slogans and cliched arguments of anti-evolution ministry websites, they convince any scientists among the readers that they have no understanding of ;analytical methods and how radiometric testing is conducted. Of course, that was a major reason why the R.A.T.E. Project was such an embarrassing disaster and a huge waste of millions of dollars. (However, it was a lucrative project for the “team members”, who during the rest of the year complain in the sermons at churches that “atheist evolutionist scientists” refuse to “admit the truth about evolution” because they have such a vested financial interest in preserving the lucrative status quo of the science academy. Somehow they have determined that the profit motive hopelessly corrupts peer-reviewed science but doesn’t seem to impede the integrity of IDists. Interesting.)
I’m very concerned that every time a long-ago debunked anti-evolution slogan is recycled on the Internet and in the Young Earth Creationist anti-evolution marketplace, non-believers point to yet another example of what they consider the “shameless dishonesty” of what they generalize to all Christians. Please. Truth matters. It would be far better if ministry leaders would simply say, “I don’t know anything about radiometric dating.” There is no dishonor in admitting a lack of education in a particular area. But there are seriously high stakes and a lot of damage to the progress of the Great Commission when Christian ministries get distracted from the Gospel message and what the Bible actually states and gets focused on pseudo-science babble.
Yes, I’ll admit it. When I see good, sincere, and honest people (like John, no doubt) get fed this kind of tired old anti-evolution slogans and cliched pseudo-science arguments, I wish those mega-ministry leaders could be brought before their local churches or denominations for appropriate and Biblical church discipline for bearing false witness and for polluting the Body of Christ with what some of those propagandist-entrepreneurs know to be lies. (I make that statement based upon private conversations with some of them. Yes, many of those leaders are simply science-ignorant and trusting the wrong “authorities.” But some actually know better and don’t care about the truth because they’ve got a good gig going.)