Friday, 29 April 2011


Riley found this image on the net the other day. Sadly it was without context. Would be nice to know how extensive the publication is; whether it goes on to explain why it thinks the planet is only thousands of years old.

I get asked about the dating of fossils frequently, and it's a logical question. How do we know? People ask if they get a certificate of authenticity with their fossil and I have to explain that there is no world authority on everything fossily that supplies a thumbs-up sticker with every sale. With all sales in the shop the customer takes away a label with the basic details. Age, locality, name, etc. The fossils I sell do come with tags on them that tell us how old they are. There's a degree of trust involved here. The label I write then becomes a de facto certificate. It legitimizes the fossil somehow, and I sometimes feel a bit guilty about that. Why should people suddenly take what I write on a card as truth? I do not work out the ages myself. I don't do the tests personally. However - I have an understanding of how the dating processes work, and I know that the tests are repeatable, empirical, objective. Facts are objective. Truth is subjective. I feel comfortable that I'm passing on the best information I have when I sell something - it's important to me that I get as much right as I can. It's very much in the interests of the wholesalers to know as much about their stock as possible, and most do. When they provide detailed information, I'm happy with that. When there is some doubt or missing data, I'll try to look into it; try to find out more by spending a little time on the internet reading about the fossil or the site it came from. It's as 'true' as it can be.

Which takes me back to the original question - why believe the ages involved? My answer is - why not? For a long time I had a regular visitor to the shop who would ask me about my lack of religious belief and he told me he didn't believe the age of the Earth was 4.55 billion years old. He said that just 'felt wrong'. That he couldn't really comprehend that scale of time and that the biblically derived estimations of age as a few thousands of years were far more likely. In reply I'd tell him I didn't think that was justification enough to disregard the scientific view and embrace one based on far more dubious principles. The calculations involved, I mean. To get to be a scientist working in a specialised field takes years of study and a deep understanding of their subject. Why would I not put more store in what they say about that topic than someone who knows nothing about it? I'd far rather put my trust in tried and tested scientific processes than take the religious line without asking why. How can blind faith be regarded as more worthy than reason and critical thinking?

No comments: