Friday, January 5, 2007

How old is the Grand Canyon?

Posted By on 01.05.07 at 12:27 PM

click to enlarge 642.jpg

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reminds us that the National Park Service still offers a creationist pamphlet for sale at the Grand Canyon. A promised official review of the approval of the pamphlet for sale was never carried out. PEER's release includes links to official policy and many related documents. It's asking the new Park Service director to do her job, which is to explain science, not theology.

But PEER may be exaggerating its claims. Christopher Heard at Higgaion points out that the park's Web site FAQs are science-based, stating, for instance, that "the oldest rocks at the canyon bottom are close to 2000 million years old."

Alon Levy at Abstract Nonsense discusses a related question posed by a believer, "Why do atheists believe books that say the Earth spins but not a book that says God exists?" (Short answer -- it's not about the books.) "Scientific hypotheses, like 'the Earth spins,' make an enormous number of falsifiable predictions that can be independently verified. In case of the statement about the Earth’s spinning, its converse also makes an equally large number of predictions that are falsified: that the Sun will be found to revolve around the Earth, that there will be no centrifugal force, that there will be no Coriolis effect, and so on."

That said, it's no longer possible even for a complete nerd to be able to give good answers to every possible question. Levy gones on:

"The Enlightenment didn’t make the common people more rational; it made the scientific and philosophical establishment more rational. A century of developments in public education hasn’t been able to extend knowledge of scientific evidence to more than a few percent of any country’s population. It so happens that most people in the modern world believe in true things, but it’s sheer luck. Three hundred years ago, they’d believe in witches.

"The increasing complexity of scientific theories makes things even worse. In 1750, an educated person could have a grasp of the entirety of human knowledge available in his locale. In 1900, a scientist could know everything in his field. Right now a scientist is restricted to one subfield; when he knows two, it’s usually as part of a fusion of fields, like biostatistics.

"I know the precise evidence for the Earth’s spinning, but I know the evidence for relativity only in general and without the math that distinguishes it from woo. The only way I can know PZ Myers isn’t lying in his science posts is that there are other evo devo-minded commenters who’d check him, who I in turn trust because I have no reason to believe that scientists are only honest when I know enough to check their work."

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