Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 3, 2011

A Creationist Ramble About Water in Space


Introduction

Ah, back to my bread-and-butter, young-Earth creationism and the ramblings writings of Brian Thomas over at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). I actually have 4 of these posts in the queue to write about from recent stories posted there and at Creation.com, but I will try to intersperse some other stuff as a mental break for you.

This particular story, “Water Near Edge of Universe Bolsters Creation Cosmology” is really more of a rambling from our dear “science writer” over at ICR. As such, this will be a comparatively short blog entry.

The Article

Most of Mr. Thomas’ articles start with a paragraph or two of the science news that initiated his reaction, and then it goes into why an apparently literal, young-Earth interpretation of the Christian Bible is still valid. (I say “apparently literal” not to be flippant, but because there are many old-Earth creationists who also state their interpretation is literal.) This particular article, however, just goes right into it after the first sentence. The first paragraph states:

“A tremendous cloud of water vapor envelops a quasar [a giant actively feeding black hole] in distant space, according to new reports. Where did the water come from? A straightforward understanding of the biblical account of creation provides a possible answer and suggests that this may be the first of more such discoveries.”

His justification comes from Genesis 1:6, stating, “God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters” (I’m taking his word on that, I didn’t actually look it up). Of course, the logical conclusion is that the waters above the firmament means the waters around this quasar. Of course, he didn’t state this quite as succinctly as I:

“But physicist D. Russell Humphreys proposed in his landmark 1994 book Starlight and Time that waters above the firmament instead referred to a tremendously huge sphere of water, the remnants of which exist today outside all the stars in a bounded and expanded universe. … Perhaps the waters spoken of in Genesis 1:6 are these ‘waters that be above the heavens,’ presumably located “above” the stars.Is there any water near the edge of the universe that would illustrate this possibility? Actually, yes[, this quasar]. … This water was not found outside the stars, but associated with a quasar, so it is probably not direct evidence of any Psalm 148:4 “above the heavens” waters. However, it is a billion light-years farther away than the previous distance record for detected water, and less than two billion light-years from the outermost edge.”

As I stated, his is not quite as succinct as mine.

What’s Really Going on Here?

I’m not entirely sure. This is not a case of a creationist twisting the science to fit their biblical view. Rather, it almost seems the opposite – a creationist adapting the Bible to fit the new science discovery. I don’t have any problem with that.

But Wait, There’s More!

I knew it couldn’t be that good. Mr. Thomas had to end with something I was going to have issue with. In this case, it’s with something completely unrelated, the Pioneer anomaly:

“In fact, the Pioneer anomaly, an unexplained slowing of the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft on their way out of the solar system, is already well-explained by the overwhelming mass of a proposed sphere of water above the heavens.”

Except it’s not an anomaly anymore. It was figured out months ago, and paper after paper confirms the new interpretation. For quick background, the anomaly was that the twin Pioneer 10 and 11 craft, currently well outside the orbit of Pluto, are not where they should be. This was based on all measurements of effects from gravity, light pressure, heat generation, measurement errors, etc. Many people suggested various (real) scientific possibilities, such as we may not understand gravity as well as we thought (there may be extra terms that come into play at such large scales — a perfectly valid hypothesis), there may be an unknown body tugging them, etc.

The creationists, of course, put forth their own idea, with most saying that it was because the speed of light changes (this is required so as to not make a mean God that would create light in transit to us and make us pesky astronomers think that objects are billions of light-years away — an obvious problem for a 6000-year-old universe).

Except, here we have the article stating, “Pioneer Anomaly Solved By 1970s Computer Graphics Technique.” Basically, the uneven heat radiation from the craft can account for the very tiny difference in what was observed versus predicted. This is follow-up work from 2008 that almost solved it. Case pretty much closed. I’m surprised that Mr. Thomas, a science writer, didn’t know about this or choose to acknowledge it.

Edited to Add: Also, as Phil Plait (the “Bad Astronomer”) pointed out in the Comments section below, the second half of that sentence is sorely mistaken, as well. As I wrote above, the standard creationist model to explain the anomaly was a variable speed of light. It seems as though Mr. Thomas opted for a different one, the “unknown mass” I alluded to. The problem is that the mass tugging on the craft would need to be in a particular position to exert a net pull such as an unseen Kuiper Belt Object. The problem is that Mr. Thomas suggests that it’s a “sphere of water” encircling us, which would exert no net pull on the craft, thus not solving the supposed anomaly.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the third section, I really didn’t have too much of an issue with this article. It pulls in actual new science and shows how it can work fine within their belief system without denying nor modifying the science in question.

Also as I said, the creationists have put out quite a few astronomy/geophysics-related articles lately, and I’ll be posting about them hopefully shortly. And hopefully I’ll find something else short to talk about so it’s not just four articles in a row about the young-Earth creationists.

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