Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 16, 2015

#NewHorizons #PlutoFlyby – The Pseudoscience Flows #9 — Young-Earth Creationist Take, Part 2

Terry Hurlbut Advocating Walter Brown’s Hydroplate Nonsense

In my Part 1 of this lengthy series of probably 11 posts, I talked about the machinations of Terry Hurlbut, one of the primary editors of Conservapedia and (I think) the founder of the incredibly ad-rich Conservative News and Views website that espouses über-right wing ideals and young-Earth creationism. He said that Pluto is red therefore it’s rusty therefore it formed from material ejected from Earth during Noah’s Flood.

In a follow-up post, Terry followed the same protocol as before, grabbing onto one tiny finding, saying it’s impossible to explain with modern science, therefore Pluto was launched from Earth during the Flood.

In this case, the finding was carbon monoxide (CO) ice, found in the “heart” area now informally known as Tombaugh Regio. Terry explains this by saying that during the Flood, Pluto and Charon formed by material ejected from Earth, which heated as they contracted, burning the plant matter that was also ejected. The gases released from the burning plants included CO, which fell as “rain” onto the surface of Pluto in what he claims is a basin that is now Tombaugh Regio.

Okay, I know I try to avoid ad hominem attacks on this blog, but I had to fight my brain to type that last paragraph. It’s so ridiculous, that unless one actually is familiar with Terry’s writings on his own sites and elsewhere, one would think it’s a really bad Poe or Onion article.

Terry tries to emphasize in his article that neither NASA, SwRI, nor JHU/APL (the three institutions involved in the mission) have tried to explain the CO ice. Therefore, we don’t know now and therefore Terry’s idea is the only one out there.

The thing is, we don’t have all the data taken yet. The data we do have is lossy-compressed. And scientists by their nature are very cautious about publishing hypotheses about something without doing a lot of tests of those hypotheses. AND within the mission itself, there’s the situation that it’s better to put out obvious findings now and save the possible interpretations later once we have more time to look at the better data and talk with more people and amongst ourselves.

Put in that context, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that NASA would put out the press release about unambiguous findings of concentrations in one area of Pluto of CO (as in we found it, it’s in ice form, and it’s concentrated in one particular area) and have that be the press release, rather than add unnecessarily to it several possible models to explain it but “more data are needed, stay tuned several months until we get that data to test it.” That’s kinda a downer to close out a press release.

Institute for Creation Research Advocating Pluto’s a Comet

In a perhaps more mainstream young-Earth creationist venue, the Institute for Creation Research also has a take on the New Horizons mission. Jake Hebert wrote their article, “New Horizons, Pluto, and the Age of the Solar System.” It is a fascinating read if one looks at it from the standpoint of starting with one topic and twisting it into something completely different to argue against in a no less wrong way than most other creationist writings.

Here’s the train of thought:

  1. New Horizons went to Pluto.
  2. Secular scientists are going to tell a materialistic story without a deity about it but aren’t saying that so’s to avoid offending the taxpayer.
  3. That means we don’t understand how the solar system formed.
  4. New Horizons will yield information about Kuiper Belt Objects.
  5. These are comets.
  6. Insert everything that creationists have written about comets over the years that they think shows comets prove the universe (or at least the solar system) is less than 6000 years old.

Not only is it a strawman argument on their part, but by equating Pluto with comets means not only that everything THEY have written about comets over the years applies, but also everything that scientists – such as myself – have also written that thoroughly debunks their arguments applies.

For a taste of these, I refer you to my blog (post 1, post 2, or post 3) and/or my podcast (episode 3). Rehashing all those ideas here is gratuitous and a waste of space. And, there’s a reason why those are some of my earliest blog post and earliest podcast episode: They’re simple to debunk.

Answers in Genesis Telling You Half-, Leading Truths

Finally, another of the Big Three creationist institutions is Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis. Danny Faulkner wrote their article on New Horizons, “Pluto’s Surface Is Young!”


Here is the first argument that Danny is making: Pluto has relatively few craters, therefore it must be young:

[S]cientists have found far fewer craters than they expected. […] Being far from the sun, Pluto ought to be very cold and hence not have experienced recent volcanism. Any primordial heat would have long ago dissipated, if the solar system were 4.5 billion years old. [… T]here ought not to be any significant geological activity sufficient to remove craters on Pluto’s surface. Compounding this problem for a 4.5-billion-year age for the solar system is the fact that Pluto is located in a particularly crowded part of the solar system. […] Therefore, Pluto ought to be undergoing impacts today at a higher rate than most other objects in other portions of the solar system. Planetary scientists who are committed to belief in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system are at a complete loss to explain the lack of craters on Pluto.

Part of this is exactly the same argument (at least in part) that I debunked here, in my post about Venus, several years ago: “Venus and the Battle of Uniformitarianism (A Creationist Argument).”

First, Pluto does not have ZERO craters. It has many; it’s just Tombaugh Regio that has no unambiguous craters in the region that we’ve seen with the lossy JPG artifacting covering it. That means it likely has no craters >10 km in diameter, meaning it could still have plenty that are smaller.

Second, the whole way we get our crater chronology starts from the moon (which Danny acknowledges, and he actually gives a reasonable overview of the subject). We do see heavily cratered areas of Pluto. So if we see some areas that have a huge number of craters relative to other areas, it just means that the one with few craters (or maybe none) is much younger. How much younger, though? If Danny wants to say that the heavily cratered areas are 6000 years old, does that mean that the “heart” region of Pluto was created yesterday? Again — see the Venus blog post.

To bypass some more of the quote and get to the last statement, this is common among creationists: God of the Gaps. Set up a scenario and say someone can’t explain something and then say GodDidIt. Except, we have plenty of ideas of why there may be no craters over some parts. One of the main ones has to do with the second argument (in three paragraphs): The atmosphere. It’s tiny, but it cycles. Pluto is tilted almost like Uranus, except more. So for 124 years we have one pole facing the sun, and for 124 years the other. During this time, it’s likely that the ices on the surface near the sunward pole sublimate (turn from solid to gas) and some get deposited on the pole that’s in night. This gives you a “surface” that is literally no more than a hundred years old.

In fact, going into this, I was warned that several models predicted that there may be very few craters on Pluto simply because of this process, of not only ices being deposited as many, many layers of frost, but also because when they sublimate, they are removing that surface that had been cratered! So some predictions going in were that Pluto may have a few very large, shallow craters, but nothing else. Obviously that’s not the case, Pluto is more interesting, but to say that we “are at a complete loss to explain the lack [not!] of craters on Pluto” is bullocks.

Here is the second argument that Danny made: Pluto is outgassing nitrogen, and therefore it’s young because it is a body of finite size and because there should be some activity that releases the nitrogen.

Yes, Pluto was found to be outgassing molecular nitrogen gas. Though “outgassing” is the wrong word here — perhaps an honest mistake, but it’s wrong nonetheless. It’s that nitrogen gas is escaping from the surface, not being outgassed from below the surface (that we know of). So this is a classic creationist argument: Take the current rate for something, multiply it by 4.5 billion years, and claim it’s impossible. They do that with Earth’s moon. But in this case, Danny didn’t even do that simple math, even if it is wrong (the current rate may not be what it was in the past). 500 tons per hour means very roughly 2*1019 kg over 4.5 billion years. Pluto is 1.3*1022 kg. That means it would have lost a mere 0.15% of its mass due to nitrogen escaping over 4.5 billion years if the current rate has been the rate for 4.5 billion years.

Not a problem.

The third argument has to do with the very tall, 3.3 km high mountains observed on Pluto, where Danny argues that if Pluto is warm enough to have geologic activity to account for those first two things, it can’t be cold enough to support ice mountains.

The mountains are interesting. I don’t even remember if there are solid ideas yet in the team as to how they may have formed, but this is yet another example where scientists look for something to explain an observation, and creationists leap to GodDidIt. Regardless, though, both of the prior two arguments can be explained at least in part by atmospheric processes rather than geologic, therefore this is moot.

Finally, he argues that Charon has fewer craters than expected, and a large chasm, therefore it’s young, too.

Problem if we take this approach: How can Charon be older than Pluto? If we’re using the metric of craters (and incorrectly per the standard young-Earth creationist), and Charon has more than Pluto, then Pluto is even younger than 6000 years old, right? What is he trying to say here, that Pluto formed a few minutes before Clyde Tombaugh discovered it?

I’m also not quite sure where he’s getting that Charon has fewer craters than expected. I don’t remember this being discussed, but it’s possible I missed it. A lot of the issue for Charon (and Pluto, for that matter) is our ability to identify craters in these images. Most imaging is with the sun almost directly overhead. Meaning we can’t pick out craters very easily. Especially when all we have is lossy, JPG-compressed images. Think of photographing the full moon of Earth and then compressing it to 100 kb to send to your grandmother who’s running Windows 95 with a 56k modem. Not easy.

Charon probably has more craters than Pluto (no atmosphere). But our ability to find them right now is significantly hindered. That in mind, I’ve already identified a few hundred. Same on Pluto.

October 19, 2008

The Solar Neutrino Problem – Why Something that Was Solved Years Ago Is NOT Evidence for Recent Creation

This post is in regards to the Institute for Creation Research’s February 9, 2002 program entitled, “The Young Sun.” You can listen to the audio here.

This particular episode of ICR radio is, to be quite blunt, fairly ignorant.  Its purpose is in discussing what was known as the “solar neutrino problem,” which was solved in 2001, the year before this episode came out.  In other words, it banks on an argument that was already resolved.

The broadcast starts out with a biblical reading and then gets to one of the regular members of their astronomy panel, Dr. Donald DeYoung.  He spends about 90 seconds giving a brief overview of our closest star, discussing how large it is, how quickly it produces energy, and hints a little at the “Goldilocks” situation where Earth is at the “just right” distance from the Sun to not be too hot (like Venus) nor too cold (like Mars).

About 4 minutes in, Dr. Danny Falkner comes on to discuss some of the specifics of the nuclear fusion processes that occur in the Sun’s core that produce its energy.  A discussion of this process can be found on my own website for it is not the purpose of this blog entry.

Finally, 5 minutes in, they introduce their argument:  The Solar Neutrino Problem.  In sum and substance, the theories of nuclear fusion that occur in the Sun’s core really haven’t changed much in over 50 years since it’s fairly straight-forward nuclear physics.  We thought we knew exactly what goes in and what comes out of the nuclear proceses in the Sun’s core, and some of what comes out are elementary particles known as “neutrinos.”  Neutrinos come in three different types, sometimes referred to as “flavors:”  The electron neutrino, muon neutrino, and tau neutrino (also, each of these has an antimatter partner, and antineutrino).  Part of the difference between these three flavors is their energy level (or, because matter and energy are interchangeable via E = m · c2, we refer to them as having different “masses”).

One of the properties of neutrinos is that they are very difficult to detect because they very rarely interact with what detectors can be made of (protons, neutrons, and electrons).  In fact, over 50,000,000,000,000 (50 trillion) neutrinos are passing through you every second.  Because of this difficulty, it was only in the 1960s that the first solar neutrino detector came online that would detect the electron neutrino rate from the Sun, and they found a deficit from what was predicted.  Subsequent experiments verified this deficit … either the Sun was not creating the right number of neutrinos, or something was happening to them on their way to the detectors.

Various solutions were proposed to this problem, such as the Sun doesn’t produce energy quite at the rate that was thought.  However, every observation that was made of different solar properties only confirmed previous solar models, and so there was still a problem.  The problem was resolved, however, by 2002, when this broadcast was made.

The solution involves tweaking the Standard Model of particle physics, which assumed that neutrinos were massless.  This meant that they couldn’t oscillate, or change flavors from one type to another.  However, if they actually did have a mass, then they could change from one type to another; hence the solution was that they have a miniscule amount of mass, and that a certain percentage of the electron neutrinos just changed flavor en route to the detectors here on Earth.  In 1998, a Japanese experiment showed that muon neutrinos could change into tau neutrinos, confirming the flavor change.

Direct evidence came in 2001 from a Canadian experiment which was built to detect all three types of neutrinos, and it found that about 35% of the arriving solar neutrinos were still electron neutrinos, the rest having either changed to tau or muon neutrinos.  BUT, the total number of neutrinos detected was what was expected to be produced from the Sun.  Pretty much every reputable astronomer agrees that this is the solution to the Solar Neutrino “Problem,” that neutrinos can change from one type to another.

Now that you have a background to neutrinos, on with the broadcast …

So starting just after 5 minutes into the broadcast, they start to discuss neutrinos, detectors, and the solar neutrinos.  About 7 minutes into the program, they begin to discuss their alternative idea:  Rather than accept every other independent indication of the Sun’s age, they propose that it’s really very young … you guessed it, about 6,000 years old.  This “solution” would work because, as they state, the rate of neutrino production would change depending upon the age of the star due to various factors like its temperature or composition.

The problem with this is two-fold.  First, as I stated, there are many other independent observations that indicate the Sun is 4.5 billion years old, and I’m not referring to radiometric dating of rocks in the solar system.  Second, they use the predictions from the Standard Model as it was in the 1960s and 70s as if it were gospel, ignoring its revision in the mid-2000s to now easily account for what’s observed.  It’s like using an astronomy textbook from 1800 and asking your teacher why you got the question wrong on the test when you said there were only 6 planets in the solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, since the rest hadn’t been discovered yet).

However, they continue this line of reasoning and at about 8 min 15 sec into the program they discuss that, under our “evolutionary” model of the 4.5-billion-year-old Sun, it would have been about 30% fainter 4 billion years ago than it is today (which IS what solar models show).  They then say that Earth, as a result, would have been 15-20 °C cooler than it is today.  What makes this comment so … disingenuous (to be kind) … is that in the sentence just before it he states that “we’re wringing our hands over global warming and so-forth …”

And that’s the solution:  Earth’s atmosphere is not a constant composition through time, nor Earth’s reflectivity (the amount of light it absorbs vs. reflects back to space) is not a constant through time due in part to changing ice caps.  Earth’s original atmosphere was likely mostly hydrogen and helium, just like the gas giants of the solar system.  It was mostly removed by a stronger solar wind and a very hot crust, and likely nearly completely stripped away by the impact that formed the moon.  Earth’s second atmosphere was mostly volcanic in origin, made of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ammonia — the first two being very efficient greenhouse gases, and estimates are that it was up to 100 times more massive than our current atmosphere.  These gases along with methane-producing bacteria that formed early on could easily have raised Earth’s temperature enough to keep the surface water from freezing.  (To complete the story, bacteria spent about 1 billion years converting a large amount of carbon dioxide into oxygen, bringing our atmosphere closer to what we would recognize today.)

So yet again, the apparent problems that are raised by the guests on this show are easily explained by us “evolutionary” scientists.  They are NOT problems that we cannot work out, and, as the guest even states, “[no one] suggests the Earth was ever that cold.”  But, he simply states, “You can argue about greenhouse gasses being greater in the past … that’s an issue I don’t want to address right now.”  Fair enough, it’s a short radio broadcast, but one must ask the question of why he wouldn’t address that when it’s the entire explanation for the problem he’s proposing!

The rest of the broadcast re-states what I mentioned 3 paragraphs ago – their young-Sun model, and then does the sign-off, reassuring listeners that the Bible can be taken literally.

However, as I hope to have demonstrated with this post, this is yet another line of evidence that does NOT lead to the conclusion that the Sun was created 6000 years ago.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.