Sunday, April 20, 2014

Creationism and "Observational Astronomy"

"There is nothing in observational astronomy that contradicts a recent creation."          --D. Faulkner (on video during Nye-Ham debate)
And with that one quote, Danny Faulkner declared 'Creationist Astronomy', and by implication, all astronomy, as a 'useless' science.

There are so many ways that we could explore the gross errors demonstrated in this statement.

More recently, Dr. Faulkner has been whining about the new "Cosmos" series insisting that 'Creation scientists' should get 'equal time'.

Well, someone DID do a 'Creationist Cosmos' video:   Funny Or Die: Creationist Cosmos

What more than this would YECs say in their version?  The YEC version has the advantage of being much shorter (less than four minutes), and doesn't require any thinking…

The Universe according to 'Observational Astronomy'

Perhaps the first question to ask is, what does one mean by 'observational astronomy'? 

It is generally taken to mean that you are recording data: the motion of an object across the sky, the variation in brightness, etc. strictly OBSERVATIONAL characteristics which depend on NO PHYSICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE UNDERLYING CAUSES. 

Observational astronomy assumes the cosmos contains no reliable additional information about physical conditions elsewhere in space - densities, temperatures, masses, etc. All of these types of measurements must make assumptions about the distances of objects, as well as their size and temporal scales.

Isaac Newton was the first astrophysicist, turning observations of motions in the sky into hypothesizing the underlying causes.  Specifically Newton hypothesize that the force that keeps the planets on regular trajectories around the sky was the same force that makes objects fall to the surface of the Earth.  It placed the idea of heliocentrism on a firmer physical basis, contrary to the Biblical notion of geocentrism which is still advocated by some today based on THEIR Biblical interpretation (Geocentrism Debunked, DwCiA: Biblical Geocentrism). 

ALL astronomy was 'observational' prior to the 1950s, as there were no ways to actually go to a remote planet or star to do real experiments to test our ideas about conditions there.  Newtonian gravity, such as the "Newton's Cannon" (Wikipedia) demonstration was never tested on a engineering-scale until 1957 with the launch of Sputnik.

In 'observational astronomy', the universe is indistinguishable from a spherical surface at some fixed distance around the Earth.    Parallax effects are not evidence of actual three-dimensional structure as methods can be contrived to fool observers that the parallaxes are real.  Young-Earth creationists must invoke similar trickery for the Light Travel Time problem (RationalWiki: Starlight Problem).  Even though, by their own admission, they have no working solution to the light-travel time problem (DailyKos: Cutting-Edge Creation Science Research Finding From AiG Just Released!) some young-Earth Creationists want to claim everything else is valid.  Yet ALL of astronomy is dependent on the light-travel issue.  It is how we know the motions and scales of distant objects from which other properties are inferred.

In the "Observational Astronomy" model, the observations are of little value beyond basic terrestrial timekeeping, much the way ancients used the constellations to identify the time of year for planting crops, etc.  This means that many other types of observations, such as the spectroscopic binary stars, which is Dr. Faulkner's field of study, have no practical implications, or applications.

Discoveries that Could Not be Made by Creationist Astronomers

I've written a lot on the influence astronomy has had on our understanding of physics on the Earth (DwCiA: Cosmos in your Pocket) and how these discoveries subsequently feed back into our understanding of the space environment.

I've already written on some of the failed predictions of creationist astronomy which creationists themselves admit are failures.  This list of failures varies substantially from one creationist organization to another, apparently dependent on the material which the organization is trying to sell gullible believers.  And this is just the list they're willing to acknowledge, out of the many more that have quietly disappeared as new discoveries rendered them moot.

There are a number of physics discoveries that could not have been discovered by 'creationist astronomers' as the problems which these discoveries solved would not be problems if the universe were young as YECs want to claim.

Nuclear reactions as the energy source for the Sun and stars

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) lived in the 1800s (Wikipedia) was a scientist and creationist. This is not too unusual as the distinction didn't really become an issue of actual scientific testing until the early 1800s. Thomson used what is today called the Kelvin-Helmholtz timescale that estimated that stars could be powered by gravitational contraction for at most a few tens of millions of years. As a creationist, Lord Kelvin used this as evidence that the cosmos was indeed younger than needed for biological evolution and geological change. But by the 1920s, the distance scale of the universe alone was providing more evidence that the Universe was much older than creationists could handle. By the 1930s, many physicists explored the stellar energy problem in parallel with discoveries about the atomic nucleus. They eventually solved many of the fundamental problems with the idea, in the process discovering much about the components of atoms and how they worked. Much of this knowledge base was applied to the development of nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons in the 1930s and 40s.

Carbon-12 resonance 

Early studies in the 1950s of how a universe that started out as hydrogen (and perhaps some helium) could produce the distribution of chemical elements we see today by fusing the elements in stars ran into bottlenecks at the production of carbon.  Such a shortage could be used as evidence that key aspects of cosmology, particularly the timescale, could be incorrect, and evidence that the universe could be much younger than billions of years and the carbon in our bodies and other living organisms had another (possibly Divine) origin.  Fred Hoyle hypothesized that a resonance energy level in the carbon-12 nucleus could enhance the production of carbon in the triple-alpha reaction (Wikipedia), explaining the discrepancy.  Hoyle's technique allowed him to determine the energy of the nuclear level needed to explain the current relative amount of carbon-12.

Solar neutrino problem and neutrino oscillations 

We can't produce all of the nuclear reactions we think occur in stars in the laboratory.  The fundamental reaction of fusing two hydrogen nuclei to form deuterium, the first stage of the proton-proton chain (Wikipedia), is controlled by the weak nuclear interaction (Wikipedia) and so occurs too slowly to be detectible at pressures, densities and temperatures currently obtainable in Earth laboratories.  But one of the key products of this reaction, electron neutrinos, are detectable, and could be used to test the reaction rates from the core of the Sun.  Initial attempts to detect these neutrinos found about 1/3 the predicted amount.  Creationists jumped on this as evidence that the Sun cannot be billions of years old.  Numerous attempts were made to explain the discrepancy, involving issues of the structure of stars to the nature of nuclear reactions and properties of the neutrino.  Eventually, additional evidence arose that neutrinos have a small mass that allows them to oscillate between the three types of neutrinos.  This oscillation could explain the discrepancy as neutrinos created as electron neutrinos in the core of the Sun would oscillate to the different types as they propagated through the solar material.  Eventually, detectors were developed that could detect these other types of neutrinos and the discrepancy was resolved (Wikipedia: The Solar Neutrino Problem).

If the Universe were as young as Creationists want to claim, NONE of the items above need to be true.  The last item on solar neutrinos, is sufficiently recent that creationists who once used the solar neutrino problem as evidence FOR a young universe are now dis-owing it.  We have descriptions of some of the FAILED creationist predictions, which were not just wrong, but WAY wrong... (see Ken Ham and the Failures of Creation Science).

Note that the discoveries described above were not out of the blue.  They happened in large part because researchers had evidence from astronomy that these were among the possible solutions to the problem at hand.  This evidence helped drive the research.

Would 'Creationist astronomers' have supported funding these researches if it imperiled their belief system?  Would a 'Creationist Astronomer' have pursued ANY line of research that would risked their beliefs?

Thirty years ago, creationists were claiming that the Kuiper Belt had not been detected as a source of short-period comets and that was evidence that the Earth was very young, specifically less than 10,000 years.  Then objects were detected (Wikipedia: Kuiper Belt).  Having failed again, the Creationists moved their line further out, and claimed that comets can't come from the Oort cloud because it is a convenient 'fiction' hypothesized to make the universe old (see Answers in Genesis: The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth). 

How long will it be before instrument sensitivity improves to the point we start detecting objects there?  It may not be that far away as researchers are already finding the limits of current instruments are almost there (see ArXiv: Detectability of Oort cloud objects using Kepler).  It may not be long before that list gets reduced to '9 Best Evidences'...

I doubt it will be a creationist astronomer who makes that discovery.

The Perverse God of 'Creationist Astronomy'...

...slowly gets smaller and smaller as more discoveries are made which contradict young-universe claims.  The 'god' of young-Earth creationists had repeatedly placed evidence in physics and astronomy contrary to young-Earth creationist beliefs.

Does the god of the YECs delight in making his followers look foolish?

The YECs can't prove their interpretation of the Bible is any more accurate about the physical world than those of the Geocentrists, the Flat Earthers, or even the Old Earth creationists, all of whom claim THEIR interpretation is the correct one. 

Heliocentrism, Newtonian gravity, the nuclear energy source of stars, the speed of light and distances to stars, all defied various biblical interpretations (see Ken Ham and the Failures of Creation Science).

Creationists are just the latest in a long line of individuals striving to keep God in one small book over which they can attempt to control the interpretations by others.  They are the modern version of the corruption that plagued many religious denominations over the centuries.

Of course, some creationists will go so far as to argue that God is actively tricking us, perhaps as a test of our faith.   Frankly, by Occam's Razor, it's far simpler to believe that it is the creationists who are being deceptive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Wonderfully stated information and rebuttal to a publicly stated lie.

Thanks again!