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Score one for Scientific Creationism ?!

In another venue where I participate this article published at arXiv, Evidence for Correlations Between Nuclear Decay Rates and Earth-Sun Distance, and previous articles from the same source published in recent months, is undergoing a lively discussion.

In a nutshell, a couple of earth based research programs measuring the half lives of radioisotopes have a significant seasonal variation in the raw data values which correlate with distance from the sun. It was brought to our attention by scientific creationists who are constantly on the lookout for things which might dispute the widely accepted yardsticks used to measure geologic age.

I accepted those yardsticks as much as anyone short of being dogmatic about it. Upon reading this I immediately pointed out that significant variation in measured radioisotope half life correlated with distance from the sun, evidenced by seasonal variation in earth based experimental raw data, could be due to instrumentation error. To be fair though I also did some research on radioisotope thermal power supply performance on deep space probes and found there’s a rather large gap between predicted and actual performance. I also pointed out that the measured discrepancies aren’t large enough to turn a 4 billion year old planet into a 6000 year old planet. Still though, if not instrumentation error it raises a legitimate question of what the heck solar generated field or particle emission explains it and what are the bounds for this field or emission effect in the history of the solar system. The scientific creation crew have been predicting a variable half life for a long time and have been roundly dismissed by the scientific establishment at large. It looks like they might have been correct if not in magnitude then at least in principle. Credit where credit is due is my position regardless of the source of inspiration for the hypothesis.

Update: Added RTG performance data of Voyagers I and II in comment #8.

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27 Responses to Score one for Scientific Creationism ?!

  1. If time is relative to motion then why is it so hard to believe that half-lives might be? A half-life is a rate, distance over time essentially. If time is variable than the rate is variable.

  2. 2

    Great stuff, Dave!

  3. Paul Giem, I believe, in another thread pointed out that the C14 half life is about 5730 years, so there should be none in rock levels considered older than some number of 1/2 lives (20-30), say 250K years, and yet it’s consistently found at any age rock(he had data). the best response I’ve seen on the web is new c14 is somehow generated, but the response given to that is that it’s about 12,000 times expected level. Also, I’ve read that dating of Mt St Helens flows came in at 2M years, and we know it was 1980? Just sayin’

  4. I think what the Young Earth Creationists are attempting to do is to challenge the assumptions of the uniformitarian views of naturalistic science. Radiometric dating is one aspect of what they are challenging.

    I think it’s interesting that the naturalists have challenged their own assumptions recently as a back-up plan to their cosmological theories involving dark energy.1 Although this is done in a half-hearted way. But I think they want something to point to if (when) their unmeasurables fail. They can point to a “cosmic bubble.” Dave, I’m sure they’ll find some dark force to explain these observations that you note, which will explain away the notions of the IDiots and creationists.

    This will be another example to me of how worldviews and ideology trump science.

    1 A Naturalistic Fairy Tale-Part XII

  5. I seem to be hearing a few things lately suggesting that perhaps the Big Bang may not be the best model. Lawrence Krauss springs to mind, and a couple of others.

  6. I would classify myself as an old-earth designist. I was totally wrong in accepting Darwinism/materialism as a settled explanation for the origin and diversification of life, so I am now more open to being proven wrong on other points.

    Back in my atheist days I remember people mocking the Genesis account about light being separated from darkness before the appearance of stars, but it now appears that this is accurate: The universe began in a flash of light (ultra-high-energy gamma rays) that condensed into matter (non-light, or darkness) long before nuclear fusion ignited the first stars.

    Perhaps we’ll discover that the speed of light has changed, or that time itself has morphed in such a way that six days in contemporary time is mathematically equivalent to 13 billions years in morphed cosmological time. I was dead wrong about Darwinian orthodoxy, so I’m open to being proven wrong about my assumptions when it comes to the mysteries of the universe, about which we obviously only have a slight inkling.

  7. Credit where credit is due is my position regardless of the source of inspiration for the hypothesis.

    If we could only get the same courtesy out of the legacy science community…

  8. I noticed elsewhere that issue is taken with the deep space probe radioisotope power supply performance. The best test of this is on Voyager 1 which has been powered on for 29 years and is now over 101 AUs distant from the sun.

    From Wikipedia:

    Power

    Radioisotope thermoelectric generators for the Voyager program.Electrical power is supplied by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). They are powered by plutonium-238 (distinct from the Pu-239 isotope used in nuclear weapons) and provided approximately 470 W at 30 volts DC when the spacecraft was launched. Plutonium-238 decays with a half-life of 87.74 years, [3] so RTGs using Pu-238 will lose a factor of 1 ? 0.51 / 87.74 = 0.78% of their power output per year. In 2006, 29 years after launch, such an RTG would produce only 470 W × 2-(29/87.74) ~= 373 W — or about 79.5% — of its initial power. However, the bi-metallic thermocouples that convert heat into electricity also degrade, so the actual power will be even lower. As of August 11 2006, the power generated by Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 had dropped to 290 W and 291 W respectively, about 60% of the power at launch. This is better than the pre-launch predictions based on a conservative thermocouple degradation model. As the electrical power decreases, spacecraft loads must be turned off, eliminating some spacecraft capabilities.

    So we have a discrepancy between predicted and actual output of the RTG. Either the thermocouples are degrading slower than the most conservative estimate of their decay rate OR the half-life of the radioisotope got shorter as the mission progressed OR both. The half-life getting shorter might not make immediate sense but if you think about it, it does. Heat is released as atoms of the fuel fall into a lower energy state (radioactive decay). Ostensibly the decay rate is due to quantum fluctuations and remains constant regardless of external influence. The heat is converted to electricity by the thermocouple. For the power supply to be putting out more electricity than anticipated (discounting thermocouple degradation) the fuel must be burning hotter – the decay rate increased thus raising fuel temperature thus raising the electrical output from the thermocouple. A faster decay rate translates to a shorter half-life.

    The odd thing about this, and also about the earth-based measurements, is that the sun is damping the radioactive decay rate. It increases with distance from the sun. This kind of rules out particle emissions from the sun which could conceivably increase the rate of decay. An energetic particle striking an atomic nucleus could trigger decay. It’s inconceivable how neutrino flux could do this as matter is almost completely transparent to neutrinos. I’m thinking one possibility is that the sun’s electromagnetic field is shielding the radioisotope from extra-solar energetic particles (cosmic “rays”). The further away from the sun you get the less shielding. In any case the cause iss an extremely interesting question that could potentially upend an applecart containing fundamental axioms of physics.

    That said, it’s still ambiguous in the question of instrumentation error vs. half-life variability. It could very well be that something to do with distance from the sun is causing the thermocouple to degrade slower instead of causing the fuel to burn hotter. I don’t know enough about what factors cause thermocouple decay to hazard a guess as to what it might be but I suppose I can do some reading on thermocouple decay and get back with it.

    Getting back: http://www.ligo.caltech.edu/docs/P/P990034-00.pdf

    The Design of a Nuclear Power Supply With a 50 Year Life Expectancy:

    The JPL Voyager’s SiGe MIIW RTG

    Table 1. Measured and Predicted Power Levels for the RTG
    Systems of Voyagers I and II as a Function of Time

    Date VYGRI VYGRII DEGRA Pred.

    Launch 472.0 Watts 478.0 Watts 475.0 Watts

    Sep.78 455.0 462.0 460.3
    Sep.79 440.0 446.0 445.6
    Dec.80 431.0 436.0 435.3
    Dec.81 423.0 427.0 425.1
    Dec.82 419.0 423.0 414.9
    Dec.83 415.0 419.0 408.5
    Dec.84 408.0 411.0 403.8
    Dec.85 394.2 398.1 397.0
    Dec.86 389.1 392.0 389.5
    Dec.87 384.0 387.0 382.4
    Dec.88 377.1 381.1 375.2
    Dec. 89 372.3 376.3
    Dec. 90 366.2 370.2
    Dec.91 361.5 365.0
    D&,.92 355.6 359.4
    Dec.93 350.8 354.7
    Dec.94 346.1 348.7
    Dec.95 341.3 343.9
    Dec.96 335.4 338.1
    Dec.97 330.7 334.5
    Dec. 98 326.0 327.4

    This is a scanned document with the design specs and predicted performance of the Voyager RTGs. A fair amount of detail is provided in the thermopile construction and factors that degrade performance (mostly sublimation of the silicon-germanium doped junctions). Far more interesting is that in a 9 year predicted vs. actual RTG performance the RTGs started out decaying faster than predicted and as the mission progressed (and distance from the sun increased) they gradually changed into degrading slower than predicted. See Table 1. Nice smoking gun there.

    More info here with predicted vs. actual RTG performance graphed to about 2006 (27 years).

    http://trs-new.jpl.nasa.gov/ds.....6-0391.pdf

    They noted the predicted vs. actual performance difference and blamed it on the thermopile degradation model. That doesn’t mean the model was wrong. No one considers the possibility that half-life could vary. The model could be correct and the presumption of an 87.74 year half-life constant over the entire mission is wrong.

  9. 9

    I’d simply like to commend DaveScot for the quality of this thread, both because of the breadth of references he is bringing to bear and for his objective attitude to the underlying science.

  10. Thanks for this Dave,

    You noted:
    ‘I also pointed out that the measured discrepancies aren’t large enough to turn a 4 billion year old planet into a 6000 year old planet’.

    From a YEC point of view (having read a lot of their material – something which I would suggest that people at this site should do), the answer to that question would probably be something like the following (in my layman’s language, for that is all I am):

    1. YECs by and large hold to a non-standard cosmology, that is they do not accept the assumptions of the Big-bang model that
    (a) the universe is unbounded, and (b) that the earth is not near the centre of the universe (ie. the ‘Copernican principle’ that the earth is nothing special).

    IOW, they believe that the universe is bounded and that the reason that stars seem to be spread out evenly around us in whatever direction we look is not because the universe is infinite, but because we are roughly near the centre of it.

    2. Applying the standard and well-validated principles of relativity to a bounded universe would lead to a white-hole cosmology (ie. the universe expanded out of a white-hole, instead of out of a black hole, as in the big-bang model).

    3. BTW, in addition to the unproveable and counter-intuitive starting assumptions mentioned above, the standard big-bang cosmology has enormous evidential problems, in particular, the fact that 95%(?) of the energy and matter predicted by the theory is completely undetectable (‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’). Still, big-bang cosmologists prefer to invoke not one fairy godmother (‘dark matter’), but two (‘dark energy’) to prop up the theory!

    3. The results of a white-hole cosmology, assuming that the earth is somewhere near the centre of an expanding universe is that as the universe expanded from its starting singularity, the event horizon (the point at which, due to the relativistic effect of gravitation on time-measurement, time appears to stand virtually still), would have passed over the earth. At this point, time elsewhere in the expanding universe would have continued to proceed as normal, but on earth, time would be standing still. This is the current YEC thinking about the ‘starlight/time’ problem: the universe is old (billions of years), yet the earth remains young.

    4. Thus, if radioactive decay rates are affected by earth-sun distance, it is quite possible that at a previous time-period, the distance between the earth and the sun (which was not created/became visible until Day 4 of Genesis), was different.

    I don’t know if that all makes sense, much less if it is workable or true, but it certainly does open up an interesting possible research pathway.

  11. 11

    There are many types of evidence for an old universe and an old Earth, they don’t all involve radioactive decay rates. As far as I can see there are only two reasons for believing in a young Earth: 1) the desire to distort science to make it fit a literal interpretation of Genesis and 2) the assumption that the older the Earth is, the more reasonable Darwinism becomes.

    Trying to argue for a young Earth only paints a large target on our backs; Darwinism is a completely bankrupt scientific theory no matter how old the Earth is, so we would do well to at least not make this a central issue.

  12. Dr. Sewell,

    “Darwinism is a completely bankrupt scientific theory”

    One of the problems is that Darwinian processes no matter which current version is accepted do explain a lot of life on the planet. Micro evolution seems to work just fine and is a reasonable explanation for most of the variety of life we see around us. You are right that it is completely bankrupt theory for macro evolution explanations. Unfortunately most scientists and laymen are not really aware of the importance of this distinction and look at any criticism of Darwin as ill informed religious nonsense as opposed to what it is but super informed and non religious. They just assume deep time cures all problems and any criticism of it is only the result of religious motivation.

    Until this distinction is hammered home in all ID discussions and debates, this confusion will continue to be the norm and the evidence ID mounts to counter macro evolution will be ignored. ID cannot and should not dispute Darwinian micro evolution and as such should accept it till something else is proven as a better alternative.

  13. Well Dr. Sewell some of us here are more concerned with science than the social consequences of certain beliefs.

    DaveScot I have heard that before the first moon landing, some NASA scientists predicted that the layer of moondust would be several feet deep and could cause major problems for any moon landing or moonwalk. They believed this because of their calculation of the age of the moon and the rate of spacedust accumulation. Obviously when they got there the layer was quite thin. Is there any truth to this?

  14. tragicmishap

    Yeah, I watched the space program unfold live on black and white TV beginning with the Mercury program through the first moon landing. You betcha the depth of the regolith was a major concern. Buzz Aldrin had his finger poised over the ATO (abort to orbit) button until the landing light blinked and then some.

  15. I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here. I’m no young earth creationist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just barely open-minded enough to entertain a remote possibility they’re right. All scientists should be open-minded. The crying shame is so many of them nowadays are not.

    Granville – I completely agree that a 4 byo and 14 byo universe is no great obstacle for ID. In fact I’m pleased as punch that there’s such a wide consensus on those ages because they are grossly inadequate. On the other hand, if the YEC crew get something right they get something right and I’m not going to hide it from myself or others out of fear of guilt-by-association. I give credit where credit is due regardless if it works for against ID. No honest objective person who goes where the evidence leads can possibly do otherwise.

  16. I found the regolith on the moon to be solid evidence for an old moon.

    The astronauts on Apollo-17 conducted seismic tests near their landing site to measure the thickness of the regolith. The thickness in this region was found to range from 6.2m (20ft) to 39.6m (120 ft).

    (Citation from “Science Held Hostage”, IVP, 1988 quoting Apollo-17 Preliminary Science Report (Washington, D.C.: NASA Publication SP-330,1973)

    IE: The regolith is vastly more consistent with a 4 billion year old moon than with a 6000 year old moon. There were some that envisioned that all regolith would be fine dust, that the lunar lander would sink deep into it. But it is much courser and more packed than the dust-theorists predicted.

    Regolith supports an old moon, an old earth — and there’s no radioactive decay in the equation.

  17. bfast

    Quite right. The regolith is indeed quite deep. The saving grace that allowed a landing was that it packs really well. No one knew how well it would pack before an actual landing attempt was made.

  18. I found the regolith on the moon to be solid evidence for an old moon.

    Some interesting points about have been made by creationists here:
    Creation Science

    It’s interesting that people think they can find evidence either way because that means creationism is falsifiable. If you can disprove creationist hypotheses with science then it seems that it was part of the scientific process all along.

    Creationism aside, theism has always been the foundation of science as we know it and there is evidence that it cannot be done away without science degenerating into irrational forms of pseudo-science. There is a difference between blindly seeking or imagining natural explanations no matter the evidence and seeking rational explanations based on the evidence.

  19. Practical Application?

    Here’s a thought I’ve been wanting to write down for a few days.

    Say the effect is real and there’s some field or emission from the sun that serves as a throttle on radioactive decay rate.

    Further say the field or emission can be economically reproduced artificially and focused on a nanogram scale fuel particle to increase the decay rate exponentially.

    What you have then is essentially nanogram sized atom bombs.

    What happens if you mix with it with a nanogram size bits of dueterium and tritium? Nanogram size hydrogen bombs – which essentially form the core of fusion reactors. Energy problem solved.

    This is really, really interesting physics with great potential for practical application here if the effect is real.

  20. DaveScot,

    Thanks for bringing this article to our attention. And thanks for your open-minded take on how science should be discussed (also GilDodgen at #6–see further below).

    I would extend that open-mindedness to the discussion of evolution. Thus I agree with jerry (#12) that even if mechanistic megaevolution is false, microevolution and even speciation through at least partly RV&NS mechanisms may be true, and there is no need to reflexively make the equation evolution=bad.

    It is important to keep in mind what has been reasonably shown by the article and what has not. One thing has been reasonably conclusively demonstrated. Radioactive decay rates are not invariant. This has been known for k-capture for some time, and there are extremely minor effects noted for some alpha-decays, but in general for most decays the effect has been believed to be be insignificant. Now we are in posession of data which show systematic changes in the decay rate (or decay rate ratios) on the order of one part in 500. This blows out of the water the “law” of constant decay.

    Furthermore, the decay is correlated with the distance from the earth to the sun, a physical effect completely inconsistent with the presumed local mechanism of previous violations of the “law” of constant decay. It shows rather conclusively that we really do not understand the mechanism of decay anywhere near as well as we thought we did. And we have no business ruling out a postulated accelerated decay event until we understand why such an accelerated decay is physically impossible. At present we do not have that understanding.

    However, there are several problems with the data, some of which are not adequately addressed by the paper. Notice that what varied in both cases cited by the paper is not the absolute decay rate but rather the ratio of decays of one isotope to another. In one case it is the ratio of decay of 32Si (beta decay, half-life some 150 years) versus 36Cl (98% beta decay, 2% electron capture or positron decay, half-life 301 K years). In the other case, it is the ratio of decay of 228Rn (alpha decay, with a trace of 14C decay (!), half life 1600 years) versus 152 Europium (72% electron capture, 28% beta decay, half life 13.5 years). Thus it is not clear whether radium decay went up during certain periods, or europium decay went down, or a little of both, or whether they both went up but radium decay went up more, or they both went down but europium decay went down more. In order to build an accurate model, we need answers to such questions. Are the raw data available, and have they been analyzed with regard to this question?

    Dave’s (#8) Voyager 1 data are fascinating in this regard. They suggest that we should be looking for faster europium decay further away from the sun rather than more rapid radium decay. However, there is one other piece of data that is pertinent here. The predictive model includes degradation of the performance of the thermocouple. Have such thermocouples been operated for extended times in the presence of 238Pu so that we know how close to accurate the degradation model is? Dave (#8) hinted that he would try to get back to us with it.

    The article also mentioned another paper suggesting that solar flares could change the rate of decay. Do solar flares blow away cosmic rays, or increase the neutrino flux, or what? The fact is, all of a sudden our “knowledge” has been shown to be less than we thought it was, and we have to start over being much more careful in our assumptions.

    One question that immediately comes up is, what about day-night variations? The nighttime earth is slightly further away from the sun, less exposed to solar influences, and more exposed to the rest of the galaxy. I know, having counted tritium-labeled material, that the effect is not large. But what about subtle effects?

    And, Dave (#19), you are right; there are all kinds of practical possibilities if we can identify the reason for the change in radioactive rates.

    One last thought for Gil (#6). You will be interested that your proposal has been formally made by Russell Humphreys in a book entitled Starlight and Time.

  21. Another deep space probe anomoly that certain YEC theories would have anticipated:

    http://setterfield.org/

    I say “would have”… because, once I was exchanging emails with Sal on speed of light & radioactive decay rates. He sent me a link to Setterfield’s website. Before actually visiting this website, I had already hypothesized before reading about it, that..hey! the deep space probes might, in some way, provide clues on the speed of light slowing since they have been sent out. I was very delighted, that that just so happened to be a discovery that was made..and it so happened to be an article posted on Setterfield’s website.

    The hypothesis was only documented in an email perhaps..but I think this may count, in some sense perhaps, another score for science with a YEC presupposition/worldview. :D

  22. “PIONEER 10 AND 11 ACCELERATION ANOMALY”

    http://setterfield.org/000docs/accelanom.htm

  23. Where can I put this to have it noticed. Livescience has a great supportive article here: http://www.livescience.com/hea.....y-dna.html
    The last time we discussed conserved DNA that had no detectable purpose it was “highly conserved”. Now they are reporting a bunch of “Ultraconserved” DNA that has no detectable purpose. This so doesn’t fit the darwinian paradyme.

    I think that having it reported as such a mystery in this pro-Darwinan website shows that this evidence is being noticed by the scientific community.

  24. I have looked at the plot of decay differences versus sun to earth distance. It appears to me they are out of phase. That causes me to suspect the sun is not the cause since whatever effect the sun to earth distance might have would, I think, be instantaneous (or nearly so.

    I wonder if the cause may be be related to the motion of the earth relative to something else, say CMB radiation.

  25. sterusjon

    You might try factoring in the tilt of the earth’s axis and latitude of the experiment. That’s an annual cycle out of phase with perihelion and aphelion.

  26. Dave,

    Your suggested relationship to something other than the distance seperating the earth ans sun is a point well taken. But it serves to point out the need to consider all of the factors that have a period related to the the revolution of the earth around the sun while trying to pin down the cause of the observations.

    Stephen

  27. Stephen

    The current best explanation is that there’s a cloud of thermal neutrinos that are held captive by the sun’s gravity and these are a large factor in beta decay probability. Moving a little farther away from the sun puts the earth in a thinner portion of the cloud and the rate decreases. I’m not sure I buy that because matter is almost completely transparent to neutrinos and if some undetected low energy neutrinos interact with matter many orders of magnitude more often than high energy neutrinos we should observe annual inconsistencies in all sorts of quantum and maybe even chemical processes. A low energy neutrino is more likely to interact with atomic nuclei just like low energy neutrons are much more likely than high energy neutrons. It’s just that I don’t understand why the neutrino effect would only show up in radioisotope beta-decay.

    On the other hand, if isn’t a gravitationally constrained thermal neutrino cloud but some other kind of emission where the angle of exposure to the sun matters then there should be another sinusoidal annual cycle in the data out of sync with the distance from the sun. There’s also some mention that the decay rate changes during major solar flares too which also speaks against the thermal neutrino cloud hypothesis.

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