Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 25, 2012

Argument from Authority Strikes Again at Creation Ministries International


Just a short post here – it always amazes me when people use such an obvious argument from authority to try to bolster their position. I mean, it’s not as if we don’t do it, either, or people don’t do it every day. Any time the local news brings on their talking-head expert to talk about something, that’s an argument from authority. If that expert is effectively reciting the consensus, then it’s not an argument from authority as much, that talking head was just a mouthpiece for the consensus (see my post on argument from authority vs. the scientific consensus).

But then we get into stuff that’s a controversy – either real or manufactured. Young-Earth creationism is definitely a controversy versus the scientific establishment, though I would consider it in the realm of the “manufactured” type because almost none who objectively examine observable evidence will come to the YEC side — by its nature, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog before, YEC relies on ignoring evidence to make its case.

Anyway, in my nightly perusal of creationist websites, I came across the latest posting Creation Ministries International (CMI): “Archaeologist confirms creation and the Bible.”

I’m not really sure how you could get around the idea that the title of the article (and its content if you bother to read it) is 100% an argument from authority. It’s literally a, “Look, we have this archaeologist we can trot forward (or actually not anymore ’cause he died on April 4), and our expert who’s in this real science field says young-Earth creationism is real!”

Okay, I’m a Ph.D. astronomer, I say young-Earth creationism is fake, and the universe is 13.7 billion years old. Unfortunately, if he and I were to both testify in front of Congress, I have a feeling that Congress would conclude that the Universe is 6.850003 billion years old (the average of the two).

This post was brought to you by the logical fallacies Argument from Authority, False Balance, and Middle Ground.

April 24, 2012

Podcast Episode 32: Billy Meier UFO Case, Interview with Derek Bartholomaus


This episode is a rather long interview (around an hour-twenty) with the researcher Derek Bartholomaus. Derek has spent time during the past eleven years looking into the UFO and related claims of Billy Meier, and much of his research is published on his website. I found it really interesting, and I hope you do, too. It’s an “intro” episode because in the future, I’ll talk about one or two of the claimed predictions of Billy Meier that deal with astronomy, but I thought it’d be good to introduce the topic first.

And now for the disclaimer: This kind of topic is very much like the Apollo Moon Hoax conspiracy ideas. There are many, many claims that go into it. An investigator could spend a year meticulously showing that one of the claims made is completely wrong, and people who believe in the case will just move onto the next claim.

In this interview, we talk about several of the major – and one or two of the minor – claims made to allegedly prove alien contact within the Billy Meier material. I think that Derek presented enough evidence to at least convincingly show that a subset of those are false or made up. The question should be, then, if these are some of the main claims put forward, and they’re wrong, then why should you believe others? Why should you spend the time looking into other ones if these were supposedly iron-clad and they fall apart under scrutiny?

This is more a rhetorical question – I’m not going to really answer peoples’ comments to this post. I will also take this opportunity to point out my comments policy. If, in my opinion, your comments violate that policy, they may be rejected or removed without warning.

I would also remind people in an episode such as this about claimed arguments from authority. All because a guy (or gal) with a Ph.D. or M.S. or whatever says something or does something, it does not mean that it’s true or accurate or done correctly. You always need corroboration, and when that corroboration comes out to show you were wrong, you need to look into it more.

Similarly, if someone is misquoted, one should make efforts to correct that. If someone says, “I never said what so-and-so says I did,” and yet so-and-so continues to make that claim when it’s the opposite of what that person thinks, that should be taken into account when evaluating a story.

April 15, 2012

Podcast Episode 31: Photographic Claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax (Part 1)


In this latest episode, I talk about some of the main photography claims that people point to in perpetuating the Apollo Moon Hoax idea, or why we supposedly did not go to the Moon with astronauts between 1969 and 1972.

This is a Part 1 edition, though the Part 2 will come in around a month or so. This one focuses not on the photographs themselves, but claims that the astronauts could not have taken them. Part 2 will address many of the main claims about what’s in the photographs as opposed to the existence of the photographs in the first place.

I also have a different kind of puzzler this time. This is a photography challenge, of sorts, where your challenge (should you choose to accept it), is to take a photo of the moon and a photo of stars. Then, use the settings you used on the moon to try to take photos of stars (and see what happens), and then use the settings you used to actually get stars and take a photo of the moon (and see what happens).

April 8, 2012

Podcast Episode 30: Was the Asteroid Belt a Planet? Part 2 (Exploding Planets!)


The follow-up to last episode, this one deals with Tom Van Flandern’s idea that Mars was a moon of an exploded planet that formed the asteroid belt 65 million years ago. So, last episode was basic science, this one gets back to some of those wacky and wonky ideas. Oh yeah … and lots of Coast to Coast clips!

I also spend around 10 minutes discussing feedback from the last episode.

April 6, 2012

Incest Between Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis?


From what I’ve found, there are really two major “think” tanks in the United States of America when it comes to young-Earth creationism (YEC). And, there are almost as many astronomers who work for them. One of them is Dr. Jason Lisle, who got his Ph.D. in astrophysics from the same department at the same university as I. We only missed each other by a few months in terms of his graduation and my matriculation.

Upon his graduation, Dr. Lisle went to work for Answers in Genesis (AiG) which is now headquartered in Kentucky, under an hour’s drive from where I grew up in Ohio. Dr. Lisle used his astronomy background to design their astronomy exhibits in the AiG Creation Museum, design their planetarium show, and of course write for AiG’s website. He’s still writing for them today, and AiG still lists him as on staff uses “we have a real astronomer on staff!” as an argument from authority.

One of Lisle’s books is entitled, “Taking Back Astronomy” – a book which I still plan to review on this blog but I’ve been saying that now for almost three years. Another is a book where he argues that the very fact we have things like logic means that God created the universe 6000 years ago (I’m not joking on this one – he really does say that).

This is why I was surprised to read from the Institute for Creation Research, which is headquartered in Texas, that Dr. Lisle is the ICR’s new Director of Research. No where in the press release that I linked to above does it say anything about working at AiG nor having some sort of joint appointment. On his bio page on ICR’s site, it also does not mention AiG nor a joint appointment, but it does state that since his graduation, he’s worked “in full-time apologetics ministry … [and] was instrumental in developing the planetarium at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.”

I find this intriguing, hence why I’m writing about it. I’m not quite sure what’s going on here and am a bit surprised that either (1) he’d be allowed to have such a joint appointment spread so far apart, or (2) AiG still has him listed in any capacity. I’m not sure if there’s any particular deep dirty secret reason for this move by Lisle, but, since I monitor these sorts of things, I thought I’d bring it up here.

April 5, 2012

Thoughts on Creationist Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross on Coast to Coast


Introduction

I expected to listen to April 1’s Coast to Coast AM broadcast and experience many head-banging moments. After all, Dr. Hugh Ross, the guest, is a creationist. And he’s an astronomer.

I think the problem is that I mixed up Hugh Ross with Russell Humphreys; the latter is a young-Earth creationist, while the former is an old-Earth creationist (both are astronomers by training).

The interview was something I found interesting and more believable than many Coast to Coast broadcasts (though that’s not saying much). I think the root reason is that I could see where Hugh was coming from, I could understand and relate to him and he wasn’t just ignoring science. He had a lot of good points that were based in the tenants of observational knowledge and I really only disagreed with him on some of his conclusions. Below, I point out two instances that stuck in my mind.

Creationism vs. Evolution

At about 14 minutes into the second hour, Dr. Ross stated, “I think one reason why there’s so much controversy over creation/evolution, is you get people taking a few verses out of the bible, and one book, and then trying to integrate that with a few facts from one scientific discipline. what you really need to do is integrate all the scientific disciplines with all the books of the bible.”

This statement is so true and it’s something that you can see almost every day in young-Earth creationist or Intelligent Design writings: They constantly refer to Darwin’s writings as if the state of the science has not changed in over 150 years. I also think this may have been a thinly veiled swipe at Answers in Genesis which, oddly enough, takes all their answers from Genesis (the first book of the Jewish and Christian bibles); with AiG, if anything conflicts with “In the beginning, God created …” then it’s wrong.

The state of scientific understanding changes. If it didn’t then every scientist would be out of a job. I don’t think that Dr. Ross would go so far as to say that Christian theology is also constantly changing, but it’s refreshing to listen to someone who is willing to work towards reconciling one small phrase in context with everything else and not just what else is in that book.

UFOs

In the first half of the third hour of the program, and throughout hour four, Noory asked Ross about UFOs. Pretty much every caller who was on during the fourth hour who disagreed with something Ross had said was disagreeing with his position on UFOs; this is likely because Coast to Coast was practically build upon the UFO=aliens phenomenon, and it is still a core part of the show.

Ross’s take on the issue is similar to many other creationist people or super-religious Christians that I’ve heard before: He thinks they’re demons trying to deceive us.

He pointed out, yet again, several things that I agree with but then we reached different conclusions. One of the main points he made is that the alleged technology that UFO spotters “see” keeps pace with Earth technology at the time. In the early 1900s it was blimps, in the mid-1900s it was biplanes, in the 1970s it was people with crazy hairdos, and now it’s typical of the science fiction of the day with disks and flashing lights that defy gravity, much like the classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, or more recently, Independence Day.

He also pointed out that the alleged UFO contactees’ claims of where these beings come from has kept pace with the popular science fiction of the day — first from the Moon, then Mars, then Venus, and now other star systems.

(And yes, I realize that there will be an exception to these that someone can point to — I’m talking about the vast majority of claims at the time.)

My broad conclusion from this is hoaxters, dreams, frauds, random guessing, and other things that then borrow from the popular science fiction of the day.

Ross’s broad conclusion from this is that, because all these beings are lying (since they’re always just ahead of our technology), they’re demons (fallen angels) trying to lead us astray from the path of his god.

It’s intriguing to see this kind of disparate conclusion, and I think for once the Answers in Genesis’s cartoon of, “We look at the same evidence but have different world views” really does apply (as opposed to it applying to AiG’s claim to support young-Earth creationism … that’s a case where they may look at the same evidence but then throw it out if it doesn’t support their worldview).

Here we have a case where I look at the world in the sense that, “You need to supply convincing, unambiguous, irrefutable, testable, and repeatable evidence that shows UFOs are not unidentified, but they really are identifiable as alien craft. Until then, my default is that they are explainable through well known and understood human cognitive biases and issues.”

Ross is approaching it in the sense that, “You need to supply convincing, unambiguous, irrefutable, testable, and repeatable evidence that shows UFOs are not unidentified, but they really are identifiable as alien craft. Until then, my default is I believe what the Bible tells me and I can easily fit these into Satin’s plan for deceiving mankind.”

And I’m okay with that. As long as people are willing to look at the evidence, I will admit that the conclusions you draw are likely going to be heavily influenced by your worldview. If you are a Christian biblical creationist, then you are likely going to see these as demonic deceptions because that will add less new information to your worldview than UFOs=aliens.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning, I expected to have a lot to write about here. Instead, I found Dr. Ross to be a seemingly reasonable person. He seemed like the kind of guy that I could sit with at a conference and we could argue about points but it would be a reasonable discussion. As opposed to the impression I get with many young-Earth creationists or other people on Coast to Coast where I get the distinct impression that trying to talk with them would be like having a conversation with a petunia.

April 1, 2012

New Nostradamus Quatrain for 2012 Discovered


Edited to Add (Dec. 09, 2012): Okay folks, one of the top search engine directs I’m getting to my blog is for stuff along the lines of “nostradamus quatrain 2012″ and folks are getting this post. Let me be clear: THIS WAS AN APRIL FOOLS POST. That is all. Now, on with the show …

 

I usually don’t pay any heed to alleged prophecies or stuff like that, and I have written extensively about the 2012 stuff that won’t happen, but I was just made aware of this quatrain of Nostradamus that talks about 2012 and is uncannily foretelling:

In the year the sun shows his phases
And the second planet eclipses the brightest star,
The grand empire’s calendar foretells
The secret death of the world.

Now, as an astronomer, I found this particularly interesting. The first line seems crazy – the sun can’t show phases because it’s a star and is always “lit” relative to, well, any vantage point. But … during a solar eclipse, when the moon starts to cover it, it does sorta look like the sun is going through different phases. There’s a total solar eclipse in May 2012.

The second line also seems interesting. The brightest star in the night sky is Sirius, which is at a declination of -16° 43′, meaning that Venus could never eclipse it – pass in front of it. But, then I remembered a joke that we sometimes play on people. Ask someone on the street what the brightest star in the sky is, and most won’t know and they’ll throw out random guesses. The answer, of course, is the sun! (This also works for the closest star, though most will guess proxima Centauri.) And, in June 2012, Venus passes in front of the Sun as viewed from Earth, an event that won’t happen again for over 100 years.

So we have two lines that seem to uncannily point towards 2012. The third one, if we want to go with 2012, seems to point towards the Mayan calendar, though one could argue about how “grand” the Mayan civilization was. After all, they let themselves be destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors.

And then there’s the fourth line (I did mention this was a quatrain, right?). Doom and gloom in 2012? Kinda raises goosebumps on your skin, even if you don’t believe in 2012 stuff. After all, how could a guy writing in the 1500s know about this?

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