ID and the age of the earth

Disco. ‘tute “research” director Casey Luskin is sad. Congressional Quarterly wrote about creationism and didn’t say nice things about “intelligent design” creationism. Casey insists that ID shouldn’t be lumped in with young earth creationism or geocentrism, asserting:

the vast majority of leaders of the ID movement accept the conventional age of the Earth and the universe

This is a tough claim to judge, and Casey’s word choice here is interesting. Calling the best scientific estimates of the age of the earth “conventional” leaves Casey wiggle room: does he regard 4.54 billion years as a mere “convention,” or as a well-tested and solid assessment based on multiple lines of evidence? 

If Casey’s stance is ambiguous, that of his bosses (the “leaders of the ID movement”) is even moreso.  Disco. ‘tute fellow Paul Nelson has described the ID movement as a “big tent” encompassing young earth creationists like himself, along with creationists who are more prepared to accept the geological evidence.

Stephen Meyer, Casey’s boss and a subject of much of Casey’s blog post, was asked about his age of the earth in 2005, during the Kansas kangaroo court. This was a bizarre hearing that the state board of education held, using quasi-courtroom rules, in which various people were asked to testify against the standards written by expert teachers and scientists and in favor of a creationist alternative.

Stephen Meyer testifies at the Kansas Kangaroo court, 5/6/2005 John Calvert is in the foreground and Pedro Irigonegaray appears at the right edge of the stage.

Meyer didn’t appear in person, instead phoning in while a photo of his giant noggin was projected onto a screen. Pedro Irigonegaray cross examined Meyer:

Q. I have a few questions for you first that I want to establish for the record. In your opinion, your personal opinion, what is the age of the earth?

A. Do you want my personal– why are you asking me about my personal–

Q. You’re here to answer my questions. First of all, what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

A. I understood I was being called as an expert witness.

Q. What is your personal opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

A. I’m unclear. I understand–

Q. The question is simple. What is, in your opinion, the age of the earth?

A. Well, I’m just wanting to clarify the ground rules here. I thought I was being called as an expert witness, so why are you asking me about my personal–

Q. That’s not the issue. Now, please answer my question. What is your personal–

A. I would like to understand the ground rules first. Why am I being asked about–

MR. IRIGONEGARAY: Mr. Chairman, if he’s not going to answer my questions, I’d ask that his testimony be stricken from the record.

A. I’m happy to answer your question. I’d like to know why you’re asking about–

Q. (BY MR. IRIGONEGARAY) The “why” is not for you to determine.

MR. SISSON [a lawyer speaking against the evolution standards]: Mr. Chairman, I understand Mr. Meyer’s request to reflect some confusion about the ground rules, and it is quite appropriate for him to ask that the chair of the committee, namely yourself, speak to him concerning the appropriate ground rules. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: Dr. Meyer, can you hear me now?

A. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: My name is Steve Abrams, chairman of the science subcommittee. And even though these hearings have been called about the Kansas science curriculum standards and particularly how they relate to the minority report and particularly to the question of the philosophical claims and the religious claims of science and how to teach science in Kansas, we are allowing the counsel for the majority and the counsel of the minority great latitude in trying to establish their case. And Mr. Irigonegaray has elected to ask virtually every question– every witness questions about their personal opinions about certain things. And so we have granted him that latitude, and so I would say that’s where we’re going.

A. You would like me to cooperate with that?

CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: You can either answer “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know,” or whatever you want to do, but that– yes, I’d like you to cooperate.

A. It’s a transparently obvious strategy to impeach the credibility of your witnesses, but I will cooperate. So my answer to your question, Pedro, is that I– my personal opinions and my professional opinions are the same. I think the earth is 4.6 billion years old. I think the universe is–

Q. (BY MR. IRIGONEGARAY) No, just the earth. I didn’t ask you about the universe.

A. My opinion of–

Q. Mr. Meyer, please just answer my question. I’m not asking you other opinions.

MR. SISSON: I’d simply request to make a point here, ask the Chairman if I may make a point. Mr. Chairman, would you instruct the witness that there is no subpoena power here and that he is under no compulsion to answer and he would suffer no penalty if he chose to decline to answer.

CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: He can answer the questions to his extent. However, we would like you to answer them.

A. Does that mean I can say something else about the age of the earth?

CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: Mr. Irigonegaray is going to ask the questions that he thinks important and he may repeat the question. And he will ask– my guess is it will be a yes or a no answer or some side of an answer like that. If you feel comfortable answering that, say “yes,” or if you don’t know, say you don’t know, whatever it is. I mean, be truthful and answer however you feel comfortable answering.

A. Right. But may I say anything more about the age of the earth, then?

Q. (BY MR. IRIGONEGARAY) I’m the one asking questions here, Mr. Meyer, and all you need to do is to answer my question.

A. Okay. I think the age of the earth is 4.6 billion years old. That’s both my personal and my professional opinion. I speak as someone who is trained as a geophysicist–

Q. I’m not asking you about that. I just asked you for a number, and you have given it to me.

A. Okay. That’s all you want is the number?

Q. My questions are pretty clear, Mr. Meyer.

In the end, yes, Meyer endorsed something close enough to the standard scientific estimate of the earth’s age, but it took several minutes and he worked mightily to avoid answering the question.  Not quite as bad as Senator Rubio’s comments last year, but still pretty awful.  That he got to the right place in the end is less interesting than his evasiveness on the topic. Other witnesses during the three days of the hearing were more forthcoming, and most did endorse something like 4.5 billion years. A few rejected that number. For instance, John Sanford:

Q. And what is that personal opinion specifically as to the age? And I’m interested only in the age, not an explanation.

A. I believe that I was wrong in my previous belief that it’s 4.5 billion years old and that it’s much younger.

Q. How old is the earth, in your opinion?

A. I cannot intelligently say how old it is except it’s much younger than I think widely believed.

Q. Give me your best estimate.

A. Less than 100,000 years old.

Q. Less than 10,000?

A. Conceivably.

Q. Conceivably less than 10,000?

A. Yes.

Q. Conceivably less than 5,000?

A. No.

Q. So it’s somewhere between 5 and 10,000 years of age?

A. Between 5 and 100,000. But I would like to–

Q. No, I’m asking the questions.

Roger DeHart took the same approach:

Q. Mr. DeHart, I have, excuse me, a few questions for the record that I would like to ask you first.

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And I’m going to ask you first how old, in your opinion, is the world?

A. I’m going to answer like Dr. Sanford earlier, I would say between probably a lot younger than most people think.

Q. That doesn’t say anything to me. What is your opinion in years the age of the earth?

A. I’m fine with 5,000 to 100,000.

Q. You’re fine with 5,000 to 100,000?

A. Correct.

Bryan Leonard was notably cagy:

Q. All right. I have a few questions that I want to ask you for the record. First, what is your opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. I really don’t have an opinion.

Q. You have no opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. Four to four point five billion years is what I teach my students.

Q. I’m asking what is your opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. ‘Um, I was asked to come out here to talk about my experiences as a high school biology teacher.

Q. I’m asking you, sir –

A. I was not under the impression that I was asked to come out here –

Q. I’m asking you –

A. — talking about –

Q. — sir, what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. Four– four to four point five billion years is what I teach my students, sir.

Q. That’s not my question. My question is, what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. Again, I was under the impression to come out here and talk about my professional experience –

Q. Is there a difference?

A. — more of –

Q. Is there a difference between your personal opinion and what you teach students the age of the world is?

A. Four to four point five billion years is what I teach my students, sir.

Q. Is– my question is, is there a difference between your personal opinion and what you teach your students?

A. Again, you’re putting a spin on the question is– you know, now I’ll spin any answer, sir, to say that my opinion is irrelevant. Four to four point five billion years is what I teach my students.

Q. The record will reflect your answer.

Dan Ely was “struggling”:

Q. Welcome to Kansas. I have a few questions for the record for you. First I have a group of yes or no questions that I would like for you to answer, please. What is your opinion as to the age of the earth?

A. In light of time I would say most of the evidence that I see, I read and I understand points to an old age of the earth.

Q. And how old is that age?

A. I don’t know. I just know what I read with regards to data. It looks like it’s four billion years.

Q. And is that your personal opinion?

A. No. My personal opinion is I really don’t know. I’m struggling.

Q. You’re struggling with what the age of the earth is?

A. Yeah. Yeah. I’m not sure. There’s a lot of ways to measure the age. Meteorites is one way. There’s a lot of elements used. There’s a lot of assumptions can be used and those assumptions can be challenged so I don’t really know.

Q. What is the range that you are instructing?

A. I think the range we heard today, somewhere between 5,000 and four billion.

Q. You– you– you believe the earth may be as young as 5,000 years old. Is that correct?

A. Well, we’re learning that there’s such a thing as junc –

Q. Sir, answer –

A. — really has a function.

Q. Just please answer my question, sir.

A. We’re learning a lot about micro –

Q. Sir?

MR. IRIGONEGARAY: Mr. Abrams, please instruct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: I think –

Q. (By Mr. Irigonegaray) The question was– and winking at him is not going to do you any good. Answer my question. Do you believe the earth may be as young as 5,000 years old?

A. It could be.

Nancy Bryson offered a similarly broad range:

Q. I have a few questions for you that I’d like to place on the record first, please. The first thing I’d like to ask you is what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the world is?

A. I’m undecided.

Q. What is your best guess?

A. I’m totally undecided.

Q. Give me your best range.

A. Anywhere from 4.5 billion years to ten thousand years.

Q. And, of course, you have reached that conclusion based on the best scientific evidence available?

A. Yes.

Angus Menuge steadfastly refused to answer:

Q. Sir, I have a few questions that I’d like to ask you for the record, please. What is your personal opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

A. I don’t know. And that’s my final answer.

Q. Do you have an opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

A. I’m not giving an opinion.

Q. I didn’t hear you.

A. I am not giving an opinion.

Q. You don’t have any personal opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

A. I have no opinion.

Q. Do you find that to be rather an oddity since you consider yourself an expert on all of these areas?

These were folks invited to testify as the voice of the ID movement, the public leaders. And while many did endorse the best scientific understanding of the age of the earth, many didn’t, or were remarkably slithery in their statements. 

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