BWE’s 1st Post

Author: BWE_the real_one. [ Sat May 26, 2007 10:42 pm ]
Post subject: Dendrochronology and C14: Circularity or Valid Science?

So, I can explain dendrochronology and I will as it becomes necessary. For now, I humbly submit my opening post:

My proposal in this debate, here used with the meaning of “debatish” rather than the normal use of the term, consists of three parts.

1. The first part is that this title is a retarded way to look at an established science.

2. The second part is that dendrochronology is a valid method of C14 dating calibration and is not circular.

3. The third part is that Creation “Science”, the word “science” here used with the meaning of “sciency” rather than the usual meaning of the word, relies on rhetorical games, logical fallacies, quote-mines, sweeping statements that aren’t followed through on and plain old ordinary stupidity. This creation “science” is responsible for many of the retarded ideas about science that bounce around the internet including the idea that C14 dating can’t be accurate despite multiple, independent dating techniques all cross-referencing each other. No challenge to dendro or C14 dating exists that doesn’t rely on fallacies and obfuscations for the argument.


1. The title: Any science is valid science if it uses valid data and the scientific method including the peer-review process to increase understanding about phenomena. The fact that someone thinks data is in error because the experiment is designed wrong means that person better go get cracking and publish some results that show just how that happens. That’s how it works. If you have that info go publish it. Believe me, the Tree Ring Society ( ), the Association for Environmental Archaeology ( ), the makers of mass spectrometers and lots and lots of institutions will want to know. It’s pretty important to them.

Since I couldn’t find any peer-reviewed publications with such a challenge, I have to conclude that none have been made. Feel free to correct me on this. But! even if there were, the idea wouldn’t be either/ or, it would be a fabulous scientific problem to occupy the time of countless labs, graduate students and researchers around the world. So, if some data or lab work gave credence to the idea that dendrochronology as a calibration for C14 dating is indeed circular, the title would be more apt as “Dendrochronology inadequate as lone calibration technique for C14 dating”. Which, actually, er.. As it turns out, fortunately for all of us science-types, c14 levels are calibrated using a whole host of techniques, all of which actually reinforce the fitness of dendrochronology as a calibration technique.

Nuff said on that little bit.

2. Dendrochronology:

Simply put, dendrochronology is the dating of past events (climatic changes) through study of tree ring growth. Botanists, foresters and archaeologists began using this technique during the early part of the 20th century. Discovered by A.E. Douglass from the University of Arizona, who noted that the wide rings of certain species of trees were produced during wet years and, inversely, narrow rings during dry seasons.
Each year a tree adds a layer of wood to its trunk and branches thus creating the annual rings we see when viewing a cross section. New wood grows from the cambium layer between the old wood and the bark. In the spring, when moisture is plentiful, the tree devotes its energy to producing new growth cells. These first new cells are large, but as the summer progresses their size decreases until, in the fall, growth stops and cells die, with no new growth appearing until the next spring. The contrast between these smaller old cells and next year’s larger new cells is enough to establish a ring, thus making counting possible.

I once worked next to a team who used dendro to determine the ages of ancient Native American fishing platforms. In “Collapse” by Jared Diamond he talks about using dendro to figure out when certain Anasazi sites were built and when they effectively deforested the surrounding area. Its importance in archaeology can hardly be overstated. The science is mature and at this point, validity has been established.

Using tree rings to establish ages provides an accurate calibration for C14 dating. While the science is, er,… well, science, meaning that constant refinement is expected, the validity of the premise is not in question. Of this, experts in the field have provided reams of real empirical evidence.

Lets just start here for now:
Stuiver, Minze, Bernard Kromer, Bernard Becker and C. W. Ferguson (1986). Radiocarbon Age Calibration back to 13,300 Years BP and the 14C Age Matching of the German Oak and US Bristlecone Pine Chronologies Radiocarbon (1986) Volume 28, Number 2B: 939-943.

3. Some creationists, in what looks like an effort to shore up their financial base [sup]1[/sup] by assuring their followers that science couldn’t possibly be right since it contradicts the Bible, spend a fair amount of effort writing sciency sounding articles and editorials that draw heavily on rhetorical games, logical fallacies, lies, quote-mines, making bold statements and wagers without following through and lots and lots of sheer stupidity. Fortunately for them, the base is primed to believe. And, also fortunately for them, their believers aren’t typically scientists (although this is sometimes a chore to figure out).
(1. Speculation)

The circularity argument occurs frequently in the writing of a Dr. Don Batten, who points out that:

Outside the range of recorded history, calibration of the 14C clock is not possible.4

where the endnote (not the reference, the endnote) polishes his pearl by expanding on the statement:

4. Tree ring dating (dendrochronology) has been used in an attempt to extend the calibration of carbon-14 dating earlier than historical records allow, but this depends on temporal placement of fragments of wood (from long dead trees) using carbon-14 dating, assuming straight-line extrapolation backwards. Then cross-matching of ring patterns is used to calibrate the carbon “clock” a somewhat circular process which does not give an independent calibration of the carbon dating system. … dating.asp

So, he claims that 14C is the way we tell how old the tree is so that we can use the tree to calibrate 14C. In a nutshell, that’s his circularity argument as I see it. From the real science paper listed above we discover that in fact, all kinds of tests were used to check the data. The dates were cross-referenced between different dendro sequences, ice core stratagraphy, varve counting and a mixture of C14 matching and varve counting. In other words, not an example of circular reasoning.

What that means is that these sciences aren’t operating in isolation. The main reason creationists might make that accusation is because the data that real scientists acquire directly refutes the biblical account of creation as a certain group of fundies want to interpret it. Picking only the parts of a science that support your conclusion and ignoring the parts that don’t isn’t a totally honest tactic.

Conclusion:The title of this debate asks the question whether there is circularity in the calibration of C14 dating regarding dendrochronology and whether dendro is valid science. The answers are no and yes respectively. No because it is not the sole source of calibration and yes because the research on the subject is conducted within a scientific framework.

Since this is all a bit of a lark and my opponent is unarmed in a battle of wits, I will let him post any objections and ask me my first three questions before I ask any of him. I will post pretty pictures in the next post.

Over to you Dave.


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