Saturday, August 25, 2012

Christian = Hater

Timothy Dalrymple confesses that being an evangelical Christian makes him a hater. I think he's exactly right. Here's how he begins his mea culpa:
Being an evangelical Christian, of course, I grew up with vicious hatreds implanted deep within my heart. Hatred (I refuse to use “hate” when the proper word is “hatred”) for women who obtain abortions. Hatred for gays. Hatred for criminals and illegal aliens. Hatred for people of other faiths. Hatred, basically, for anyone unlike myself and my cru.

I am a Christian, therefore I must be a hater. I eat hatred for breakfast — and yes, it takes like hate. So, at least, I’m told.

For a long time, I resisted this argument. I spent time with people who had abortions, and with friends who were openly gay, and with people whose faiths were diametrically opposed to my own — but I never felt hatred toward any of them. Love, yes. Compassion, to be sure. Concern, sometimes. But not hatred. Someone must have spiked my haterade, because I couldn’t seem to find within myself all these hatreds that, I was told, seethed and festered deep within me.

The curious thing was, I didn’t find this burning hatred in the evangelical Christians around me, either. They were good-hearted people. They took women in crisis into their homes. They worked with troubled youth and delivered food to the homeless. They started tutoring programs for children in East Palo Alto. Many (though not all) of them supported Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2 and John McCain — which, I guess, means that they hated science, rationality, the environment, and evolution.

But if they were filled with hatred for actual people groups, it must have been buried down deep. Most of these men and women in the churches I attended felt, as I do, that abortion is wrong and that marriage was ordained by God for the joining of male and female. Many of them were strongly opposed to illegal immigration. Still, try though I might, I couldn’t peel back all the layers of kindness and sincere conviction to find the trembling, bigoted, hate-filled hater underneath it all.

Now, I no longer resist the argument. I’m willing to confess. I am a Christian — a conservative evangelical Christian to boot — and there are many things I hate. I am hate-filled.
Dalrymple elaborates on his hatreds at the link. What he says offers an excellent portrait, in my opinion, of the average Christian and the tensions with which he or she lives.

The Age of the Earth

Scientists use the rate of nuclear decay in atoms to measure the ages of very old things like archeological artifacts and even the age of the earth. Using these "radiometric dating" techniques gives an age of the earth, for example, of about 4.5 billion years. The reliability of the method depends on the assumption that the rate of nuclear decay we see today is the same as it has always been throughout earth history. If the rate has changed then the method is going to give an age that's either too high or too low.

A recent study has shown that the rate of decay can be effected by tiny particles called neutrinos produced in enormous quantities by the sun, especially in solar storms. If that's so, then it's possible that the earth is not as old as radiometric dating techniques suggest.

The article is not really about radiometric dating so much as it is about using fluctuations in decay rates to predict solar storms, but if decay rates do fluctuate then we have to wonder how reliable they are in determining very old ages.

Here's the essay's lede:
Radioactive materials decay at a predictable rate — so predictable, in fact, that scientists widely use them to date artifacts and geological objects. That, at least, is the received wisdom, which Jere Jenkins and Ephraim Fischbach, from Purdue University in Indiana, think may need revising. In 2006 Dr Jenkins noticed that the decay rate of the radioactive isotope manganese-54 dipped 39 hours before a solar flare came crashing into Earth's protective magnetic field. Now it seems that the sun might affect other types of decay, too.

As the researchers report in Astroparticle Physics, the decay rate of chlorine-36 increases as Earth approaches the sun. The difference is tiny: the rate fluctuates by less than 1% between the aphelion and perihelion, the points on Earth's orbit when it is farthest and closest to the sun, respectively. But it is discernible and persistent. As-yet-unpublished data for manganese-54 suggest that isotope follows a similar pattern. If confirmed, the insight might, among other things form the basis of a system for forecasting dangerous cosmic storms.
If - and it's a big if - the techniques that've been used to determine the age of the planet turn out to be unreliable then there are some interesting implications for science and philosophy. If the earth is considerably younger than radiometric techniques indicate then Darwinian evolution could lose its most crucial support - vast stretches of time to allow extraordinarily improbable combinations of genetic changes to become probable. If earth is of relatively recent origin then unguided, purposeless processes simply don't have enough time, even under the most optimistic scenarios, to have brought forth human beings from primordial sludge.