Exposing PseudoAstronomy

October 18, 2017

Podcast Episode 166: Stellar Evolution, Age of the Universe, and Young-Earth Creationism


Star evolution,
Age of the universe, and
Creationism.

Young-Earth Creationism strikes again and this time misuses error bars to argue that GodDidIt. The episode covers a science paper that discussed the age of a very old star which was derived to be a bit older than the universe. But, add in the appropriate error bars, and potentially a correction to its color, and there’s absolutely no issue whatsoever. But, try telling that to a creationist with an agenda. There’s only a very brief singular additional segment in this episode.

M15 from HST

The dazzling stars in Messier 15 look fresh and new in this image from the NASA/Hubble Space Telescope, but they are actually all roughly 13 billion years old, making them some of the most ancient objects in the Universe. Unlike another recent Hubble Picture of the Week, which featured the unusually sparse cluster Palomar 1, Messier 15 is rich and bright despite its age. Messier 15 is a globular cluster — a spherical conglomeration of old stars that formed together from the same cloud of gas, found in the outer reaches of the Milky Way in a region known as the halo and orbiting the Galactic Centre. This globular lies about 35 000 light-years from the Earth, in the constellation of Pegasus (The Flying Horse). Messier 15 is one of the densest globulars known, with the vast majority of the cluster’s mass concentrated in the core. Astronomers think that particularly dense globulars, like this one, underwent a process called core collapse, in which gravitational interactions between stars led to many members of the cluster migrating towards the centre. Messier 15 is also the first globular cluster known to harbour a planetary nebula, and it is still one of only four globulars known to do so. The planetary nebula, called Pease 1, can be seen in this image as a small blue blob to the lower left of the globular’s core. This picture was put together from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images through yellow/orange (F606W, coloured blue) and near-infrared (F814W, coloured red) filters were combined. The total exposure times were 535 s and 615 s respectively and the field of view is 3.4 arcminutes across.

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March 14, 2016

“They Hate or Fear Me” — The Refrain of the Pseudoscientist


I like to argue. I was never on a debate team, but I would get worked up over things whilst growing up, in college, or graduate school over which I had no control nor power to affect. A common refrain of my father’s, in response to that was, “Harbor your emotional energies.”

Fear and hatred are powerful emotions. As soon as you use observe them in conversation, it colors the entire tone. Just the use of the terms affect your own emotions.

Emotion is also a much easier response than logical thinking. It comes from a more basic, instinctual part of the human brain than conscious thought. Rather than try to address an argument or claim with thought, it’s simply easier to say that the person making that claim hates or fears you, immediately appealing to your audience’s own more instinctual level of lack-of-thought.

That, I think, is part of why we often see that from pseudoscientists when skeptics address their claims. I saw it a lot from Mike Bara back in the lunar ziggurat days almost four years ago (see this blog post where I address the issue of manufactured “hate”). I continue to see it in other areas, such as manufactured fear by anti-GMO or anti-vaccine proponents, appealing to the emotion of fear rather than a logical argument for their position.

And tonight, Ken Ham over at Answers In Genesis (AiG) which is building a claimed replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, USA, has created a new term: Arkophobia.

I really don’t want to link to AiG, so I won’t. But the thrust of the post is this:

The bottom line with the secularist opposition? Arkophobia is so widespread because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Secularists are in rebellion against their Creator. The fact that He has the right to tell them, through His Word, what is right (e.g., marriage is one man for one woman) and what is wrong (e.g., abortion is murder) angers them.

Secularists oppose the Ark because they are afraid of the Ark’s goal: to proclaim the everlasting gospel.

That’s right: Ham is claiming that people who are against him building this ark are against him because they hate him.

It’s so much easier than really answering why they spend millions of dollars on a theme park rather than give it to the poor, or answer legitimate questions about potential fraud in trying to get tax incentives.

January 19, 2016

How Answers in Genesis Ignores Reality, Pretends You’re Dumb, to Get Money for Its “Ark Encounter”


I think in addition to my attempt to be leaner and faster on this blog in 2016, I’m going to be more direct. Hence the title of this blog post.

For those who don’t know, Answers in Genesis (AiG) is probably one of the three biggest anti-think tanks for young-Earth creationism in the world. They have a large creationism museum in Kentucky, about a 45-minute drive from where I grew up a bit north of Cincinnati, Ohio. They are currently building an “Ark Encounter” theme park based on, as you can probably guess, the Judeo-Christian story of Noah’s Ark.

I’ve been following The Friendly Atheist blog posts about this for several years. To be direct, based on their reporting, AiG has been trying to break the law many, many times during the building process. And it’s mostly all having to do with money.

In effect, they can’t build it on their own. They don’t have enough. So they’ve been trying to get tax breaks and other things to help them build. Problem is (for them), even in Kentucky they sometimes respect separation of church and state and refused to let a religious organization that would discriminate based on religion have access to public funds.

So, as an example, they were eligible for state funds of some sort several years ago so long as they would not discriminate in their hiring. Then, someone (I forget, possibly the ACLU) pointed out that all employees would have to be hired through the AiG creation museum and hence sign a statement of faith to prove they are religious. They got smacked down and the money was taken away.

Now they have a new scheme. And, this was just pointed out in a large essay in Newsweek by journalist Lindsay Tucker. Tucker demonstrates how AiG has been manipulating things to, in the end, still get taxpayer money to support their very clearly religious endeavor.

Ken Ham, the guy in charge of AiG, hit back at Newsweek by manipulating information under the assumption that you are stupid.

I found out about this because The Friendly Atheist blog has a very lengthy post by Tracey Moody hitting back at Ken Ham. Here’s an excerpt, where “TIF” is the tax breaks, and the double-block is from Ken Ham’s blog post:

Ham insists on describing the TIF in a condescending manner in his post, even conceding that he hardly understands it himself. But not understanding a topic never stopped him before. Why start now?

Most people do not understand this complicated incentive (called Tax Increment Financing) that is common across the nation, and I hope I won’t lose you here. …

Now, we simply don’t mention the TIF to reporters because perhaps 1 in 1,000 readers would even know what it is, it is highly complicated, and I don’t understand it all myself. …

At the risk of your eyes glazing over regarding this TIF matter…

He’s setting the stage to make us feel too dumb to understand what’s going on — the same trick his whole Creation ministry is based upon. But it’s not as complicated as he makes it sound.

I recommend reading it if you have the time. I thought it was very informative and clearly demonstrates how AiG is manipulating things.

As for why it’s on this blog, well, I deal with young-Earth creationists manipulating science on this blog quite a lot. This isn’t science, but it’s perhaps just as important – if not more-so – than science because it’s public policy and it’s tens of millions of dollars that is currently going to a discriminatory, manipulative religious organization. Fortunately, I don’t live in Kentucky and my tax money is not directly contributing to this effort. But I hope that if any of you do live in Kentucky, you will voice your concern to the appropriate legislators.

July 22, 2014

Everyone’s Talking About Ken Ham Denigrating Space Exploration — Let’s Stop Talking About It


Okay folks, this is going to be a short post because I’m sick of it already. People are talking about Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis who “debated” Bill Nye in February, wrote on his blog yesterday that space exploration is silly because it’s a search for aliens who don’t exist and would be damned anyway because of Jesus’ Love™. (I’m paraphrasing here.) If you really need a link, I’ll point you to Jerry Coyne’s blog post on it.

Ham may believe this. I wouldn’t be surprised. But you know what? I don’t care. And neither should you. And you shouldn’t be talking about it, and you shouldn’t be linking to his site (which is why I am not).

True — I have talked about AiG’s work in the past on this blog and in my podcast. But it was a specific science claim where we could learn something about science by exploring the claim.

This is just stupid. This seems almost certainly a cry for publicity under the adage “Any publicity is good publicity!” He had to know it would create controversy and that people would ridicule him. But in doing so, he would get publicity. People talking about him and his ministry and his (by most accounts) failing museum. The Bill Nye debate was almost six months ago, and they saw an immense surge in support and donations around that time, so much that their failing fundraising effort (such that they were issuing junk bonds) for a Noah’s Ark theme park suddenly was viable and they raised all their money.

Let me repeat: What Ken Ham said here was stupid. We know it was stupid. Even if he’s right that there’s no alien life out there, exploring space to learn more about the world/universe in which we live is worth it for its own sake. Now, can we stop talking about how stupid Ham was in saying this? Can we stop giving him publicity? I’ve dealt with pseudoscientists (or just idiots) who just say inflammatory things to get publicity. You haven’t heard about a lot of it on here – especially some recent stuff – precisely because I don’t want to give them publicity.

November 11, 2013

Podcast Episode 92: Spiral Galaxies and a Young Universe


Spiral Galaxies,
Young-Earth Creationists … a
Potent mixture here.

I managed to get this episode on young-Earth creationism out on time, somehow. It is not the expected episode on the Pioneer Anomaly, but, well, that required some work. This topic I could do more quickly and get out on time.

As I gear up to do an episode every few days in prep for my trip to Australia, Dec. 16 – Jan. 21, it’s going to be probably more of the same, and I have a lot of interviews slated for that time (yet to be recorded … most are yet to be confirmed, so we’ll see). I’m trying to figure out how to make an episode about the peer review process and an episode about uncertainties and errors sound interesting, for those are the next two planned at the moment.

July 24, 2012

Podcast Episode 45: The Moon’s Changing Recession Rate


A discussion of this young-Earth creationist claim, dating back about 3-4 decades, has been posted. The main segment is reasonably short, around 13ish minutes.

No new news segment, but all the others are there excepting a new puzzler: Q&A, Feedback, Puzzler solutions for episodes 43 and 44, and some announcements.

The main announcement is that I’ve re-released my Richard Hoagland lunar ziggurat debunking. If you downloaded it on Monday, that’s the old version. I released this new one at around 6AM GMT on Wednesday, July 25. It’s 5 minutes 29 seconds long — not the 4 minutes 25 seconds one. There’s a minor correction about shadows, and I also show the latest lunar imagery that shows no ziggurat. Plus Mike Bara complaining that Hoagland took the image from him without credit.

If you do nothing else, I would appreciate feedback on the video (post here, send e-mail, whatever). As I mentioned in my last post, these suckers take A LONG TIME, and I don’t want to do them if you don’t think they’re worth it. What you liked, what you didn’t like, what you think I should do differently or make sure to do next time, file size, etc. … all fair game.

July 7, 2012

Creationists and the God Particle


Introduction

If you were living in a box this past week, you may not have heard the announcement by CERN that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over in Europe has found evidence with 99.9999042% certainty of the long-theorized (since the 1960s) Higgs Boson. Big news in particle physics, probably the biggest news in science all week, if not month, possibly year.

Unfortunately for those of us who deal with pseudoscience, the Higgs Boson is popularly known as the “God Particle” — especially in the media. Which of course means that the young-Earth creationists have to comment on it.

Background

Okay, I’m going to assume here that if you’re reading this blog, you already know the jist of what’s going on. So I’m not going to go into a lengthy background, rather I’m just going to summarize:

  • The Standard Model of Particle Physics explains a lot but we don’t really know what “gives” particles any sort of mass. We know stuff has mass — I’m reminded of that every morning when I attempt to get out of bed.
  • The Higgs field was theorized in the 1960s to be a field that particles interact with that give them their mass.
  • The Higgs field is carried by / transmitted by / etc. the Higgs boson (the boson being a type of fundamental particle. This was predicted by and is a requirement of the Standard Model.
  • The Higgs boson was the last fundamental particle that was only in theory and hadn’t been yet observed.

And the results this past week are of the decay products that would be required from the Higgs boson, so by back-tracking those decay particles, they have the discovery of the Higgs.

Standard Model predictions found to be accurate, Higgs boson found, therefore Higgs field confirmed and we know why things have mass.

Since mass is a fundamental property of matter, and the Higgs field is commonly said to “give” particles mass (when it’s really a quantum interaction between the pervasive field and the particles), it has been deemed to be known as “The God Particle.”

That’s really about it.

Comic Sans

I suppose a very brief interlude needs to be made to discuss the Comic Sans font. Let’s be frank: It’s a stupid font that most people hate. It is childish. It was designed to be for dialog bubbles in comics (“Comic” in the name). It should never ever ever be used in anything professional.

Do people use it in professional settings? Yes. I’ve seen presentations at conferences that are written in Comic Sans. My friggin’ advisor made our entire poster for a conference in Comic Sans font. I gave him hell for it.

The media presentation at CERN for this discovery this week was done in Comic Sans. They should not have done it in Comic Sans. I don’t think there’s any excuse for this because any press officer worth anything would have told them to change the font. Period.

Does it change the results? No. I’m reminded of when a gay kid came out in his blog and it was all basic early 2000s formatting with plain background, plain text, nothing else. All his friends on Facebook gave him hell not for coming out, but for the 1990s HTML coding he used to do it. So let’s get beyond the stupid font the CERN folks used.

Creationists Respond

As most would probably expect for a particle physics news item, many people in the so-called “mainstream media” invented all sorts of things that the “God Particle” could do, though most didn’t. Many things could be taken out of context to lead people to false conclusions about what the Higgs boson “does,” and they’re ripe for quote mining.

And as we would expect, with something called the “God Particle,” every single creationist outlet I read had some reaction to the announcement this week.

In general, though, I was okay with what they wrote (apart from the whole, “True knowledge can only come from a literal reading of God’s Word!” part). The Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International all had articles that were basically saying the same thing: (1) Don’t believe the hype that with this discovery we now know all the deepest darkest mysteries of the universe, (2) “God Particle” is a misleading name, (3) it doesn’t have anything to do with the origins of the universe, (4) Praise Allah Jesus.

Final Thoughts

In my own opinion, the reporting by the young-Earth creationists on this matter is not bad, nor is it very distorted at all. They’re really just trying to reassure their followers that this discovery (which they can’t dismiss) in no way affects their faith in their god. And I’m okay with that.

June 26, 2012

Podcast Episode 41: Craters and Creationism, Part 2


In a slightly delayed offering, episode 41 has been posted. Sorry to say that episodes over the next month may be delayed by a few days, as well, for I have several trips coming up and won’t have my equipment with me.

As the title suggests, this episodes details a few claims by creationists to try to argue that craters really show the solar system is only 6000 years old instead of the solar system being around 4.5 billion. It may get a bit technical at times — sorry.

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.

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