Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 22, 2013

Podcast Episode 81: Is the Speed of Light Constant?

Creationism …
But stars, etc. are far away.
So, can light speed change?

A shorter episode on a mainstay of young-Earth creationism, if light were faster in the past, then stuff >10,000 light-years away can reach us within the young age of the universe. It’s a pretty straight-forward episode, and due to me moving from one city to another, there’s not too much extra stuff, though there is the rare New News segment.

The next episode will be about claims made by David Sereda on the structure of … stuff. Think Depak Chopra but without the medical claims and without the sanity. Yeah, I did just say that.

BTW, link to the new podcast is: WND Watch.



  1. > Think Depak Chopra but without the medical claims and without the sanity

    No thanks. I prefer NOT to think “Depak Chopra”. I assume Sereda’s stuff has “quantum”?

    Nice episode. Short but sweet. Almost too short, or is it me confusing how little the nutters have to back their claims with the length of the episode? Probably.

    As for Coast to Coast quotes; I don’t mind. I rather have somebody with copious spare time [Do you buy that stuff in bulk? Is it expensive?] spend the time wading through the Pomptina Palus looking for morsels.

    To respond to claims, you have to have a claim to respond to. Since much of these claims are made in audio only on Coast to Coast, and full transcripts will have to wait for an AI smart enough to understand, yet stupid enough not to quit, I guess clips will have to do for now. I don’t think links to giant mp3 files and a timestamp will work in the flow of the episode, and I kind of like hearing the voices of these people making the claims. It adds an extra dimension.

    How much is enough? Well, it isn’t the total time nor the a mount of individual clips, but rather how much of it is spent listening to somebody talking off topic, like some longer digressions on who stabbed whom in the back with what and speculations as to why. A little bit adds spice and veracity to the claim that these are conspiracy theorists speaking, but too much gets to be inside baseball.

    In episodes devoted to deconstructing the history of a specific claim it is another thing, there we want to hear the squishy sound as counter attacks are inserted into unprepared opponents. The more the merrier.

    If you go a bit long on the clips, you could keep the episode length from expanding by just skipping the apologies about the length and number of clips. In my not so humble opinion, so far, the limit has not yet been exceeded — with a small margin to spare.

    Comment by johanges — July 22, 2013 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

  2. Since you mentioned WND Watch in the episode, you should probably put a link in the show notes. Also, the “About” page is is still “an example of a page.”

    Comment by johanges — July 22, 2013 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, working on it.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — July 22, 2013 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  3. In regards the Coast-to-Coast clips, my own personal opinion, is that it’s better to present the claim in the words of the person making it rather than paraphrase. That way when they turn around and try to deny what they said they don’t have a leg to stand on.

    As to how many clips, as with episode length, however many you need to cover the topic.

    Comment by Graham — July 23, 2013 @ 7:15 pm | Reply

  4. Omphalos is a book by an author named Gosse,an essay that can be be found in one of Stephen Jay Goulds’ books.
    I’m sure that Stuart is somehow subtly directing us to this essay by Gould, and didn’t really mean to say that the author was actually named Omphalos.

    Comment by paul — July 23, 2013 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

    • I think Stuart was hinting that some omphaloskepsis skepsis might be in place? Remember, Skepsis isn’t just a town in Turkey…

      –j [Another pun from my collection of “Puns that require googling to parse”, soon to be published in a four volume collection.]

      Comment by johanges — July 25, 2013 @ 2:48 am | Reply

    • Thanks, I’ll issue a correction in the next episode.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — July 31, 2013 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  5. WND Watch has been added to the Debunkatron resources (oh I so need to organize that section more betterer).

    Comment by Torsten Pihl — July 26, 2013 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

    • Thanks!

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — July 27, 2013 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  6. I heard you given the letters to remember “WND”, and all I could think of was we called in on UseNet: “Wing Nut Daily.”

    Comment by Chris — July 28, 2013 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

    • Erg, “give the letter”… late at night my grammar not so good.

      Comment by Chris — July 28, 2013 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

    • Yup, that works.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — July 28, 2013 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  7. This is a very enjoyable and informative podcast, thank you very much. Being in Europe, I don’t find the Coast-to-Coast clips too much (although I am amazed that a show with such content can have such a large radio audience, and be CALLED Coast-to-Coast. I wonder if there’s something with such a huge audience and content in Europe too).

    On the podcast material, two small things bothered me.

    First, isn’t there some theoretical physics motivation for variable light speed? I thought Alan Guth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Guth) argues the speed of light is much faster at the beginning of time to explain the universe’s large scale structure (inflationary theory). Similarly, we have João Magueijo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jo%C3%A3o_Magueijo), who published a book on variable light speed. If so, what do they do that creationists don’t (or do you think their ideas are as problematic)?

    Second, does light’s speed really vary from medium to medium? I always thought that this was a loose way of talking rather than something that’s really the case. My thinking was that, because light takes longer to traverse a medium than empty space, and there’s a regularity in the relationship between the medium and how long light takes, then you could treat light as if it is slowed down in the medium. But it is not slowed down. It’s ‘slowing’ is because it is taking a more complicated route. It’s because of some kind of interaction with the matter in the medium, which makes it bend one way then the other. An analogy between light in a void vs. light in a medium is this: A crow flies straight through the air from A to B; its twin crow, flying just as fast, is ‘slowed’ because it has to go from A to B through a maze. For light, the medium twists and turns like a maze.

    Anyhow, thanks again for another great podcast.

    Comment by Sean Enda Power — August 1, 2013 @ 2:53 am | Reply

    • Regarding your second question, I started out the podcast by stating just that: “First, to get it out of the way, yes, the speed that light travels will change based on the substance that it is moving through. Light in a vacuum moves faster than light in atmosphere moves faster than light in water. What I’m talking about in this episode is the claim made by some people – especially by young-Earth creationists – that the speed of light in a vacuum changes, and that it has changed A LOT in the 6000-year history of the universe.”

      I’m not familiar with specific peoples’ models for a backing for a variable light speed, but I don’t think it’s specifically ruled out by anything. The point is more that it could be variable – and we’ve looked to see if it’s changed and found mixed, inconclusive results – but that all the data show it’s NOT as variable as Setterfield needs it to be for his 6000-year-old universe.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 1, 2013 @ 10:13 am | Reply

      • Thanks alot Stuart, I figured that was it in some and am glad I haven’t got it Completely Wrong. Also, sure — I understand that the creationist’s use, claims about and justification for of variable light speed vary from the physics models.

        Comment by Sean Enda Power — August 28, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

      • Ack typos: I meant ‘and justifications OF’ or ‘and justifications FOR’, not both.

        Comment by Sean Enda Power — August 28, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

  8. I enjoy your podcast a lot; apart from the interesting topics and deep research (you listened to 40+ hours of interviews of Sedara?!), you have an engaging speaking voice!

    One question on the speed of light topic: I came across a TED talk of Rupert Sheldrake where he makes a claim that various universal constants such as c or G are changing – not as drastically as the young earth creationists say, but still strongy – and was surprised you didn’t take those claims on in this episode. Here’s the clip: http://youtu.be/1TerTgDEgUE?t=9m50s (9:50 – 16:00).

    Comment by Arumbay — August 25, 2013 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, I’m glad you like the podcast. To knowingly use an ad hominem, I wouldn’t trust Rupert Sheldrake if he told me the sky is blue. Sheldrake believes an an over-riding “morphic resonance field” that allows things such as telepathy – including in dogs – to exist, and his latest book (“The Science Delusion” is a discussion about how he thinks science is run by dogmas and not investigation. And, his TEDx talk has been thoroughly debunked.

      I realize that the above is dismissive and unsatisfying, but Sheldrake is one of those persons whom you simply says so much wrong that you cannot trust anything he says.

      Now, if you were saying that I should have mentioned him as a non-YEC example of a person who claims the speed of light is not constant, then the answer is that (a) I didn’t know about his claim at the time, and (b) I really did want to focus on the creationist arguments.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — August 25, 2013 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

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