Religion of Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Source: kwaku ba

Religion versus Science: Fossil Evidence and Carbon Dating

Religion versus Science: Fossil Evidence and Carbon Dating

The Judeo-Christian faiths teach that a Hebrew speaking deity named Yahweh created the entire universe in a flurry of miracles over six days, resulting in our current physical reality and all the known lifeforms. Based on the narrative of Genesis and other texts of the Old Testament, in 1642 James Ussher, the then Anglican Bishop of Armagh in Ireland calculated that the Earth was created on Sunday October 23, 4004 BC. This would mean that the current age of the Earth is approximately just over 6,000 years old. This view was held as an unshakable truth particularly by Christians for many centuries. However over the past 200 years when the formal study of modern science took shape, many proofs and pieces of evidence indicate that this estimate may be incorrect. In fact the narrative of the sequence of events of the creation of the universe itself has come under scrutiny. This article presents just two forms of evidence used to study past events on the earth and enable scientists and researchers to determine the age of the earth as well as important milestones in the formation and development of the earth and the lifeforms that live on it.

The first important source of evidence comes from fossils. What is a fossil? A fossil is the preserved remains or traces of animals, plants, and other organisms that lived in the past, and are buried in the earth. The sum total of all fossils, including those yet to be discovered, and how and where they are placed and located in the earth is called the fossil record. The field of science that trains people to study fossils in great detail and expertise is called Paleontology.

Just like their living counterparts, fossils vary in age and size. Fossil range in size from those of tiny bacteria to those of huge dinosaurs and mighty trees that once lived. It is important to note that most fossils contain the parts of the organism that are mineralized (hardened) during the life of the organism. As a result the most common fossils consist of things such as bones or teeth of vertebrates (animals with back bone) as well as chitinous material from invertebrates (animals with no internal skeleton but rather an outer skeleton or exoskeleton) such as crabs, or insects. Fossils of soft tissues such as brain tissue or liver etc are very rare due to the rapid decomposition they undergo and the fact that they do not mineralize during the life of the organism. Fossils may also consist of marks left behind by an organism such as foot prints or the faeces. Other forms include endocasts where the soft tissue was encased in a layer of say mud and made an impression on the inside of the mud encasing and then decomposed and the mud fragment later hardened maintaining the imprint from the encased organ(s).

Fossilization is a very rare occurrence, because most components of formerly-living things tend to decompose very quickly after death. One process of fossilzation is called Permineralization. This occurs after burial, as the spaces within the organism that were filled with liquid or gas during life become filled with mineral-rich water. The minerals precipitate out of the groundwater and fill the empty spaces,. This will cause the specimen to harden over time. Permineralization can produce very detailed fossils. For permineralization to occur, the organism must be covered by sediment soon after death or soon after the initial decaying process. The degree to which the remains are decayed when covered determines the later details of the fossil. So in general, for an organism to be fossilized, the remains normally need to be covered by sediment as soon as possible. However there are some exceptions to this, such as if an organism becomes frozen, desiccated, or comes to rest in an environment with low oxygen.

So it is expected that we have an abundance of fossils of sea creatures but a shortage of fossils of forest dwellers, for example to date no gorilla fossils have ever been found. Fossilization favors organisms with hard body parts, species that were widespread, and those that existed for a long time before going extinct. On the contrary, it is very difficult to find fossils of small, soft bodied, geographically restricted organisms, due to their relative rarity and low chance of preservation. Larger specimens (macrofossils) are more often observed, dug up and displayed, although microscopic remains (microfossils) are actually far more common in the fossil record.

If we are to know the age of a rock or soil in which the fossil is found, we shall be able to get an idea or rough estimate of when the organism died. For example if a cat dies in the bush with time plants living, growing and dying on top of it will accumulate. Also, material from erosion (called sediment) may also accumulate on top of it with time. Today most geologists and agriculture experts can tell the rate at which sediments deposit at a particular place based on the specific circumstances in that area. Therefore if we find a fossilized snake buried in the ground we can tell when this snake died and from that we can tell when this snake lived. If we can find other fossilized materials in that same layer in that same area we can get an idea of what food materials were available to this snake when it was alive, as well as what kind of environment it lived in at that time. If we study snakes living today we can get a good sense of how this ancient snake may have lived, how it attacked and ate its victims and who those victims were, like rabbits, lizards etc etc. As another example, if we find a fossilized human and we find also close by within the same soil layer, the fossilized remains of silk cotton tree (Onyina) or Mahogany tree or say the fruit or seeds of a Teak tree, then we can conclude that this ancient human lived in a forest, even though the present vegetation may be much different. If this is established then we can get an idea of some of the food sources available to this person and also some of the dangers he or she may have faced in this environment

The oldest fossils found so far date back to the Achaean eon 3.75 to 2.5 billion years ago, roughly 1.25 billion years after the earth formed.. They are the fossils of bacteria called stromatolites. These organisms lived in colonies on the exposed surfaces of rocks. In some specimens the details are clear enough to see the cell structure with a microscope. Other early lifeforrms captured in the fossil record include the cyoanobacteria, and the eubacteria.

Now if fossils can be dated and we can establish other factors associated with the organism whose fossilized remains have been found, we can also establish chronological relationships based on what fossilized animals do we see in which rock layers from which particular years. For example it is claimed that the dinosaurs lived up to 65 million years ago. This has been supported by fossil evidence. So far no dinosaur fossils have been found in any rock less than 65 million years old anywhere on this planet. So we can conclude that up to that date dinosaurs lived and flourished on the earth then went extinct. An interesting question would be where were the humans at that time? Well we can answer this by looking for sediments or rocks of 65 million years old or older and looking for human fossilized remains within them. That would prove that around the time the dinosaurs lived, humans were also around going about their business. But no such evidence has been found anywhere. The oldest human fossil dates to around 10 million years old. This was found in Chad in 2003, and named Sahelanthropus Tchadensis, referred to by its simple name Toumai, which means ancient father. We must also note that Toumai was not anatomically identical to humans today but had various features indicating it was more ape-like than a fully developed human. So we can conclude that until we find 65 million and over years old human fossils, then at the time of the dinosaurs there were no humans in existence.

A similar example to illustrate is the whale. Today we know that the whale is not a fish but rather a mammal. The oldest whale fossil so far has been found in Pakistan dating from 40 million years ago. It has been named Pakicetus, meaning ancient whale of Pakistan. And this whale was very different anatomically to whales today. For example it had four limbs and a snout like a dog, but we know it was a whale or whale ancestor because it had other features unique to whales today, for example the sigmoid process, and other ear bones. However when we test rocks from 38 million years old and younger we do not find Pakicetus anywhere in the fossil record anywhere in the world. Absolutely none. However we do find a creature that appears to be an adapted or modified form of Pakicetus. This has been named Ambulocetus natans. Also we have so far not found a single Ambulocetus that pre-dates Pakicetus. So we can conclude that at some point around 38 million years ago a new whale ancestor species had evolved and Pakicetus later went extinct for some reason unknown at this time, just like the dinosaurs did earlier. If we follow this trend over the years, we see many species evolving until around 25 million years ago we see the modern whale we are familiar with appearing in the fossil record for the first time.

In case of the human ancestors we see several species evolving from Toumai over the years all in the exact chronological order as in the fossil record. Some of these include Ardipithicus ramidus (5.6 million years ago), Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy, 3 million years ago), Australopithecus africanus (2 million years ago), Homo erectus (the first fully human species who left Africa and colonized the world, 1 million years ago), Homo neanderthalensis ( a separate evolutionary cousin of modern humans that evolved in Europe 600,000 years ago), and many many others. It is interesting to note that not a single human ancestor species or any ancestor species of any animal living today, for that matter, has been found in the wrong sediment or rock layer. For example if we found a modern human fossil in a rock of 20 million years and we find a Homo erectus in a layer of 5 million years then we would know that there is a problem. It would mean that fossils are not an accurate indicator of the timeline of the development of species or the earth. It would also mean that other theories that are based on accurate fossil dating such as human evolution would also be inaccurate. But this has not happened anywhere. Zero, never, none. To date every single human ancestor species fossil ever found has been found in the correct layer according to the time and date. And this goes for every single other species every studied.

Fossils therefore are an accurate and invaluable piece of evidence that support not just geology, but also the evolution and development of all species currently living on the Earth including humans. But even today we have even better means of studying evolution. We can now use DNA and molecular biology to determine the evolutionary relationships among humans and among species. For example if we take the human DNA and that of a mouse and post them up side by side on the wall we can actually see live the points at which we separated and diverged away from a common ancestor that we once shared. And this can be done for any comparison of species. So fossils are not even needed anymore, but they are still studied for whatever can be learned from them. Also if the fossil records gave us one answer and the DNA gave us another we would know something is wrong somewhere. But so far, DNA and fossil evidence support each other without a single contradiction anywhere, absolutely none. For example using fossils and other evidence it has been known since the time of Charles Darwin that humans evolved from chimpanzee. Well, this claim was finally put to the ultimate test in 2005 when the chimpanzee DNA was mapped out for the first time. And feely feely humans and chimps have 98% identical DNA. The major difference coming from chromosome 2A and 2B in chimps where they are separate, but in humans these two chromosomes are fused into a single chromosome called chromosome number 2. It turns out that somewhere around 12 million years ago an ape-like creature had a child who had a head to head fusion of chromosomes 2A and 2B, this individual passed this trait on to its children who passed it on to their offspring and so on and so forth over several generations, then at some point an group of these creatures with this trait became isolated from their cohorts and the trait became “concentrated” or expressed in that population and lo and behold the human species was on its way. Today we have over 6 billion of us, all from a common chimpanzee ancestor, every single one of us.

So now that fossils have been described and understood, the next question is how are their dates determined? As mentioned, if we obtain a fossil from a sediment or soil layer we can test the soil layer and determine its age and based on that we can claim that the organism died around such and such years ago. But how do we determine that time? This is where dating methods come into play. Before we can understand dating methods we must prepare ourselves with a few basic concepts.

First of all we must do some basic physics and understand the structure of matter as we know it today. If we were to take a knife and cut a piece of meat we could technically cut it smaller and smaller and smaller until we reach the final indivisible particle, this is called the atom. The atom consists of a nucleus surrounded by a “cloud” or shell. The cloud contains electrons which are responsible for the chemical properties of the atom. The nucleus consists of two types of particles, called protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are responsible for the mass of the atom. The proton is positive charged while the neutron is electrically neutral. The number of protons determines what element the atom will be. The number of protons is always balanced by the number if electrons in the shell or cloud, so that the atom as a whole is electrically neutral. We may visualize an atom as analogous to the solar system with the nucleus at the center and electrons whizzing around the nucleus (though in actuality it is much more complex than that). For example the carbon atom has six protons, whereas the oxygen atom has eight protons. Now the number of neutrons tends to vary, some carbon atoms have six neutrons, while others have 8. Some hydrogen atoms have 1 neutron, or two neutron or zero neutrons. When an element has different types of atoms based on the number of neutrons we call them isotopes. For example deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, it has two neutrons whereas the common hydrogen has zero. Deuterium is used in the manufacture of atomic weapons whereas ordinary hydrogen cannot. For any element, the number of the normal atoms versus the isotopes depends on that element and other environmental factors. For example the human body is based on carbon atoms, 99% of which are normal carbon-12, and less than 0.000001% is carbon -14. Now any atom that has more neutrons than protons is potentially unstable. In order to stabilize itself such atoms undergo radioactive decay in which they emit certain particles and the nuclei rearrange themselves into a more stable configuration. The details of radioactive decay will be omitted for the sake of brevity but readers are encouraged to read any credible reference material on Quantum Theory or the Standard Model.

In the case of carbon-14 it has six protons and eight neutrons, so yes it is inherently radioactive and undergoes radioactive decay, naturally, to form one nitrogen atom one electron and one anti neutrino (and readers you don’t have to understand all of that). While we are alive because we all our food can be traced back to carbon, the relative amounts of normal carbon and carbon-14 in our bodies stays the same throughout our lives. But once dead, there is no more intake to replenish the depleting carbon, the carbon levels including carbon-14, deteriorate. If carbon-14 is left to deteriorate naturally, after 5,730 years we will have exactly half of that original amount left. This is what physicists call half-life. All radioactive substances have their own half-life.

For those of us familiar with the algebra and calculus, the half-life phenomenon is governed by the exponential function. So if N1 is the original amount of carbon-14 in the organism, and t represents time in years, then the proportion of carbon-14 remaining at any time (N2) can be calculated by

(N2/N1) = EXP(-t/8281)

So if we test a dead fossil and it contains one-tenth of the original carbon-14, then we know it died 19,067.7 years ago. No faith involved here just the math.

So this is the basis of carbon dating. In fact carbon dating is one of many dating methods that are collectively called radiometric dating because they are all based on radioactivity of various substances but all are governed by the same equation shown above, the difference is that for each substance the “8281” value will be different. As we can see from the equation after 60,000 years the proportion of carbon-14 will be so small that the test will not work, so in general carbon dating is used for fossils and rocks up to 58,000 years old. For materials older than that we have to use one of several other radiometric methods out there, some of them are:

Uranium-lead dating: can measure up to 2 billion years
Samarium-neodymium dating: can measure up to 2.5 billion years
Potassium-argon dating: this was used recently in Ethiopia for the fossil of the human ancestor that was found and named Ardipithecus ramidus
Rubidium-strontium dating: up to 3 billion years, was used to test moon rocks
Uranium-thorium dating: can measure up to several hundred thousand years
Fission track dating
Chlorine-36 dating: can only measure up to 50 years, used by our water works engineers
Luminescence dating
argon-argon (Ar-Ar)
iodine-xenon (I-Xe)
lanthanum-barium (La-Ba)
lead-lead (Pb-Pb)
lutetium-hafnium (Lu-Hf)
neon-neon (Ne-Ne)
rhenium-osmium (Re-Os)
uranium-lead-helium (U-Pb-He)
uranium-uranium (U-U)
Aluminum - Magnesium chronometer
Isochron dating

Please note that for a material to be tested by any of the above methods, it must contain the substances mentioned in the name of the dating method. If not we usually take a sample of the material surrounding the object we are testing and test that, to get an estimate. Each method has an inherent margin of error anywhere between 2 – 10%. Most accredited labs today require that at least 10 - 12 different applicable methods are used and compared before dating figures are released and approved for publication.

So now that we have reviewed the in depth knowledge on fossils and dating methods we may now ask ourselves some very important questions and be able to provide answers from a position of authority backed by compelling evidence

1. Is the Genesis creation story accurate?
No. It is false. If we follow the narrative we can deduce anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 years age of the universe. This is not true. The radio dating methods above conclusively demonstrate that our earth is at least 3.5 billion years old. The oldest modern human fossils date around 60000 to 80,000 years old, which far exceeds what the Bible suggests. Fossils of human ancestor species for example Homo erectus suggest these humans were walking the earth approximately 1 million years ago. The biblical authors were ignorant
2. When challenged, creationists claim carbon dating is not accurate. Is this claim true?
No. it is a disingenuous statement by people who claim to talk to this perfect higher power. They are telling lies. Carbon dating is good for up to 60,000 years after that we used several other methods listed in this article. And the methods listed in this article are not even an exhaustive list, it is just some of the surface ones this author and some of his colleagues have worked with in their professional lives. There are over 40 something others. The born agains don’t know what they are talking about when they say carbon dating is not accurate. Would they like to show us where god disproved the exponential equation? Laughable.
3. But Kwaku ba, all these materials you are mentioning who created them?
Well certainly not that man made god from Israel. The origin of all these materials can be known from two fields of study, 1 big bang theory, 2 astrophysics. In the big bang matter was created but it was only hydrogen and helium. All other elements were forged in stars and then scattered into the cosmos during supernova events.

4. But Kwaku ba, we have our own faith and our own opinion so who cares what you have studied?

The fact is knowledge is not a democracy. If you ask people whether the Earth is flat or round, the majority will tell you the earth is flat. Because they are illiterate. So does that make the world flat? No, knowledge is based on the evidence, and evidence alone. It does not matter what Kwaku ba opinion is, what matters is that any claims are backed up by mountains of evidence. Evolution, big bang, fossils, science etc are all backed up by mountains of evidence. Religion is based on faith, not a shred of evidence for any of their claims, none, so no, opinions are fine but they are not valid when assessing what is fact and what is fiction, neither is faith, we just need the evidence.

5. But if there is no evidence of god then how do we have hope or purpose in life?

The purpose is determined by you, or our society. In Ghana you see young people sitting around all day doing nothing, and nobody cares. The government does not care either, they are too busy stealing public funds to finance mansions, multiple wives, funerals, and luxury cars. So there you see no vision or purpose. Travel elsewhere and you see young people working, paying their own rent and car notes before finishing high school. Does god have anything to say about these two opposing realities? What was his purpose for that? So the purpose is based on the individual and the society. But more importantly the fact that we need hope and emotional satisfaction does not mean we can invent any god and claim it is true. The ancient Romans worshipped Zeus and Apollo and conquered the whole of Europe and the Middle East in their name, so what, those gods are true because it gave some people a purpose of conquering and brutalizing any tribe whose lands they wanted to take?

6. We believe the Bile by faith so who are you to question it?

OK. Of all the topics mentioned in this article, fossils, carbon dating, atomic theory, radioactivity, half life, exponential function etc , can anybody show us even just one that is comprehensively described in the Bible? I mean we are talking about the living god who spoke the universe into being and is omnipotent and omniscient, aka all knowing, so we would expect him to know all this material at his finger tips. Is that the case? So how come he could not mention even one, like maybe carbon atom or DNA? What happened? Did he forget? Or he lost his notes when he was dictating the Bible? Or he was holding the wrong reference book when he told the Bible author in Ezekiel that the earth is flat and has four corners? Is that right?

At this juncture we shall call on readers to join the debate. Let us foster a knowledge based society in our beloved Ghana. Imaginary foreign gods have nothing to offer.

kwaku ba; May 2011