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Glenn R. Morton’s Misuse of
Woodmorappe’s List Of
Discrepant Isotopic Dates

John Woodmorappe
MA Geology, BA Geology

© 2003 by John Woodmorappe.  All Rights Reserved. 

lenn R. Morton has a long history of making and repeating fallacious arguments against creationist scientists.  For instance, he has been distorting the content and significance of my 1979 paper[1] on isotopic dating for some 25 years.  Despite his having been repeatedly corrected during this long period of time, he continues to present it to the unwary.  It is for this reason that this reply has been written.  Otherwise, Morton’s transparently specious argument is not even worth dignifying with a reply, for which reason no earlier formal response had been written.

Let us get some elementary facts straight:  My list of discrepant dates, originally published in 1979, was only illustrative in nature.  It was presented to give the reader an idea about how frequent discrepant isotopic results occur in the literature (against those who would have us believe that such discrepancies are just a few flukes).  The discrepancies that I have tabulated are only those relatively few that get published, and consist only of examples that came to my attention.  They have absolutely no other connotation.  By no stretch of the imagination have they been normalized in any way, nor has any claim been made that these results qualify as a random sample of the discrepant dates that actually do occur.  Yet Morton has tacitly tried to mislead his readers, for all these years, into believing that my list as some sort of valid sampling of the actual distribution of discrepant dates, and that I am ignoring what this supposed valid sampling is showing.  It is nothing of the sort, and Morton’s complaint about my not accounting for an apparent progression in the dates is a dog that will not fly.

For Morton’s analysis to be valid, and for his claim that there is a trend in the discrepant isotopic dates to be considered seriously, each of the following conditions would have to be met.  Failure of even ONE of the conditions listed below would be sufficient to invalidate Morton’s pseudo-analysis of the data that I had tabulated.  In fact, NOT ONE of them is addressed, much less met, by Morton:

A)  As noted earlier, before any graph of the distribution of discrepant dates could even be attempted, an accounting would have to be made of all the dates which escape entry into my table by having vague or nonexistent biostratigraphic brackets.  This has not been done by Morton, and so his graph is nullified right here.

B)  Each citation in my table of discrepant results would have to be evaluated as to whether it is a single analysis, a collection (or average) of many dates, or one of several entries from the same geologic region.  This Morton has not done.  By just graphing the points in my table, he has, in effect, mixed apples and oranges and sand.  To speak about some kind of trend in this assembly is simply ridiculous.

C)  Dates that rely on isochrons would have to account for the assumption that the set of points on the isochron actually comes from a consanguineous magma source, and that all potential points for the isochron had been published.  Again, Morton has not done this.

D)  Severely discrepant results would have to be published about as often as relatively mildly discrepant ones.  Morton does not show that this is the case.  To the contrary:  I document the fact that discrepant results are more likely to be published if they have inferred geologic meaning.  And, if anything, this is more likely to be the case for relatively mildly discrepant dates than for severely discrepant ones.

E)  Dates that are “too old” would have to be published about as frequently as the ones that are “too young”.  Morton has not shown this to be the case.  Again, if anything, just the opposite is true.  Dates that are “too young” can easily be rationalized as “cooling ages” and are hence comparatively likely to be published on grounds of having a secondary geologic meaning.  Those “too old” are most commonly reckoned nonsensical and are thus quite likely to go unpublished.

F)  Dates which are “too young” for, say, Cenozoic would have to be published just as frequently as those that are too young, say, for Paleozoic.  Morton has not shown this to be the case.  Again, if anything, the opposite situation is more likely.  Uniformitarians tend to expect the supposedly older rocks (Paleozoic) to have experienced more reheating events than supposedly younger rocks (Cenozoic).  For this reason, discrepantly young results from Paleozoic rocks are more likely to be seen as geologically meaningful, and thus to see the light of publication, than ones from Cenozoic rocks.

G)  Even if all of the above conditions were met, the discrepant (and, if you want, also the “good”) dates would have to be normalized for area of igneous outcrop.  This Morton has not done.  Hence any “trend” of dates from my table is meaningless, even if conditions (A)-(F) had been met.  (This is not to say that no trend in isotopic dates actually exists.  But any such trend has yet to be properly demonstrated, and the table in my 1979 paper is the wrong place to look for it).

Unless Morton can prove that conditions (A) though (G) have been met by his graphing of my data points, his long-repeated claims about what my tabulated data shows are an act of complete intellectual dishonesty on his part.  It is high time that Morton stop repeating his silly argument once and for all, and readers should be vigilant if and when he pops it again.

As if all this were not enough, Glenn R. Morton has also taken this cheap shot at me:

John Woodmorappe (1979) went through the scientific literature looking for radioactive dates which are 20% too old or too young.  He specifically excluded from his search any date which matched the expected age.  This type of selective editing is exactly what Young earth Creationists charge the Evolutionists with.  Woodmorappe says

“An objective comparison between the number of fitting v. the number of anomalous dates in the Phanerozoic is hindered (if not prevented) by the fact that anomalous dates frequently (or usually) are not reported in scientific journals.” (Woodmorappe 1979, p. 113)

Thus while he criticizes the old-earther for selectively publishing radioactive dates, he does the very same thing by only publishing bad dates.  This seriously hurts his credibility.

To even try to equate the tabulation of published discrepant dates, in a review-type article, with the non publishing of obtained discrepant dates, in an original research paper, is another act of complete intellectual dishonesty on his part.  As it is, Morton’s assertion is, to begin with, completely untrue, and he should be ashamed for making it.  And if anyone’s credibility is being self-undermined, seriously or otherwise, it is none other than that of Glenn R. Morton.

While my table does in fact consist only of discrepant dates, I do mention, enumerate, and account for the “good” ones.  On page 158 of my 1979 paper, I cite the tabulation of “good” dates provided by R. L. Armstrong (reference 316).  I point out that there are fewer “good” dates than my tabulated “bad” dates, for all of the Phanerozoic timescale except Cretaceous and Cenozoic.  I also discuss how ambiguous or nonexistent biostratigraphic brackets make it often difficult to tell if a date is discrepant or not (and also to avoid inclusion in my table).  Finally, it is the very selective publication of obtained isotopic dates (a fact that Morton acknowledges) that makes any would-be comparison of the numbers of “good” versus “bad” dates totally meaningless, nullifying his cheap shot argument all the more.

I have been quite familiar with Morton’s antics for the better part of the last three decades, but newcomers to origins-related issues are likely to be unfamiliar with his tactics.  It is for their benefit that this response was written.  I warn these newcomers that, based on his prior behavior, Glenn R. Morton is likely to:  1) Present a false argument, 2) Raise irrelevant points, present another false argument, or otherwise try to confuse the issue when confronted with its falsity, 3) Perhaps lie low for awhile, and then, sooner or later, 4) Repeat his original false argument, most likely to a new audience.

Finally, in order to further inform the unwary, a comment is in order pertaining to Morton’s past profession of creationism.  Though once claiming to be a creationist, Morton’s thinking has always been strongly pro-uniformitarian.  This is obvious from most of his articles that had been published in the CRSQ (Creation Research Society Quarterly).  (His 1986 paper delivered at the First International Conference on Creationism was just icing on the cake).  In fact, I had been one of the referees to Morton’s submissions to the CRSQ when the late Harold Armstrong had been editor.  While, at the start, I of course did not know who the author was and had no idea that his profession of creationism was to be ephemeral, I readily discerned the pro-uniformitarian bias of this writer, and repeatedly brought it to Dr. Armstrong’s attention—all to no avail.  So Morton’s eventual abandonment of his past creationist profession does not represent a major change in his thinking at all.  His theology may have changed, but not his uncritical attitude towards uniformitarian thinking.



Note

[1] My article, “Radiometric Geochronology Reappraised”, originally published in the September 1979 issue of the Creation Research Society Quarterly, has since been reprinted in my book, Studies in Flood Geology.   [RETURN TO TEXT]


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