Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Electric Universe & Creationism

I've received a number of complaints from the Electric Universe (EU) advocates complaining about my comparing them to creationists. I've written a little about this before in my rebuttal to Donald Scott's The Electric Sky, describing my original motivations for getting involved with EU (See "The Electric Sky: Short-circuited"). I moved into examination of EU claims after young-universe creationist, Barry Setterfield, began referencing Don Scott's book, The Electric Sky.

Barry Setterfield is not the only supporter of electric universe claims who is a creationist, as one can discover with some simple searches, such as
The TalkOrigins web site, a repository of material from the USENET group, even has an FAQ on Catastrophism and other material related to the claims of Immanuel Velikovsky, who might be considered the precursor to the Electric Universe movement (see Velikovsky's Ghost Returns at

Some EU advocates express incredible hatred for creationists (see this JREF Forum thread). The EU attitude is almost ideological/theological in its fervor, though I have yet to receive similar sentiments against EU from the creationists community. But there are obviously a number of EU advocates who are creationists.

Are the creationists drawn to EU because it is more satisfying as anti-Big Bang cosmology? Considering what a large fraction of US population (as much as 50% by some surveys, see "Reading the Polls on Evolution and Creationism" at the Pew Research Center) support some variant of Young-Earth Creationism, the EU community's attitude might be alienating a large fraction of those who buy their books. Perhaps the atheist EU advocates are uncomfortable about Big Bang cosmology because it does have theological implications for them? Perhaps they are uncomfortable in their atheism?

Regardless of their complaints, EU will never be able to escape an association with various flavors of creationism. Here's a few reasons why.

The Cosmology Statement
EU advocates like to promote the 'Cosmology Statement' ( This list started as an complaint by advocates of various non-Big Bang cosmologies, predominantly steady-state and plasma cosmologies. If you examine the list of signees, you will notice that a number are creationists of various stripes, or have their own cosmology to promote.

Spin, Spin, Spin
Creationists often 'spin' the science to match their interpretation. Any science news story saying some cosmological phenomena is 'younger' than previously believed, can become much younger in creationist reporting. EU advocates spin any mention of a current or electric field in magnetospheric physics or astrophysics gets labeled a success for their theory. (I'm preparing a list of the many references to electric currents and fields in historic mainstream astrophysics papers is in preparation, evidence of just how much electromagnetism influenced astronomy.)

Like creationists, the EU advocates rarely reference the actual scientific paper, but instead reference a press release. Many science press releases are 'dumbed down' for a more general audience. The guideline in the US is that scientific press releases should be readable by a person with an 8th grade education. This means a lot of details of the real science are lost in the press release. Examination of the actual research paper often reveals the weakness of the paper's support for an EU or YEC interpretation.

Anomaly Mining
EU advocates tap many of the same astronomical 'anomalies' as creationists. Here's a few that I've encountered: General solar neutrino shortage. Solar neutrinos vs. helioseismology (the 160 minute oscillation), Halton Arp's 'discordant' redshifts. William Tifft's 'quantized' redshifts. Related to anomaly mining, they often tap very old experiments that have long since been superceded by better experimental and observational technologies.

No Objectively Testable Models
Like creationism, EU advocates like to use the terminology of science, but not the methodology of science. Many of their explanations lack even the ability to be subjected to rigorous objective testing. Scientific explanations, often called 'models' are presented in a mathematical form where others can examine and actually use to predict other characteristics which can then be tested by more experiments or observations. Scientific models spell out the processes included in a form where the known laws of physics and mathematics can be applied to explore predictions.

Attempts to get details on such models from EU advocates are met with stonewalling and excuses. Attempts to apply even basic known physical principles, such as conservation of energy and Maxwell's equations, to the Electric Sun model, quickly generate predictions which have HUGE disagreements with observations (see many of my Electric Sun posts).

In this area, there are a number of creationists who actually 'get it' when it comes to the need to produce mathematical models that can generate testable predictions that can be compared to observation (John Hartnett, Russ Humphreys, etc.). While their models have other problems, they exhibit a better understanding of scientific methodology.

The Standards of Science
EU and creationists try to distinguish science used in engineering or for developing products from the science used in astrophysics, when they are in fact the same. Don Scott tries to emphasise experimentalism over theory (except for when the experimental results conflict with his ideas). Creationist Ken Ham tried to make a distinction between 'Operational' or 'Real' science' from 'Origins' science. See "Technology from Cosmology, or 'Can Creation Science Do That?'"

Like ID advocates, EU wants to lower the standards of science sufficient for their claims to qualify. And like ID, such a lower standard admits a whole realm of other pseudoscience such as astrology (link).

Reliance on Invisible Agents
While creationists invoke an unseen diety, EU advocates invoke unnamed 'nonlinearities' or 'dark currents' as solutions to problems in their own astrophysical claims, as if these processes are a mystical power like a diety. EU advocates apparently use these claims of non-linearities as excuses for not developing mathematical models, despite the fact that science regularly develops good predictions from non-linear models.

Psychological Tactics
When confronted with problems in their own models or other implications that they have no rote answer memorized, they like to change topics, claiming the NEW topic is the really important issue. Alternatively, they will try to produce a huge 'laundry list' of topics or problems to which no one could respond without an extensive amount of time & effort. For an example of this, take a look at the comments in posts of March 2009. In creationists circles, this type of overloading is commonly known as the Gish Gallop.

EU advocates & creationists like to complain about being ignored by the scientific community. Then they complain when we pay attention and poke holes in their claims, crying they are being attacked! (Reference: just read some of the comments in the March 2009 posts.) I wish they could make up their minds! But I suspect their real concern is the possible negative impact widely distributed refutations of their claims might have on their book sales or speaking honoraria.

Adoption of Religous Symbolism
You just have to look at the websites connected to EU advocacy to see the heavy symbolism from Greco-Roman mythology (see "Thunderbolts of the Gods"). Some EU advocates posting on other forums even adopt variants of these mythological characters as their pseudonyms.

To keep this post short, I refrained from including a lot of references in the examples above. Instead, I will start pointing out the connections and comparisons when addressing specific topics.

Update: January 28, 2014: Fixed broken links


Anonymous said...

The other day I came across something on creationists in a book by a scientist (not an astronomer) that resonates strongly.

The book is "Creatures of Accident", by Wallace Arthur, published in 2006; on pp226-227 there's this (I've added bold to some particularly striking parts):

"To research this chapter, I did something that I had never done before: I visited some Web sites representing creationism in its many guises. This exercise was a revelation indeed, but probably not of the sort that Webmasters had intended. What I found most striking was the appalling lack of integrity of those concerned. The deliberate misuse of quotations and details from the work of scientists suggested that all honor and honesty had been cast to the four winds. I realized that I was in a different social context from the one I have known and loved for my whole scientific career, where an honest search for the truth is at the heart of things. Instead, I was in a milieu where the dominant ethos was to force acceptance of a particular worldview by any means whatever.


What makes the scientist’s naturalistic view of the universe any better than its divine-interventionist counterparts? Well, precisely this. Most of those who hold the naturalistic view do so in a tentative way. The English evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith put it memorably when he said that, unlike a creationist, he was prepared to abandon his stance if he were to find strong evidence against it.


It is precisely this tentativeness, and a willingness to consider the possibility of evidence contrary to one’s worldview, that is lacking from the stance of creationists. Their writings reveal quite the opposite: a false certainty, and a desire to distort any evidence so that it appears to support them.

I think it's accurate to say that tens of thousands of posts and blog entries by Electric Universe proponents elicit a reaction in those with scientific training (e.g. a solid BSc or better) much like that which Arthur describes.

And one need look no further than the comments in this blog for solid evidence! OilIsMastery's (deliberate? coldly cynical?) misuse of quotations (misquoting, quoting out of context, providing no sources, ...), and Dave Smith's and Anaconda's distortions (for example about the commentary on Crothers' work and explanations of galaxy rotation curves), to take just two classes Arthur mentioned. Of course, not every EU proponent's public statements have the characteristics Arthur describes.

In my next comment I'll say a few words about one, very common, feature I've noticed in discussions with EU proponents in internet fora, a curious reluctance to examine EU proposals in a manner consistent with how science is done (or even how EU proponents themselves say it should be done).


Anaconda said...

The Father of Plasma Cosmology is Hannes Alfven, 1970 Nobel Prize winner. And a pioneer is Kristian Birkeland, Birkeland currents are named in his honor.

Hannes Alfven was specific in his seperating science from religion.

Many of the predictions he made based on his ideas of Plasma Cosmology were later confirmed through observation & measurement.

Synchrotron radiation being present in space was one of his predictions.

Nowhere in your comment do you mention Hannes Alfven or Kristian Birkeland.

Your presentation is one-sided (no surprise).

Theories of the Cosmos can be adopted by any number of individuals. That doesn't mean that the theory takes on all the beliefs of the adopters.

But that conclusion seems to be the one you want readers to take away from this post.

How intellectually honest is that?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Anaconda:

The post talks Electric Universe (EU), not Plasma cosmology (PC). Many things advocated by EU advocates are not supported by PC. For one, Alfven acknowledged the nuclear nature of stellar energy. Most PC supporters have followed reasonable scientific protocols in proposing their models. EU supporters have not.

There are many ideas from plasma cosmology that were not confirmed by observation as well. See link below. But proposing a model is not automatic success. EU models fail across the board.

Of course I don't mention Alfven or Birkeland. They were not EU supporters.

Belief systems in science don't mix well. See Science and Belief Systems.

If you want to discuss intellectual honesty, let's talk about your comment in an earlier post about thermal synchrotron radiation. "Making Up" a scientific claim in an attempt to divert an opponent is intellectually dishonest as well. I address some aspects of your thermal synchrotron claim here Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background. So were you saying that Peratt and Maxwell don't know what they're doing?

Pastor Matt Singleton said...

EU is not creationism. It is pagan/new age science. The reason the definitions have to be blurred is that humanist religion has to keep it's bigoted iron grip over academics or the whole system and the naturalist community will be humiliated and lose all social standing.
I have come to agree with many EU principles, and incorporated it in my new year's cosmology hypothesis. I did have to make several changes because the ideology is specifically non-Christian.
But I am able to interact with other ideas. Because I don't have a political agenda to preserve my finances.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Pastor Singleton,

And yet a large fraction of the Electric Universe (EU) supporters I interact with also invoke a number of creationist claims. Barry Setterfield is the creationist that got me first exploring Electric Universe claims and connections to creationism. Barry Setterfield joins the Electric Cosmos?

Velikovsky’s made heavy reliance on the Bible and his work is also the basis of many Electric Universe claims:
The Real Electric Universe: Inspired by Velikovsky?

It goes back many years, mixed with Christianity: Reading: "Invisible Light Or the Electrical Theory of Creation"

Enough of an issue that Creationist Danny Faulker felt the need to respond to creationist defections to EU: Quiet here, but Recent Electric Universe and Creationism activity…

Is Big Bang Cosmology a 'Creationist' Model?

Modern science has demonstrated that, if there is a God, they are far too big to fit in one book. Many Christians find that perfectly fine, even inspiring. The Perceptions Project.

Why a supreme Diety might have made the Universe in exactly the way science has found: G4G: Religion, Science, and the Kobayashi Maru Scenario.

Telling the real Christians from the posers: Creationist Junk Debunked

to be continued…

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Pastor Singleton, part 2:

The big problem for those thinking they can ‘rewrite’ the science they don’t like is the fact that a lot of that science, even the astronomy and cosmology, guided research that was later confirmed in the laboratory. Do you know how much atomic physics, that was later important for designing the microelectronics in the computer you’re using to read this, actually started out solving problems in astronomy?

"Real" Science vs. "Cosmological" and "Origins" Science
Testing Science at the Leading Edge...
'Out There' Astrophysics Impacts Technology (again)
The Cosmos in Your Pocket: How Cosmological Science Became Earth Technology. I

Science supports REALITY, and that supports building new technologies that actually work, which generates better paying jobs. Science supporting a ‘political agenda’ can’t do that, usually generating scam technologies, medicines, etc. The choice is whether the ‘political agenda’ is consistent with reality.

What could your ‘hypothesis’ add that isn’t covered by the dozens of other variants of Creationism and EU, only some of which I’ve documented above?

What would be the point of your “new years’s cosmology hypothesis”, beyond trying to squeeze god to fit into your preconceived notions?

Jesus made it very clear that his true followers were determined by how they treated others, not adherence to rituals:
Wikipedia: Lord of the Sabbath
Wikipedia: Woes of the Pharisees
Wikipedia: Parable of the Good Samaritan
Wikipedia: The Golden Rule