Friday, 21 May 2010

Subtle dig

Yesterday an American guy came in and came up to the counter pretty quickly, his wife hanging back by the door. He seemed a little edgy.

'You have someone that carbon-dates all this stuff for you?'
'No - carbon dating is only useful up to about 40,000 years, but there are other pairs of isotopes that are used for longer time periods. And other methods..... [explanation of other dating techniques] ...and the material is almost always identified at source by the collector.'
'Ah - so you rely on the word of others?'
'Well, of course - why wouldn't I? It's in the best interests of the collector and seller to provide as much accurate information as possible about their product.'
'Did you know the Grand Canyon has been underwater five times? You can tell from the rocks.'
'Well - do you mean during its formation?'
'So is there someone that authenticates all these ages for you?'
'Err, well, no. There's no official body for the authentification of fossils - you might take something along to a museum or find a university with a geology department, though. It comes from all over the world - lots of different localities and the experts in those particular sites and fossil faunas will be spread all over, too. I have spent a long time studying geology and palaeontology, though, and most people in the trade know their subject pretty well.'
'So - you DO have to reply on the word of others. That must make it difficult for you, working here.'
'No. Not in the slightest.'

I was expecting him to go on. He seemed to have an issue with the dating, and I've found that the underlying reason is almost always a belief in Young Earth Creationism. He seemed to think he had made some significant point, however, and left with a curt goodbye. I have had similar conversations before, where the individual questions the ages of the fossils in the shop, makes some vague reference to upside-down trees, the subjectivity of time, buried laser guns or something and then quickly legs it feeling they have left my belief in the scientific process rocked to the core.
I find it strange. If you have these deeply-held beliefs, don't be afraid to test your thinking on them - see how they stand up in conversation. If you think I'm being naive, insincere or even deceitful by accepting and passing on the word of people who have invested a large chunk of their life studying certain fossil beds, tell me why. This guy - to me - was being hypocritical. I find it hard to believe he has never taken the word of another at face value. He didn't get round to telling me about his beliefs. I may have him pegged wrongly, but I don't think so. I'd have liked to discuss it further with him; find out why he doubted the ages. Anyway. Whatever floats his boat. Or Noah's.

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