Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 28, 2011

Mistakes in Science Apparently Means Creationism Is True


Introduction

I realize I haven’t posted in a few weeks other than for my podcast. Busy, blah blah blah. Anyway …

The post today centers around yet another Institute for Creation Research (ICR) article, this one by Christine Dao, their assistant editor. I’m not quite sure for what she is the assistant editor, but that’s her title. The article is, “Mistakes and Misconduct in Science.” Peter over at “Eye on the ICR” has already talked about some of the details of this latest piece of young-Earth creationism (YEC) propaganda and I suggest you read it if you’re interested in a detailed picking apart of the article. (He gets up crazy-early to write about these things. Or maybe it’s just ’cause he’s on the other side of the planet from me.)

The reason I’m doing a post on it is that I want to talk more about the process of how science works, how it is conducted, the self-correcting nature, and how this is the opposite of creationism.

Crux of the Nature Report

Ms. Dao’s basic premise is a recent Nature report entitled, “Science Publishing: The Trouble with Retractions” (unlike most articles, this one seems free to the public to read, so go ahead and follow the link to read it).

The report (the point of which the ICR article misses) really talks mostly about attitudes among journals and journal editors with regards to retractions and the reasons for retractions. It also mentioned some numbers — mainly that the number of retractions these days is around 0.02% of all papers published. And that in one week alone, around 27,000 papers are published. That means, if we multiply by about 52, over 1.4 million papers are published in scientific journals each year, and 2,800 of those will eventually be retracted.

Fascinating.

Crux of the ICR Article

Ms. Dao seems to make a really big issue of this tiny number. She blows it way out of proportion – as I’ve shown YECs are wont to do – and somehow says that because there are a tiny number of retractions, with a small percentage of those due to fraud, this means that evolution is wrong. I’m serious. Go read her last two paragraphs if you don’t believe me.

Scientific Process

Something that Ms. Dao either does not know or willfully ignores is that scientists know this. We know that not 100% – or 99.98% – of papers published in journals are going to bear the test of time and further research. No scientist thinks that. In my undergraduate education, we would have a weekly seminar in the astronomy department where we read a paper and discussed it and decided whether or not we thought the results were valid.

This is something called critical thinking where you analyze things and decide whether or not they make sense in light of all the other observable evidence. Probably the reason Ms. Dao chooses to ignore this is because YEC does not hold up to critical thinking, but more on that in the next section.

In fact, far from 100% of published papers being “right,” various studies have shown that at least 30-40% of them will later be falsified based upon new data, observations, experiments, and theory. This is not a secret. It’s how science works. It is self-correcting over time because everything is subject to further testing and independent analysis.

Creationism Process

Goddidit.

Creationism Process, Expanded

I’ve used this diagram before in a lengthy post on the scientific method, but it bears repeating here:

Flow Cart Showing the Scientific Method

Flow Chart Showing Faith-Based 'Science'

The flow chart shows the basic process that most biblical literalists use to vet new information. They may get an idea, or hear of something. Let’s use a young-Earth creationist mainstay, Earth’s magnetic field (previous blog on this, podcast on this). Data shows that Earth’s field has gone through reversals in polarity at many points in the past. The data is clearly out there for anyone to examine, and it is unambiguous that crustal rocks record a flip-flopping magnetic field.

Now, does it fit in the Bible? Creationists such as Kent Hovind say that it does not. The result is that alternating magnetic fields are simply not possible. To quote him: “That’s simply baloney [that there are magnetic reversals in the rocks]. There are no ‘reversed polarity areas’ unless it’s where rocks flipped over when the fountains of the deep broke open. … This is a lie talking about magnetic ‘reversals.'” (Taken from his Creation Science Evangelism series, DVD 6:1.)

Alternatively, Russell Humphreys, of Answers in Genesis, accepts that there have been magnetic reversals, as he is able to fit it into a reading of the Bible. He explains the field reversals as rapidly taking place during the 40 24-hr days of Noah’s Flood. Hence, because they are able to fit it into the Bible, they accept it as a dogma.

Creationism Retractions?

Ms. Dao makes much ado about almost nothing in terms of retractions in scientific literature. Something she doesn’t tell you are how many retractions there have been in the creationist literature. Obviously the Bible has never been retracted, except for those books that aren’t accepted (like the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, or the Book of Ezekial). But I’m talking things like the articles the ICR, AiG, or CMI puts out that I and many others have picked to shreds over the years. Or perhaps their own journals, like the ARJ (Answers Research Journal) or the Journal of Creation. Any retractions?

The most I have ever seen is AiG’s list of “Arguments Creationists Should Avoid, which CMI copied and expanded, or when Brian Thomas of the ICR changed his article based, perhaps, on my criticisms (see the post-script in that blog post).

In fact, far from a retraction, Creation Ministries International still has its article by Andrew Snelling entitled, “Solar Neutrinos – the Critical Shortfall Still Elusive” that discusses the solar neutrino “problem.” (For information on this, see my blog post on it.) The article is still in its online index for their Journal of Creation with no indication that it was retracted. The only thing you get is in the HTML version where the editor notes that the argument was valid for the time but “that the shortfall problem seems to have been solved. Therefore creationists should no longer use this as an ‘age’ argument.” If that’s what passes for a retraction, these guys should run for Congress.

Final Thoughts

Yes, maybe half of papers published in journals now will be found later on to not be valid in the light of further study. This is true. This does not mean that evolution is not true. It means that creationists would do better to understand a topic before attempting to criticize it if they care at all about intellectual honesty. But that’s a different blog post …

October 31, 2011

Podcast Episode 9 Is Up: Earth’s Decaying Magnetic Field


And for another short post: Podcast Episode 9 is up. It’s about the young-Earth creationist claim that Earth’s declining magnetic field is evidence for a recent creation. This is a re-worked version of my previous post on the decaying magnetic field two months ago. I’ve gone into some more detail on the Kent Hovind claims that there have been no magnetic field reversals ever. The episode length is similar to my last episode at a bit over 30 minutes.

I’ve also introduced a whole new segment: Q&A. The idea is that anyone who wants can send in questions that I will attempt to answer. Preferably, the questions will focus on weird astronomy claims that you’ve heard or are interested in, but I’m willing to relax that to general astronomy questions that you may have.

October 20, 2011

Does the “Doom and Gloom” from a Show About the Universe Mean We Should All Be Christians?


Introduction

About two and a half months ago, when I was getting back to blogging and starting up my own podcast, I found an article from Creation Ministries International entitled, “Doom and Gloom from the BBC.” I was intrigued and I wondered if it had anything to do with the BBC four-part series, “Wonders of the Universe.”

Indeed, it did! And now that I’ve finally gotten around to watching the first (and second) episodes of the BBC production, I thought I could legitimately comment on it and get this CMI article out of my queue.

Wonders of the Universe

Disclaimer/Bragging: I’m very peripherally involved with both this series and its prior cousin, “Wonders of the Solar System,” for the BBC purchased several lunar photographs from me to use in the production.

“Wonders of the Universe” is a four-part, roughly four-hour (total) production of the BBC that, in my opinion, is very well done and a cinematic experience. It’s a bit more non-linear than I would like, but I think that it’s quite well done overall. The series is hosted by physicist Brian Cox, a fairly famous popularizer of science these days.

Each “wonder” of the universe that is discussed falls under one of the four episode’s themes: Destiny, Stardust, Falling, and Messengers. (For more detail on each of these, you can check out Wikipedia’s page on them.)

In the first episode on “Destiny,” the theme is the evolution of the universe from start to possible “end.” Cox goes through the first stage of the universe (birth and expansion) and concentrates mostly upon the “stellariferous” (or some such spelling) stage, which is now. This is the time when stars are forming and their energy allows life like us to exist.

Cox then describes how the second law of thermodynamics works (entropy can never decrease) with what I thought was a brilliant example with a sand pile versus a sand castle. Along with this, he goes into the “arrow of time,” basically that we know time is progressing as entropy increases. Otherwise, all of the laws of physics do not contain an actual “direction” of time, but they work equally well forwards or backwards.

This means that as the universe ages, things die. Eventually, there will no longer be stars. Even further in time, black holes will evaporate. Protons will decay. Nothing will be able to exist in this “heat death” of the universe. The amount of time that life like us can exist is vanishingly small — Cox wrote a heck of a lot of zeros in the sand with a teensy little “1” at the end to show the fraction.

It’s a somewhat bleak picture. Occasionally (once every few years?) I lie awake at night thinking about it, and then I realize that it’s stupid to worry about it, so I turn over and go to sleep. Maybe that’s why I’m not a cosmologist.

Doom and Gloom, Therefore God

Enter Creation Ministries International and the author of this particular article, Russell Grigg. The CMI article starts out noting that Dr. Cox “is a ‘Distinguished Supporter’ of the atheistic British Humanist Association” and this “is par for the course for the BBC, long known for its anti-Christian bias.”

I’m not going to bore you with the standard young-Earth creationist apologetics with rehashed arguments that have been shown to be wrong many many times (such as, they repeat the wrong idea that spiral galaxies should wind up).

The conclusion of the CMI article – I know, you’re going to be shocked – is that all the apparent problems for us evolutionists (somehow Dr. Cox, a physicist, is now an evolutionist) are resolved by the young-Earth Christian biblical worldview:

  • We don’t need to figure out how the universe began, Genesis states Goddidit.
  • A distant gamma ray burst isn’t the oldest object we’ve ever seen ’cause all the stuff in the sky on Day 4 of Creation Week when Goddidit.
  • Stuff that seems far away and therefore billions of years old isn’t actually billions of years old because the heavens were “stretched out” when Goddidit.
  • We don’t need to worry about the end of the universe described by physics because believers are going to have an eternal life in Heaven when Goddoesit.
  • Death doesn’t matter because after it, we have eternal life ’cause Godsaysit.

Et cetera.

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a long post because there really isn’t’ too much to say. It’s a great TV program, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in cosmology or astronomy in general finds it at their local Blockbuster looks for it on Netflix or your DVD procurement location of choice. (If you’re interested in planetary / solar system astronomy, then its predecessor, “Wonders of the Solar System,” is also definitely worth watching.) The creationist response to it was predictable and gratuitous. The BBC series provided them another opportunity to complain that on a science show based in observable evidence and testable theories, their special Godwroteit book wasn’t given any notice.

I will freely admit that the Christian worldview presents a much more warm, cuddly feeling and outlook on the future of the universe. Would I want to be embraced by my Creator for all time and know He loves me? Sure. I don’t know many people who want to die and simply cease to exist.

Does that mean that I’m going to convert? No. All because it may be something I want, that does not mean it’s true or is going to happen. I want a chocolate bar right now. I’m closing my eye (I can touch type) and I’m wishing that a chocolate bar is going to materialize in front of me. Opening eyes … NOW. (looking around) Nope, no chocolate bar. I wanted it, but it didn’t happen. No evidence for it. Similarly, I’m not putting faith into a manuscript written millennia ago that contradicts basic science, logic, and reason.

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