May 11, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Earth’s Core Values Questioned

Geologists have long assumed that iron attracted certain elements toward the earth’s core during its formation.  The amounts of them we find today were added by meteorites and comets as a veneer on the surface later.  A press release from Florida State University is questioning those core values.  New research “calls into question three decades of conventional wisdom regarding some of the physical processes that helped shape the Earth as we know it today.
    Munir Humayun, an associate professor of geology, did experiments on palladium at high temperatures and pressures using NASA equipment.  His team found that at these extreme conditions, thought to mimic those 300 miles down in the mantle, the distribution of palladium in both rock and metal was the same – no partitioning had occurred.
    The iron, descending toward the center of the earth toward the core, was supposed to pull in certain “siderophile” (iron-loving) elements with it – gold, platinum, palladium, and iridium.  Since these elements are found at earth’s surface today, they must have been delivered during a late bombardment of comets and meteors.  That has been the conventional wisdom:

“For 30 years, the late-veneer hypothesis has been the dominant paradigm for understanding Earth’s early history, and our ultimate origins,” Humayun said.  “Now, with our latest research, we’re suggesting that the late-veneer hypothesis may not be the only way of explaining the presence of certain elements in the Earth’s crust and mantle.”

Why did he say this affects views of our ultimate origins?  The presumed late-heavy bombardment “also would have brought in water, carbon and other materials essential for life, the oceans and the atmosphere.”
    These experiments, therefore, could have a ripple effect on other fields, including planetary science and biology.  The press release calls the potential ramifications of the research significant.  “This work will have important consequences for geologists’ thinking about core formation, the core’s present relation to the mantle, and the bombardment history of the early Earth,” Humayan said; “It also could lead us to rethink the origins of life on our planet.”  Astrobiology Magazine took note of this announcement.

Everything secular astronomers, geologists and evolutionary biologists claim about the history of life on earth is tied into a complex web of belief – a phrase coined by philosopher of science William Van Orman Quine.  In Two Dogmas of Empiricism in 1951 (11 years before Thomas Kuhn brought “paradigm shift” into common parlance), Quine argued that scientists rarely abandon a web of belief in the face of falsifying data.  They absorb the blows by modifying the web of belief in other areas.  So will this announcement begin unraveling the web?  Unlikely.  The spiders are well trained at spinning repairs.
    Some might respond by questioning the relevance of experiments using equipment on the surface to conditions in the real mantle.  But what alternative experiment would a critic propose?  Digging a 300-mile deep hole and running experiments down there?
    The interior of the earth is a good example of a “scientific object” that can only be studied indirectly.  Seismic and gravitational measurements provide first-hand data on the core and mantle, but even that data must be interpreted within models of earth’s interior.  Models are both simplifications and extensions of empirical data; simplifications, because no model can take into account all possible relevant data; and extensions, because models make claims beyond what can be experimentally validated.
    These scientists were bold enough to test a key assumption in the web of belief.  They found it inconsistent.  They concluded, “the distribution of palladium and other siderophile elements in the Earth’s mantle can be explained by means other than millions of years of meteorite bombardment.”  Their results also imply that it didn’t require tens of millions of years for the siderophile elements to fall into the core.  That, in turn, implies what we find on the surface today could be primordial (i.e., present from the beginning).  If so, it has nothing to say about age.
    The ramifications could, indeed, be profound.  This could threaten assumptions about differentiation processes inside other planets and moons throughout the solar system, and, consequently, their ages.  It could undermine a major prop for a key explanatory tool – the so-called “late heavy bombardment” – invoked to map out ages of planetary surfaces and the presence of volatiles on earth (particularly, earth’s oceans and atmosphere).  That, in turn, leaves evolutionists hanging about conditions on the primordial earth for the origin of life.
    Secularists continue to absorb blows in their web of belief from all sides.  They make whatever adjustments to the web are necessary to hold onto their core values of naturalism and scientism.  Creationists, with different core values and a web of belief that does not exclude God, could perk up at this finding.  It’s another strand of empirical evidence that the earth was designed with its elements, atmosphere and oceans intact from the beginning – no long period of differentiation, no ad hoc rescuing device of a late heavy bombardment, and, of course, no primordial soup or special delivery of water by comets.  Some of them might point out, too, that appeals to millions of years are superfluous.

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