July 15, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Tricks to Preserve Deep Time

It’s not always easy to prove that things are very, very old.  After all, no one has ever experienced deep time (millions and billions of years).  The key is to maintain a public “feeling” in the oldness of things.  Once that feeling is in place, some pretty major tweaks can be made by the experts without upsetting the deep-time framework.

  1. Establish then revise:  The age of the earth is usually printed to four significant figures (4.537 billion years), but physicists just decided it’s 70 million years younger than it was.  PhysOrg announced that an international team decided to revise the date.  “The results suggest that the length of time between the date at which the solar system was formed, about 4.567 billion years ago, and the point at which the Earth reached its present size, may have been far longer than traditionally presumed.”  Stretching out the earth’s time in the womb makes the birth come later: “We estimate that makes it about 4.467 billion years old – a mere youngster compared with the 4.537 billion-year-old planet we had previously imagined,” where imagined is the operative word.  3 of the 4 significant figures have been modified by this move.  Significant figures are supposed to represent levels of accuracy beyond the margin of error.
  2. Put the catastrophe in the deep time vault:  The process that brought diamonds to the surface is nearly instantaneous (05/07/2007) – but it isn’t happening today.  Live Science quoted a scientist who said that diamonds appear on the surface of the earth through explosive volcanic eruptions that create kimberlite dikes.  “No one has ever seen a kimberlite erupt – the most recent took place about 40 million years ago, said study author Kevin Burke, a geologist at the University of Houston.” 
  3. Gloss over conundrums:  Cycads ruled the earth since 300 million years ago, claims Science Daily, but all of a sudden in our lifetimes they “are rapidly going extinct because of invasive pests and habitat loss, especially those species endemic to islands.”  Were there none of these threats before in 300 million years?
  4. Just say old:  Asteroid Lutetia was photographed by the Rosetta spacecraft last Saturday.  Right off the bat, Space.com led with the headline, “Battered Asteroid a Survivor From Solar System’s Birth.”  All that could be measured was rock composition, density, and surface topography, but Space.com was sure Lutetia is a “primitive asteroid survivor from the tumultuous birth of the solar system,” with “landscape that hints at the space rock’s ancient, violent past.”  There was no suggestion that tumults or violence occur these days.  Holgier Sierks from the imaging team made what he thinks a statement of fact: “I think this is a very old object,” he said.  “Tonight we have seen a remnant of the solar system’s creation.
  5. Rearrange the deck chairs:  In the old story of human migration out of Africa, our ancestors tended to congregate around the equatorial latitudes to avoid the ice ages.  Well, what do you know: PhysOrg now says that early man conquered the British Isles 800,000 years ago, “far earlier than previously thought.”  This is based on stone tools found in East Anglia, home of the Climategate university.  Such evidence is no threat to the evolutionary timeline; the adjustments to earlier beliefs are made elsewhere, such as in resiliency of the early human physiology.  “This challenges our views that early humans spread only during periods of exceptional warmth,” one archaeologist explained.  “Instead, the new evidence demonstrates that early humans were capable of adapting their behaviour as the world changed around them.”  Agriculture, written language and cities would have to wait 790,000 more years.
  6. Suspend credulity:  PhysOrg announced that a 10,000 year old weapon just appeared in melting snow.  The discoverer did not explain why the snow didn’t melt for all that time before, but admitted, “Ninety-five percent of the archaeological record that we usually base our interpretations on is comprised of chip stone artifacts, ground stone artifacts, maybe old hearths, which is a fire pit, or rock rings that would have been used to stabilize a house,” Craig Lee [U of Colorado] said.  “So we really have to base our understanding about ancient times on these inorganic materials.”  The article said that once artifacts like the wooden weapon melt out of the ice, they could be lost forever, so he was really lucky to find this after 10,000 years.
  7. Stretch the fast and furious:  Geology can be “fast and furious,” reported PhysOrg, but the results still take deep time.  We can “Witness the birth of Africa’s new ocean” in Ethiopia happening under geologists’ feet, but don’t bring your beach towel just yet.  “Scientists at the University of Leeds are predicting that within 10 million years Africa’s Horn will fall away and a new ocean will form.”  Of course, by then, they will all be dead and unavailable for falsification charges.  See 11/04/2009, 12/09/2005, and 09/19/2007.

These recent examples reveal that scientists reserve the right to maintain a great deal of flexibility for moving dates around within the framework.  The framework itself, however, is never questioned.

Thomas Kuhn was right.  The science community works happily within the paradigm.  The paradigm is not open to debate.  In Kuhnian science, anomalies are supposed to pile up to the point where mavericks question the paradigm (e.g., 08/07/2009, 04/17/2009, 04/02/2009, 03/09/2009, 12/02/2008, 11/12/2008 and many more examples under “Dating Methods”).  The intellectual capital invested in the deep-time paradigm, however, is so huge, and the ramifications of a concession to the despised creationists so distasteful, that exceptional efforts are made to maintain the paradigm in spite of anomalies (07/02/2007, 11/26/2007, 07/25/2008).  Much of that effort is devoted to simple declarative statements that things are old, repeated often enough so that the public rests in the aura of deep time.  That way, the unfathomable antiquity of the world is, after sufficient indoctrination, intuitively obvious.

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Categories: Early Man, Solar System

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