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Brad Harrub Presentations – Part 2 May 31, 2008

Posted by Ian in Religion.
Tags: , ,
Finally (lol) continuing on from Part 1, the second nights presentation was introduced by this statement:

one of the things evolution really needs is lots and lots of time

This was to be the premise of the entire nights discussion, where Harrub essentially took the approach that if he could demonstrate evolution did not have sufficient time then it must be false. To do so he makes a long list of points, which I will list and briefly respond to below but first he makes a rather curious point.

He points out that there are lots of different meanings to the word “evolution”. The examples he gives are (with quotes from the presentation explaining them in italics):

  • Cosmic evolution (“the origin of time, space and matter – i.e. the big bang”)
  • Chemical evolution (“the origin of higher molecules than hydrogen”)
  • Stellar and planetary evolution (“the origin of planets and stars”)
  • Organic evolution (“the origin of life”)
  • Macroevolution (“the origin of major kinds”)
  • Microevolution (“changes within limited parameters”)

He then sneaks in a classic misrepresentation of microevolution by saying:

if you mate two dogs, what do you get? A dog. You don’t get a tree or a giraffe, you get a dog.

This classic mistake irritates me because evolution by natural selection would be instantly disproven if a dog gave birth to a tree or a giraffe – it either represents a dramatic misunderstanding of the topic or a deliberate attempt to poison the well. Anyway back to the list.

Now this list I find fascinating.  Whatever you mean by the word “evolution”, it seems obvious to me that it deals with change and yet 5 of the 6 definitions he gives talk about origins – which is a major misrepresentation of the entire notion of evolution. This is important because he then goes on to say (following on from the dog point, where he says different dogs can be bred and therefore microevolution is true):

The other 5 are actually dealing with religion, theology, the origin of life, the origin of planets and stars.

Again here he totally misses the point. Evolution deals with change (or lack of change) over time and it has nothing to do with origins. So this entire list and its arguments are one big strawman argument and easily ignored (although potentially quite compelling should one not know any better).  One could (rather tenuously) decide the discussion of origins was one of a religious nature but evolution has nothing to do with origins, never has and never will.

He then goes to on explore a whole bunch of different issues about various evidences for the age of the earth:

  1. Ice cores:  Pattern of clear lines and white lines representing seasonal melts which can be added up to give years.  However he argues this is discredited because when scientists were looking for metal at the poles they stumbled across an airplane (a P38 lightning which is an American WWII fighter).  Now apparently they took a core sample which was 75 metres deep to the airplane, which “means” that airplane was buried roughly 2300 years ago.  Now since this is clearly nonsense, the ice cores are nonsense.  What Harrub failed to tell us was that this plane was found in Greenland, and was buried by a glacier!  Ahh well, next:   
  2. Population:  Apparently since we know the population doubles roughly every 40 years and since there are 6.3 billion people, this extrapolates back to about 4000 years ago, whereas if we started just a million years ago with 2 people and doubled it every 42 years we’d have something of the order of 10^5000 people (rather than 6^9).  This is a comment only someone who has never, and I mean never studied population dynamics could make – no real world resource constrained population has a constant doubling time so extrapolating that statistic back in time is entirely pointless.
  3. Cosmology:  Here he raises the big bang theory and three problems he has with it.  Firstly where did all the matter come from?  Since this is irrelevant to the age of everything we can ignore it.  Secondly how did we get around the first law of thermodynamics? (regarding the creation of matter).  This is wrong but utterly irrelevant and can also be ignored.  Finally how did we get around the second law of thermodynamics (regarding the creation of entropy or disorder).  He then raises the tired old story about how explosions break things rather than put them together.  This too is wrong, is also utterly irrelevant, and therefore can ignored. 
  4. Jupiter:  Apparently Jupiter is way too hot compared with how long it has been since the big bang.  Apparently it should be cold by now.  Now I readily admit I don’t know much about this but it looks like it might not be such a problem.
  5. Saturn:  Apparently since Saturn’s rings are unstable, it can’t be billions of years old.  This argument is painfully bad since it seems to assume Saturn must have always had its rings and that unstable systems must dissipate.  Both of these assumptions are obviously false. 
  6. Moon: Apparently the moon is receding from the earth at a constant rate and therefore can’t be billions of years old.  There is a good Youtube video dealing with this inanity.  Secondly apparently the moon doesn’t have enough dust on it for how old it is but it seems that might not be true either.It seems worth mentioning at this point that even if the observations Harrub has made so far and continues to make later on are true (and that seems doubtful) this just means that the model predictions made by man don’t match our observations, an all too common occurrence for anyone familiar with modeling!  The possible explanations for this are numerous, only one of which would be that the world isn’t as old as we think it is.
  7. Earth’s Magnetic field:  Since the earth’s magnetic field has declined by 6% in the last 150 years then the earth can’t be millions of years old since at that rate the whole field would be gone.  This has been addressed in considerable detail here
  8. Desert:  Apparently according to desertification rates the Sahara desert is roughly 4,000 years old.  I think he is pretty much right about that but it seems to me entirely likely the Earth could exist without a Sahara desert so it is a little irrelevant!
  9. Oil:  Since oil is under pressure under ground, at up to 20,000 PSI, in slightly permeable rock so if it has been there for millions of years, why hasn’t the pressure bled off.  There are two problems with this.  Firstly even if the oil is young, that doesn’t mean the earth is.  More importantly however, it seems unlikely the oil could got under pressure in the first place if it was in a place where that pressure couldn’t be maintained.
  10. Mississippi:   Apparently the Mississippi River deposits sediment at a rate of 80,000 tonnes every hour into the delta.  This means that if this had been depositing for millions of years it should have filled up the gulf of Mexico by now.  However this has exactly the same problem as the Sahara example.  The fact the Mississippi isn’t millions of years old has exactly zero bearing on the age of the earth.  It also assumes the Mississippi has always followed its present path which would be rather unusual for any river over a long time.
  11. Great barrier reef:  Apparently this is only about 4000 years old.  Again an earth without the great barrier reef seems possible to me.
  12. Salt water:  Oceans today are 3.6% salt and therefore via the water cycle could have gone from fresh water to salt water in less than 3,000 years.  I don’t know much about this but again it seems irrelevant to how old the earth is.
  13. Sea floor sediment:  If the earth is really millions and millions of years old then there should be a whole lot more sediment on the ocean floor.  There is a good response to this here.
  14. Continents:  This one popped out almost like an afterthought to the previous one.  Apparently at current erosion rates if the earth was millions of years old then all of the continents should have eroded away, and yet we supposedly see rocks millions of years old above the ground.  Can I suggest a good textbook on plate tectonics?  Should cover both these nicely.
  15. Polystrate fossils:  These are tree fossils that go across several strata (equating to millions of years) in the geologic column which supposedly means that the rocks can’t be millions of years apart.  There is a good discussion of these here
  16. Coal:  Harrub makes two points about coal.  Firstly apparently it can be made in several years rather than billions.  As you should have picked by now, young coal does not equal young earth, and that coal can be young does not mean all coal is young.  Pick your fallacy.  The second point is more interesting.  Apparently there have been artifacts found in carboniferous coal and I can’t find much reference to this except here about a iron pot.  Harrub also mentioned a barrel, a small gold chain, and a couple of other things.  However Harrub has already given us the answer to this mystery just moments before – coal doesn’t have to take millions of years to form!  Also it seems that coal forms in a fractured nature and it is possible that artifacts can fall between layers and become embedded (coal is quite soft after all).  Whichever way you look at this, it is of limited relevance to the age of the earth.     
  17. Stalagmites:  Apparently stalagmites and stalactites can form very quickly in the right conditions.  No doubt.  Doesn’t have much to do with the age of the earth though.
  18. Niagara falls:   Apparently the recession rate of Niagara Falls means that it has been 9000 years since Niagara starting cutting away at the gorge.  By now your response to this should be automatic – the earth can exist without a Niagara falls cutting away at a gorge!

He then moves on to say:

evolutionists have done a great job of painting people who don’t believe in evolution as ignorant.  However most of the great scientists of the world believe in a god.  Most of the greatest scientists that have ever lived put their faith in the bible

This is then followed up by a long list of great scientists that were also theists.  Can anyone say argument from authority?  And he conveniently forgets the point of this session, and neglects to tell us which ones believed the world was less than 10,000 years old.  I wonder why?  However he concludes with the statement “Bible believes do better science”.  He failed to present any evidence of this bold statement even after me prompting him during the Q&A session.  I bet a few listeners took that argument on board though and that is what bothers me the most.  I don’t care what Harrub believes, but I do care when he spreads these seemingly fallacious claims around NZ.

So finally that was part 2, and hopefully Part 3 isn’t toooo far away…!  (famous last words)

P.S.:  I’d just like to point out a lot of the answers I found to some of the more obscure examples given above (and linked where relevant) came from the www.talkorigins.org website, a MUST visit site about this sort of thing.


1. Damian - May 31, 2008

Thank you once again Ian for taking the time to document this. I don’t know that I’d have the ability to try to catalogue the not-even-wrongness of Harrub’s arguments without some serious calming medication just to get me through.

Nice one fella.

2. Ken - June 1, 2008

Ditto – very thorough outline.
How big was the audience and what sort of composition do you think it had?

3. A.J.Chesswas - June 1, 2008

Good post Ian. You make a lot of sense with your refutations, where you explained your reasoning. I wonder if the Apostle Paul were alive today he’d tell Christians not to get caught up in endless debates about evolution (he referred to endless debates about genealogy)… A lot of Harrub’s arguments seem to assume a uniformitarianism that a lot of creationists actually reject… and i wonder if global warming would account for some of that stuff…

re that last comment, have you read of the religious convictions of Michael Faraday? Quite the fundamentalist 🙂

4. Ian - June 2, 2008

Ken: This is guesswork but my take would be the audience was about about 50 people, of which ~15 were children under 15, ~25 were adult young earth creationists, ~8 were other types of Christian, and the remaining 2 of us were atheists. I started to realise what it must be like for Americans to be atheists lol. Still I must say that everyone there was welcoming and friendly – I didn’t really get a hostile reaction to my questions.

Allan: I get the sense Harrub is of a similar vein to Kent Hovind and others of that ilk – hard for any skeptical people to take seriously but quite compelling to those who have an inclination to believe what he says. He does seem to rely on uniformitarianism although he never really said as much.

I haven’t read anything of Faraday’s – but Harrub’s point was not that theists do good science but that they do better science. I have no trouble accepting the former but there is no evidence of the latter.

5. ADParker - June 11, 2008

I was that 2nd atheist!
And those numbers are about right. Many of them were from a Christian Camp (an annual thing I think, and of a definite Creationist nature) in the area for the week.

And those “6 types of Evolution” by all accounts seem to have been formulated, not by a Evolutionary Biologist, or a real scientist at all, but by Kent Hovind (Currently known as Inmate Number 135733,) perhaps in conjunction with Jack Chick publications for the strip “Big Daddy”.

6. Eli - February 5, 2011

I stumbled onto your post today and read it, as the subject under discussion is interesting. I haven’t done a ton of study on the subject of young earth vs. old earth arguments (my names for it, not sure if they’re official). Your answers to these points are quick and witty, but I am not able to really put together solid ideas and facts about why something is “irrelevant” or why I should “dismiss” any argument. I am open to anyone who will tell me HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Can you tell me how you came to these conclusions and why, rather than simply having me take your word for it?

7. Ian - February 6, 2011

Thanks for the comment Eli. As a general answer to your question, I think “how” to think comes down to honestly evaluating what you think and how you came to think it, and seeing if what you think still holds up. Your point about “how” rather than “what” is a hobby horse of mine so I agree entirely with your approach 🙂

In terms of specifics I’m more than happy to expand on any specific points that interest you so how about you pick a couple of my points that you find the most opaque and we can start there?

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