Monday, March 30, 2015

How Old is Old? – Part V

Continuing with and completing the understanding of radiocarbon dating (Carbon-14), and the time clock Willard F. Libby invented to read the ages of the past used constantly by archaeologists and anthropologists in determining the age of past civilizations and their accomplishments, both in the Americas and elsewhere.
   When I was young and an aspiring world conqueror, there was an unarguable and all inclusive tenet or canon in science that, simply stated, was “First you create a hypothesis, then you set about to prove it wrong—if you cannot prove it wrong, it therefore must be right, but only after you have exhausted all possible proofs that it is not wrong!
As stated by Sir Karl Raimund Popper (left), who promoted this belief and spoke out against empirical falsification, there were three steps in developing any new idea: 1) Formulate a hypothesis, 2) Try to prove it wrong, and, 3) Based upon your results, formulate a new hypothesis. It was an almost never-ending process of making certain that your hypothesis was, indeed accurate. Generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper was once asked “Why not try to prove your hypothesis right?” His answer, “Because you can't; you never know if there isn't one more experiment that will prove it wrong.”
    As a trivial example, let's say your hypothesis is that all the balls in a can are white. You pull one out and it is white. Have you proved your hypothesis? No, you just have not disproved it. However, if you pull out a pink ball, you do know your hypothesis is wrong. Of course, you can take all the balls out of the can but you can't do all the possible experiments on a scientific topic. This is called the “method of falsification.” It is like saying: “Every swan I’ve seen is white, therefore, all swans are white.”
    Simply stated, a theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, consequently, it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. Popper’s well-accepted scientific canon was that If the outcome of an experiment contradicts the theory, one should refrain from ad hoc maneuvers that evade the contradiction merely by making it less falsifiable. This was a concept in science that bound all scientists and their ideas into the realm of honest endeavors and results. Constantly fighting against scientists who championed pet theories, despite the results, Popper stated in 1957: “If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories.”
Popper, considered the most important philosopher of science since Francis Bacon of the 16th century, is also known for his opposition to the classical justificationist account of knowledge, which he replaced with critical rationalism, "the first non-justificational philosophy of criticism in the history of philosophy.” In a nutshell, Critical rationalists hold that scientific theories and any other claims to knowledge can and should be rationally criticized, and (if they have empirical content) can and should be subjected to tests which may falsify them.
    His ideas, which he formulated as early as 1938, was considered the most generally accepted and practiced scientific method known. However, today, his method has long been scrapped in favor of proving yourself right since that is to whom lucrative contracts, funding, computer time, and grants are given.
It seems unquestionable that Popper, who said, “Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve,” would not have approved of Libby’s sweeping his experiments that proved his hypothesis wrong under the rug in favor of “everyone knows the earth is millions of years old.”
    It was also Popper who wrote a ground-breaking work entitled The Open Society and its Enemies, a remarkable insight into humanities many mistakes in the name of progress and science. As Popper states about his philosophy, “It springs from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes—some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead those on whose defense civilization depends, and to divide them. The responsibility of this tragic and possibly fatal division becomes ours if we hesitate to be outspoken in our criticism of what admittedly is a part of our intellectual heritage. By reluctance to criticize some of it, we may help to destroy it all.”
    Evidently, Libby had not heard of Popper’s philosophy and numerous statements in support of it that had been the standard principle for scientific evaluation of ideas throughout most of the 20th century, since he ignored his tests that disproved his theory, and reset his radiocarbon dating clock to read it the way he thought it should be read. Thus, we see a world today labeled 4.55 billion years old, rather than the 10,000-year-old earth that his experiments actually showed the world to be.
    Nor, evidently, did Popper see far enough into the future to realize how indifferent science would become toward “truth,” for he also wrote: “Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.” Libby not only was unwilling to expose his ideas to the hazard of refutation by publishing and standing beside his own tests results, but changed them to match a belief held by a small segment of science at the time (1950) that the Earth was millions of years old—thus, not only taking part in the scientific game, but steering it down a side road that at the time was not widely accepted to make it the standard of belief throughout almost all of society.
Thus, in my lifetime, I have seen a drastic swing from trying to prove a hypothesis wrong, to trying to prove it right, no matter what. For this latter act, Libby won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1960, and the world ever since has seen evolution as the means of the earth’s existence, and man as living upon it for millions of years.
    However, in so doing, Libby proved another of Popper’s sayings to be quite accurate: “If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories.”
    It is interesting that Libby’s own experiments and results would have opened the door to one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time—that the Earth’s existence matches that listed in Moses’ writings and verified the age of the Earth as the ancients knew it and as God intended us to know. Instead, he violated the very public trust he hoped to have gained and fostered on mankind a lie about radiocarbon dating that has led to a misunderstanding of ancient ages in all archaeology and anthropology studies ever conducted, now going on and will ever be held.
   Thus, it should be obvious from all this, that the idea and results of radiocarbon dating of ancient sites can tell us only one thing—not the calendar date of their existence, but that one is older than the other. Stated differently, we can learn from Carbon-14 dating that Andean Peru was settled long before Mesoamerica, but other than that, we cannot tell exactly when, or even in what century. As long as science continues to use an atmosphere in equilibrium that is actually not equalized, we will never know from radiocarbon dating (or any other dating method) in what time period prehistoric events of the past took place.

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