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Ross Criticizes RATE Without Doing His Homework


Photo iStockphoto Hourglass

Larry Vardiman, RATE coordinator, and RATE committee, 2 October 2003

Copyright © by Institute for Creation Research. Used by Permission.

In a recent radio broadcast,1 old-earth advocate Dr. Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe staff criticized technical details of the RATE research initiative—apparently without having read any of its technical publications! As a result, the criticisms missed the mark and even generated some amusing scientific gaffes. Dr. Roger Wiens, a geochemist supporter of Ross being interviewed by telephone, had apparently done a little more homework, having read one or two chapters of our book, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth2 (which has the same name as the project, abbreviated RATE). However, Wiens apparently missed crucial points in other chapters, and he also had not read most (or any) of the RATE technical papers presented at the International Conference on Creationism (ICC)3 last summer.4–11 To his credit, Dr. Wiens actually defended RATE at several points against some of the more ignorant allegations and mischaracterizations by Ross and his staff.

Several of the criticisms relate to a key hypothesis of the RATE project, that several episodes of accelerated nuclear decay rates have occurred within the past 10,000 years or so. RATE experiments have revealed several lines of scientific evidence dramatically supporting that hypothesis. However, such accelerated radioactivity would normally produce very large amounts of heat. About a half-hour into the program, Ross seized upon that fact as a major difficulty, returning to it again and again throughout the two-hour broadcast. He (incorrectly) presented the heat problem as if RATE scientists had never thought about it. Dr. Wiens corrected him on that point, but then (incorrectly) asserted, ‘they [RATE scientists] don’t know how it could be resolved.’

Photo Wikipedia Zircon
Zircon crystal from Tocantins, Brazil

Wiens apparently had not read chapter 7 by Dr. Russell Humphreys in the RATE book in which he outlined a ‘volume-cooling’ resolution to the problem based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Nor had Wiens read the part of Dr. John Baumgardner’s chapter 3 showing how the surge of radioactivity-generated heat (partly volume-cooled) would neatly explain a long-standing geoscience mystery. Thus, every time Ross and his associates returned to the ‘excessive heat’ theme, they underscored their ignorance of what we have written about that problem.

Several criticisms dealt with other aspects of accelerated nuclear decay. Ross assumed it would detonate all uranium on the earth, apparently ignorant of Dr. Eugene Chaffin’s chapter 6 and ICC paper on the topic of uranium fission. Ross assumed accelerated decay would eliminate the possibility of supernova star explosions (required by the Big Bang theory to generate most elements), apparently unaware of the discussions of that topic by Chaffin in his chapter 6, and by Humphreys in his chapter 7.

Ross associate Fazale Rana, apparently tiring of science, asked Wiens to speculate on the motivations of creationists. Wiens suggested, ‘fear’, apparently not aware of how much courage is required of creationists to buck the intellectual tides of the world. Several times the group speculated about why the average Christian doesn’t receive Ross’s theology enthusiastically, deciding that the ordinary believer is just too uneducated, and maybe not bright enough, to appreciate the subtleties of evolutionism. Apparently they don’t believe that Christian laymen might be insulted by such characterizations.

Photo Wikipedia Zircon microscope
Optical microscope photograph; the length of the crystal is about 250 µm.

Another Ross theme was that RATE was wrong to use fast processes to check dating methods that use slow processes. Baumgardner was wrong to look for (and find) short-lived carbon 14 in billion-year-old diamond. Humphreys was wrong to use rapidly leaking helium to date billion-year-old zircons at 6,000 ± 2,000 years. Instead, he asserted, we should remain content with methods (such as uranium decaying to lead) that give results consistent with uniformitarian preconceptions.

Ross said that contamination in handling could get recent carbon-14 into Baumgardner’s samples, offering for example some ludicrous advice on laboratory procedure: ‘Yeah. Or the gloves may be dirty, I mean it’s, you gotta handle the gloves just right.’ He apparently overlooked several facts: (A) he was insulting the professional radiocarbon laboratory that did the measurements and has sought to eliminate contamination for two decades, and (B) it is impossible to get contamination into the interior of a diamond. He quite clearly did not read Baumgardner’s technical ICC paper, which went into great detail on the experimental techniques used to eliminate contamination.

Ross alleged that helium was too ‘slippery’ for Humphreys to keep track of, that it would escape from minerals too fast. He apparently missed the main point: (A) helium escapes from zircon fast, (B) most of the radioactivity-generated helium is still in the zircons, so (C) the zircons are young. But later he was trying to imagine the zircons starting out with over 100,000 times more helium (generated by the Big Bang, not radioactivity) than the large amount of helium in them even now, so that the rapid losses could still take place over billions of years. He overlooked our evidence that the large amounts of helium are not in the surrounding mineral. Last he suggested that helium was somehow diffusing into the zircons from outside, despite our evidence to the contrary. It was clear that he never read Humphreys’ technical ICC paper in which he clearly demonstrates that helium diffuses from inside the zircon outward to the surrounding materials.

Photo Wikipedia mass spectrometer
A FT-ICR mass spectrometer

In the first few minutes of the second hour, Wiens grossly mischaracterized the work of Snelling, Austin, and Hoesch, who used multiple high-precision nuclear dating methods on a suite of rock samples from Grand Canyon, saying, ‘in some cases they found agreement.’ What they actually found was a consistent pattern of disagreement. Snelling, Austin, and Hoesch have tried to explain why the potassium-argon and rubidium methods give younger dates than the lead-lead and samarium-neodymium methods for exactly the same rocks. The discrepancy between dating methods for rocks from youngest to oldest was about a factor of two, well beyond the error bars for the precision methods. If Wiens wants to enter the discussion, he should report how the various methods give agreement of ‘ages’. Wiens also failed to mention the ICC papers by Chaffin and Humphreys pointing out that such consistent pattern of disagreement is to be expected with accelerated nuclear decay. Probably he didn’t read them.

In general, the program sounded like a politician’s worst caricature of his opponents: a desperate scrabbling for something bad, whether correct or not, to say about the other side. The fact that every dart they aimed went wide of the mark is easily explainable: they were blinded by their ignorance of what they were criticizing and an unwillingness to consider new evidence which conflicts with their preconceived, old-earth worldview.

Dr. Russell Humphreys has been trying to arrange a debate for some time with Dr. Ross on their disparate views of cosmology before a technical audience. Maybe now would be an appropriate time for a debate which would help clarify the issues between the old-earth and young-earth positions in both cosmology and RATE.


  1. Reasons to Believe radio broadcast, September 18, 6 to 8 p.m. Pacific time. Moderator: Krista Bontrager. Studio participants: Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, and Marge Harmon. Telephone participant: Roger Wiens. Archived at: Return to text.
  2. Vardiman, L., Snelling, A.A. and Chaffin, E.F., Eds., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth: A Young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative, Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society, San Diego, California, 2000. Available at: Return to text.
  3. Return to text.
  4. Vardiman, L., Austin, S.A., Baumgardner, J.R., Chaffin, E.F., DeYoung, D., Humphreys, D.R. and Snelling, A.A., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 337–348, August, 2003. Refs. 4–11 archived at: Return to text.
  5. Humphreys, D.R., Austin, S.A., Baumgardner, J.R. and Snelling, A.A., Helium diffusion rates support accelerated nuclear decay, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 175–196, August, 2003. Return to text.
  6. Snelling, A.A. and Armitage, M. H., Radiohalos—A tale of three granitic plutons, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 243–268, August, 2003. Return to text.
  7. Baumgardner, J.R., Austin, S.A., Humphreys, D.R. and Snelling, A.A., Measurable 14C in fossilized organic materials: Confirming the young earth Creation-Flood model, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 127–142, August, 2003. Return to text.
  8. Snelling, A.A., Austin, S.A. and Hoesch, W.R., Radioisotopes in the diabase sill (upper Precambrian) at Bass Rapids, Grand Canyon, Arizona: An application and test of the isochron dating method, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 269–284, August, 2003. Return to text.
  9. Chaffin, E.F., Accelerated decay: Theoretical models, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 3–16, August, 2003. Return to text.
  10. Snelling, A.A., The relevance of Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd and Pb-Pb isotope systematics to elucidation of the genesis and history of recent andesite flows at Mt. Ngauruhoe, New Zealand, and the implications for radioisotopic dating, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 285–304, August, 2003. Return to text.
  11. Snelling, A.A., Whole-rock K-Ar model and isochron, and Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd and Pb-Pb isochron, ‘Dating’ of the Somerset Dam layered mafic instrusion, Australia, Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Edited by Ivey, R.L. Jr., Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp.305–324, August,2003. Return to text.

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