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Mystery in the Rocks


A physicist's discovery begins an extraordinary odyssey through
pride and prejudice in the scientific world.

By Dennis Crews

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The most reliable way to find if there was something he had overlooked, Gentry realized, was to subject his findings to scrutiny by other scientists. By late 1965 he had amassed enough data from his own research to submit the results to Applied Physics Letters, a professional journal known for publishing late-breaking physics news. Gentry cautiously tested the waters by first submitting a simple report on some abnormally large halos he had studied. The report passed peer review and was published early in 1966.1

Somewhat emboldened by his initial success, Gentry submitted another report to the same journal, this time speaking more freely about polonium halos. Near the end of his manuscript Gentry was candid enough to suggest that conventional science was not adequate to explain their origin in the rocks: "... it is difficult to reconcile these results with current cosmological theories which envision long time periods between nucleosynthesis and the earth's crustal formation. It is suggested these halos are more nearly in accord with a cosmological model which would envision an instantaneous fiat creation of the earth."2

Such an obvious reference to special creation was doomed from the start. The manuscript was returned to Gentry, along with a critique by one of the referees on the review panel. The reviewer commended Gentry's workmanship but was offended by his suggestion that instantaneous creation offered a plausible explanation for the halos' presence in the rocks: "... In one blow he implicitly rejects all the carefully accumulated evidence of decades which is in complete conflict with his remarkable conclusion. He is undoubtedly well aware of the findings of the modern science of geochronology. The scientific approach would be to use all these results to his advantage and try to find a possible explanation ... I regard the reasoning displayed in this manuscript in its present form as unworthy of publication."3

After the blustery rebuke, however, the reviewer tacitly acknowledged the significance of Gentry's research by suggesting that his findings might be appropriate for publication in the prestigious British scientific journal Nature—"minus any wild speculation" that would dispute evolutionary cosmology. This was cheering evidence at least that his experimental observations were being taken seriously. It was obvious that all references to instantaneous creation would have to be omitted if Gentry planned to continue publishing papers on his work. Formulating a hypothesis to explain the halos' presence in the rock would be standard practice if the hypothesis were in harmony with popular assumptions, but all Gentry's data pointed to highly unconventional conclusions. Perhaps it would be better to just show the evidence and let his fellow scientists draw their own conclusions.


1 Robert V. Gentry, 1966. "Abnormally Long Alpha-Particle Tracks in Biotite (Mica)." Applied Physics Letters, vol. 8, p. 65.

2 Gentry, 1986. Creation's Tiny Mystery, ch. 3. Knoxville: Earth Science Associates.

3 Ibid.

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For readers interested in a more comprehensive treatment of this story, Robert Gentry's book, Creation's Tiny Mystery, is available for $18 (U.S.) + S/H.

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Earth Science Associates