What Can One Church Do? > > Home

Gonzalez and Richards Chapter Two

Assumptions and implications are not the same thing.

Posted Wednesday, July 06, 2005 by Gerald Vreeland

Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004).

One of the fun things about writing is that that cat is out of the bag.  No matter what you say you will find yourself in quarantine.  Were I to categorically claim that I was a recent earth creationist (CRI type), I would find myself alienated from the Intelligent Design folks and ostracized by the “Naturalists.”  That is really too bad, wouldn’t you say?  Having lost every argument, people resort to epithets and ostracism.  The word of post-modernism is quite simply: “Whatever. . . .”  Whatever, if you are not interested in my evaluations don’t read them; if you think I’m stupid, believe me, that is a favor I can return. . . .  Last week (6/22/05), I read a piece by Burt Prelutsky wherein it might be concluded that he believed that “Creationists” as he calls them are knuckle dragging troglodytes.  Fine, my gorgeous wife has two science degrees, a career in a bio-medical field, acceptance to an advanced degree program and a 160 I.Q.  She is a Creationist . . . an articulate creationist.  I have two Masters and a Doctor of Philosophy degree.  Whereas I do not have my wife’s IQ, I have had to deal with the issues all day every day for the last 30 years because I was in preparation for and now teach in the field of Old Testament studies.  On contract days, like my wife, I am a creationist.  Other days I wonder if maybe the ID folks don’t have something to bring to the party and everyday I listen to the secularists and glean what I can that is not so theory laden as to be useless.  Regardless, and unlike many “science” Ph.D.’s I have not forgotten what the Ph. in the D. stands for: we are all, first and foremost, philosophers – we can be good ones or bad ones.  My sense of the history of science is that most of the secularist theoreticians have forgotten that presuppositions and rational argument count.  These are tragic mistakes that I do not wish to replicate.  Therefore I evaluate friends and foes alike to ferret out stuff that is usable and stuff that needs to be fixed or discarded.

Chapter Two of The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards entitled “At Home on a Data Recorder” was some tough going – the ten pages of end notes were daunting enough!  Continuing their thesis on the correlation (the relationship between measurability and habitability), they begin by discussing various natural data collection receptacles.  Beginning with Ice Core Sampling and some of the inferences possible from it as well as tree-ring dating and chemical breakdown in various deceased organisms, the authors attempt to show that there is not only some correspondence between the methods, but some conclusions that can be drawn from them.  Every field has its fudge factors, however, and I wonder if the degrees of fudge factors betray lack of confidence.  For instance: in determining that each strata in an ice core sample represents an annual event, how certain are we?  We certainly might guess that each “line” represents a freeze/thaw cycle; but are those cycles annual, seasonal or merely periodic representing, for example, a sudden storm and Chinook wind transformation.  What made me cautious about this study (I have been for years) was specifically their dating of the Mt.Mazama event (p. 353, n. 10).  Mt.Mazama, for all you foreigners, is what became Crater Lake in southern Oregon after it blew itself out.  They date it at 7627 years BP (before present) ± 150 years.  Why plus or minus 150 years?  Apparently, there is an accepted fudge factor that indicates ambiguity when you get back so many thousand years . . . .  Too many melts and thaws – but which is it?  According to the paradigm, we have a continuous record going back a mere hundred thousand years in Greenland and all of 420 thousand years in East Antarctica.  Well, maybe. . . . 


The point is that we have bazillions of tons of data collection receptacles and when we figure out exactly what it is that we are looking at, we will be able to make some interesting inferences about where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. 


Another avenue of measurability has to do with irregularities in the Earth’s rotation about the Sun (Eccentricity, Obliquity and Axial Precession Cycles).  It seems that we are in an unusually warm period of cosmic history and it turns out that without that warmth, civilization as we know it would have been impossible.  The slightest change to the negative makes it impossible to pull out of the so-called Dark Ages and into the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. 


One of the interesting inferences we can make from what we are a bit more certain of is that habitability is a multi-headed hydra.  We have to have the right Chemical balance and we have to have the right Temperature balance.  Because all things depend on Water and Air, we have the right chemical balance.  Because water must exist in all three forms on the surface of the earth, we apparently have the right temperature balance . . . as I said previously: only here, only now, only us!


After an extended discussion on earthly creatures that thrive in extreme environments, the authors conclude that these life forms are much more dependent upon the rest of earthly life than had been previously suspected.  Hence, they need us and would not do well in similar hostile environments on alien worlds.  Neither do the authors apparently put much credence in seeding by aliens: “. . . called directed panspermia, or what a skeptic might call the Little-Green-Man-in-the-Gap theory. . .” (p. 358, n. 63).  They do believe that the solar wind has blown stuff to Mars and such; they just do not believe that there will be much found there other than perhaps subterranean bacteria at best. 


One place the authors do not think we are going is toward global warming.  They believe that what we are experiencing for the last 12 thousand years, this warm period optimum for the development of both complex and technological organisms, is good.  A slight increase of greenhouse gasses would be good and despite other conditions that will tend to cool the place off over the next 60 thousand years or so (what’s a few tens of thousands of years between friends?), moderation will be achieved by industrialization and such like production.  Since this book was published, studies have shown that upper atmosphere Carbon compounds are much less than computer projected models and so, I do not think we will ruin the place before either the Sun burns us up, or the Lord completely refurbishes the place.  Meanwhile, we will also be able to keep on measuring and inhabiting the planet: right here, right now, together.

Thursday, July 07, 2005 1:49 PM

Brian wrote:  I am really enjoying that book though I am wondering about assumptions that have been made about time spans. Being a Bible-carrying member of the YEC club, I am uncomfortable with more than 4 digits preceding the words "years ago." Gonzalez and Richards are unconcerned about ice-core samples taken from Antarctica providing data dating back 400,000 years and Greenland providing data for 12,000 years. You refer to their fudge factor ambiguity, but I am wondering about the assumptions underlying all their zeroes.
A point of comparison is a few years ago when some woman christened “Eve” got a little attention thanks to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). She is the matriarchal ancestor of all of us, and she was estimated to have come from north Africa about 200,000 years ago. That is 6 digits before the words “years ago” so I dug into how scientists had arrived at that number. One explanation I found said that it was based on percentage of differences between mtDNA samples. The difference translated into years based on the fact that human and chimp DNA differ by ~5% and the theory that we climbed down out of the family tree 5 million years ago! A similar explanation bases its “Tentative time scale” on the arrival of humans in New Guinea (30,000 years ago), Australia (40,000 years ago), and the New World (a mere 12,000 years ago).
There is a theoretical basis, but no scientific basis for 200,000 years. David Plaisted discusses the effect of these assumptions in his article, Mitochondrial DNA Mutation Rates
So how scientific are the times that Gonzalez and Richards use? They mention that the 11 year cycles of sunspot activity can be detected through isotopes in core samples taken from Greenland (p.25). Does this mean that scientists have actually found over 1000 cycles or did they skip surface layers and begin analyzing deeper core samples?

Login to add comments