Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 1, 2009

Planet X and 2012: The Pole Shift (Geographic / Spin Axis) Explained and Debunked


Introduction

Continuing my series on Planet X and 2012, one of the main claims of what will actually happen is termed a “Pole Shift.” Sounds scary, huh? The Earth’s pole(s) … shifting!?

But what does it actually mean? Well, Earth actually has two sets of North and South Poles – the geographic and the magnetic. Most of the doomsdayers that I’ve heard seem to imply that they are talking about a geographic pole shift, but some also talk about a magnetic pole shift. Since both are completely different, and since they are significant enough topics by themselves, I am doing separate posts on them. This one addresses the geographic pole, also known as the rotation axis.

There are actually a few different specific versions of this scenario that various doomsday folks have created. The one that I know the most about and will address in this post is that of Brent Miller, founding member of the “Horizon Project,” and the statements that he has made on the November 10, 2008 and January 11, 2009 episodes of the Coast-to-Coast AM radio show. I am not going to use many quotes because there is no transcript for these shows and it’s an awful lot of typing and pausing and typing and pausing for me to supply a direct quote for each claim.

All posts in this series:

Main Premises

Basic Premise of a (Geographic) Pole Shift: The basic premise that Brent Miller argues for is that Earth’s spin axis will change. At present, Earth revolves such that the north geographic and south geographic pole stay stationary with respect to the stars, always pointing at the same location in space. The rest of the planet rotates around this axis. In a “pole shift” event, the geographic location of this axis would change such that two different locations would stay fixed with respect to the stars while the rest of the planet rotates around that axis.

Milky Way’s Black Hole Creates a “Dark Rift:” I addressed this more in-depth in my post about the pseudoastronomy of galactic alignments, but in brief, Miller thinks that the Milky Way’s black hole spins out gravity waves that create a “dark rift” along the center plane of the galaxy.

Properties of the “Dark Rift:” Miller claims the main property of this is an intense gravitational force that (a) will cause Earth’s poles to shift, and (b) contains a lot of “junk” material (my words, not his) such as asteroids that could impact Earth.

Earth’s Continents Are Kept “Afloat” By Earth Spinning on Its Axis: Miller points out that because Earth spins on its axis, the equatorial diameter is 42 km greater than the polar diameter, and that this is proof that the continents are above sea level because they are “pushed out” by Earth spinning. If Earth stopped spinning or if it started to spin around a different central axis, then the continents as we know them would sink because there is no longer the centrifugal force keeping them “out.”

This Has Happened Before and there’s Proof Its Happening Now: He goes through many apparent points of evidence to show that this has happened before (around 11,000 B.C. and something like it in 705 B.C.) and shows apparent evidence that it is starting to now.

Dissecting the “Evidence”

Milky Way, Black Holes, and “Dark Rift:” This is not correct, mostly for the reasons I pointed out in this post. There is no “dark rift.” If the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole is throwing off gravitational waves, at the location we are, they will bend and flex us by less than the width of an atom.

Miller also claims that his “astrophysicists” have now verified we’re moving into the galactic plane (which we’re not) and his “quantum mechanics guys” have shown what the effects of the gravity waves would be. Because I want to really harp on this, here is the quote (from hour 4 of the Jan. 11 program at about 31 min 15 sec into the program): “Pretend the calendars never existed. Independent of the calendars, the quantum physicists have already confirmed that the center of our galaxy really is a super-massive black hole, they’ve confirmed the location of the galactic plane, uh, the astrophysicists have already mapped out the time in which we are going to be crossing the galactic plane, and they estimate it to within 2 or 3 days of [when the Mayans said it would happen] at the end of 2012.”

This really shows that the people who work with him (a) don’t know what they’re doing, (b) don’t read the scientific literature, (c) don’t contribute to the scientific literature, and (d) that he doesn’t know what someone in the fields he’s quoting should be doing. None of this has to do with quantum mechanics. Mapping out the galaxy is for astronomy. Finding “when” we’ll cross the actual galactic plane is for an astrophysicist. Finding the supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center is for astronomy. Gravity waves are for general relativity (the opposite, pretty much, of quantum mechanics). And gravitational effects are Newtonian mechanics (classical mechanics). So really, this is an example of throwing out very important-sounding terminology and having no idea of what they actually mean, besides the actual information being wrong.

In sum, this will not be, “just like going into the black hole,” as Miller claims. And, as a consequence, his “theory” has now been shown to have absolutely no physical mechanism.

Earth’s Continents Staying Afloat: It’s difficult here to not resort to ad hominem attacks because this simply has no basis in reality. Pretty much the only thing correct in this entire argument is Earth’s equatorial diameter is 42.6 km greater than its polar diameter (from NASA’s factsheets). And it is thought that this is due to Earth’s rotation, that there will be a bulge around the middle that’s the effect of billions of years of rotation.

But other than that, nothing he says about this is correct. The continents don’t “float” such that if Earth’s spin were altered or stopped they’d suddenly sink (he quotes timescales of several hours or days for an entire landmass to sink). Centrifugal force does not keep them above water. Rather, they are less dense than the rock underneath. The average density of continental crust is 2.7 g/cm3. The average density of ocean crust is 3.0 g/cm3 That’s why at zones where oceanic meets continental crust, the oceanic crust goes underneath the continental crust. In addition, the continents have a “root” that goes between 20-70 km down, making an indentation into the underlying lithosphere.

What that all boils down to is that the continents are not tenuously kept above water just because Earth rotates. Claims that they are are incorrect and have no basis in what is the accepted structure of Earth as shown through models and evidence (such as gravity mapping and mapping of the interior structure via earthquakes).

So at this point I’ve now shown that his basic mechanism for a pole shift is wrong, and that his claim of what would happen as a consequence wouldn’t actually happen. But there’s more.

Examining His Historic Evidence: There are many, many points of apparent historic evidence for this that Miller points to To try to organize them a bit, I will address them as bullet paragraphs:

  • Continental Drift – Miller claims that we’ve all been taught that continental drift (the continents moving around on the lithosphere) takes millions of years. He says this is wrong, that it happens very quickly. The evidence he points to is that the crust in the Atlantic Ocean is about the same age – has the same amount of dead animals and mud and silt – as the crust in the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, they must be about the same age, indicating that the Americas separated from Eurasia and Africa very quickly. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of plate tectonics – specifically subduction. While the Atlantic Ocean is growing and the mid-Atlantic Rift is creating new crust, the Pacific Ocean is also creating new crust, but it is sinking once it spreads to the continental plates. The image below shows this reasonably well, and it is color-coded with the age of the seafloor. The dark, solid lines indicate either spreading or subduction zones. So, even if you don’t necessarily trust these ages, you should at least start to doubt the evidence and Miller’s interpretation of the evidence (an interpretation which is not supported by the scientific community).

  • Mayan Prophecy and Legend of Atlantis – Miller claims the Mayans foresaw this event. I have already addressed that in a few posts (here and here, mainly) and so will not do so again here. But Atlantis is a new one. But it is a tired one – Atlantis was introduced by Plato in the same sense that the Empire was introduced by George Lucas in Star Wars: “A long time ago on an island far, far away.” Miller uses the argument ad populum logical fallacy to say that because everyone around the world has this legend of an advanced civilization that had flying machines that all died out, they must have existed. And his twist is that they must have died out because of the pole shift causing their own island continent to sink into the ocean because Earth’s spin no longer kept it afloat. I don’t want to get too much more into Atlantis here since it’s not the focus, and so I will refer you to this 8-minute podcast of the SGU 5×5 for more information.
  • While talking about prophecy, I should mention that he also uses Nostradomus and Casey prophecies, which I won’t address because, as with most “prophecies,” they are so non-specific that they can be retrofitted to fit any event.
  • The Mississippi River Delta – Miller claims that the age of the Mississippi River can be estimated based upon the amount of sediments in the river delta in the Gulf of Mexico. I did a cursory internet search on this and couldn’t actually find much other than various young-Earth creationism claims, so for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s correct. He claims the estimates are to around 11,000 B.C. He says that the river must have formed when the pole shift happened and it shifted the way water flows. Well, how about a different explanation: The last ice age ended 10,0000-15,000 years ago, and retreating glaciers carved out the landscape to form the river. That’s the scientific consensus, in general, that the current Mississippi River owes its course to the last ice age, and it has nothing to do with a pole shift.
  • 705 B.C. Event – Miller claims that in 705 B.C., something happened to cause the Earth to stop spinning, rotate backwards for 10 hrs, then spin back the right way again but slightly slower such that the year had 365 days instead of 360 days. He claims as evidence for this that all 15 “major” calendar systems at the time were all revised “within just 2-5 years” of the event and that a few civilizations recorded it, such as the Chinese astronomers recording that the “sun set twice in one day” on that day. However, other than quotes from Miller, I could find absolutely no evidence to support this claim. And while I’m not saying that is proof against it, one should always be cautious when you cannot independently verify a claim. I would think something that significant would be out there, and so this also gets back to the point I made above that his people don’t publish any of their “findings” … they just sell them in DVDs for $24.95. I should also mention that the mechanism he thinks made this happen is a Planet X. But for reasons that I discuss below in the next section on “What Would it Take to Shift the Poles?” a “Planet X” passing could not do this. In addition, the claim is inconsistent. He states that so many people recorded that this event happened, and that many of them were excellent astronomers. But, they must have been incompetent astronomers if they didn’t notice a giant planet passing very close to Earth (since all ancient civilizations knew about Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn which are much farther away). So this would be the simple logical fallacy of inconsistency.

Examining His Present-Day Evidence: Just as there are many apparent lines of “evidence” of previous pole shifts that I’ve now at least cast serious doubt on if not outright debunked, there’s the question of his present-day “evidence.” However, what this “evidence” amounts to is an attempt to anomaly hunt and claim whatever anomalies one finds (or makes up) are proof of their hypothesis:

  • Chandler Wobble Stopped and Became Erratic – The Chandler Wobble is actually a kinda neat phenomenon and is a genuine pole shift. The wobble is where the rotation axis changes by up to about 0.7 arcseconds (where 1° = 60 arcmin and 1 arcmin = 60 arcsec) which translates to a physical movement of about 15 meters. The wobble has a period of about 433 days and is caused by Earth not being a perfect sphere, but rather more pear-shaped (Since, besides the equatorial bulge discussed above, the north and south hemispheres are slightly asymmetric). Miller claims that the Chandler Wobble was very steady until we entered his dark rift, and then it stopped, and now it’s erratic due to the gravity in the rift. However, he is wrong. There’s simply no other way to put it – he’s wrong. The wobble has varied since it was discovered in the late 1800s, and it has been measured since then and you can download the data for yourself. I graphed the x vs. y position of it since 1980 (shown below) and while it has varried in size, at no point during the last 30 years has it stopped, nor is it now behaving erratically. The only explanation I have for his claim is that either (a) he is completely ignorant of the actual data (perhaps one of his “quantum mechanics” told him wrong, or (b) he’s outright lying.

    Chandler Wobble, 1980-2009

    Chandler Wobble, 1980-2009

  • More and More Earthquakes – This has been a claim of doomsdayers for many years, that the frequency of earthquakes is increasing. This is not true. It’s our ability to measure and locate them that is increasing and hence they can be recorded. The large earthquakes – magnitude 5-6 and above – have remained steady for well over a century. This is according to the USGS (here and here), which is the data that Miller claims to be using. So again a case of inconsistency and just being ignorant of what’s really going on.
  • Weird Weather – This is another catch-all claim by doomsdayers, drawing attention the weird weather around the world (first snow in Baghdad in a century, record flooding and hurricanes, etc.). However, the scientific consensus is that this is due to global warming, where the few-degree temperature increase can easily cause global weather patterns to change, and it has nothing at all to do with the effects of a “dark rift.”

What Would it Take to Shift the Poles?

First off, let’s assume Miller’s basic mechanism of a gravitational event happening “to Earth” is real (assuming this for argument’s sake, and because it’s believed by many others, though they have different causes such as Planet X). If Earth entered a gravitational field of some sort, there is simply no mechanism to shift it (as in a pole shift). While, yes, Earth does rotate on its axis, this axis is an imaginary construct, there is nothing physical to pull on. This is where the analogy of a top spinning fails. And yes, while Earth does bulge at its equator, there is again nothing to really pull on it.

This is especially true when you consider that the field that Miller is proposing would take Earth 20 years to move through. You would need something incredibly focused (think tractor beam on Star Trek) in order to exert a torque (rotating force) on an object in order to spin it. A gravitational field could theoretically move Earth, but the type of field that Miller proposes could in no way exert a specific torque on Earth’s axis to shift the poles a certain amount and then stop.

What about a “Planet X?” Again, even a planet-sized body would exert a tug on Earth as a whole as opposed to through a specific axis and so could not effect a pole shift. I will address this further on a post specifically about what a Planet X could do.

So what would it really take to shift Earth’s poles? Well, in order to rotate something in any direction, you need to apply a force. That force has to be specifically in that direction on the part of the object to make it rotate in that way. For example, if you have a billiard ball and you want to spin it, you normally push it from a side (such as the top). You have provided the force to make it move. Now, if you were to apply that same force to the opposite side of the ball (so push away from you on both the top and the bottom), then it would just move away from you and not spin.

So in order to get Earth to rotate in a new direction, or to “shift” its poles, one would need to apply a lot of force in one direction on only one side. The easiest way I can think of doing this would be a planet-sized asteroid impact. As I have shown now on at least two other threads, even an impactor that is 100 km in diameter would be like a grain of sand plowing into a car. Sure, you’ll get a little dent (and wipe out some life), but the planet as a whole will not care. You need something that is much more comparable to Earth’s mass in order to really shift the poles. Something the size of the dwarf planet Ceres would do the trick – and that object is about 1000 km in diameter (Earth is about 12,900 km in diameter). And I should note that we know where all Ceres-sized objects are that are close enough to cause that to happen within the next few centuries. (Again, I will address that more on a post specifically about Planet X.)

Final Thoughts

This is by far my longest post over the last 4 months, over 50% longer than the previous record. And yet, again, I feel as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of just this version of the pole shift idea. Perhaps it’s because I’ve now listened to 4 hours of Coast-to-Coast AM (the two episodes for the 3 “hours” each that Brent Miller talks) three times each to really get down the bulk of his claims and ideas. And there is still more to get into from him, but for now I want to leave him and let this post stand on its own since it really covers the bulk of his claims. As I’ve stated on other conspiracy-related posts, it’s impossible to get into every single claim because more crop up as soon as you debunk one (much like conspiracy theories).

Hence I have tried to give you the basic information to be able to figure out why the idea of 2012 somehow coinciding with an event that will cause a geographic pole shift has no basis in reality by both debunking or calling into question all of his claims, as well as talking about what it would really take to shift Earth’s rotation axis. If you come across (or have) a claim that I haven’t addressed within this topic, please leave a comment!

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November 14, 2008

Logical Analysis of the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God


Introduction

As I’ve stated before (like here or here), creationists often use a seeming leap of scientific faith to justify a “proof” for the existence of God from somewhere within the Big Bang theory. So far, I’ve argued against specific scientific claims that would seem (to their proponents) to show why we need something divine to justify our existence.

In this post, however, I’m going to examine this from a purely logical standpoint, critiquing what apparently is known as the “Cosmological Argument” for the existence of (a) G/god(s).

The Claim

The Cosmological Argument actually has its roots at least as far back as Plato and Aristotle, over 2300 years ago. The main premise is that everything (all effects) must have a cause.

There are many different ways of positing the argument, some involve 6 steps, some 4 steps, and some 3 steps (like the one below). They all pretty much say the same thing.

Therefore, I’m going to go with the easier 3-step one, and I am specifically taking my cues for the version of this argument from this person’s blog post:

(1) The universe exists, and there must be an explanation for why it exists.

(2) There are only three possible explanations for why the universe exists: (a) It has always existed. (b) It created itself. (c) It was created by something outside of itself.

(3) Explanation (a) has serious scientific and philosophical problems. Explanation (b) is absurd. Therefore, the universe was created by God.

Critique

Part 1: From a philosophical argument, there really doesn’t need to be an explanation for why something exists. It could just exist. I choose to take 2 steps at a time occasionally “just ’cause,” there really doesn’t need to be any specific reason. So right off the bat, we have a faulty major premise.

If you choose to interpret this from a cause-and-effect argument – the “effect” of the universe existing must have a cause – I would argue that this is not necessarily true. Science’s current concept of the “universe” is, by definition, “everything” and that includes space and time. Therefore, if time did not exist “before” the universe formed, how could there be a cause?

Some may argue that this itself is a logical fallacy of “Special Pleading,” meaning that in this one particular case I am arguing that the rules by which we live and are normally subject to don’t really apply in this special case. I would partially agree with this … however, I would also make the point that the formation of the cosmos is a special case, and the rules by which we live now were likely not in existence “before” the universe came into existence.

Part 2: I would agree that, logically, the three possible explanations for “why” the universe exists are likely correct, though I would point out that this could be a case of the “False Dichotomy” (or I guess “false trichotomy”) logical fallacy: Those three options may not actually be all the possible explanations. We may just not know, especially considering that we’re talking about something that happened “before” the creation of our universe. But let’s examine each of them, anyway:

Part 3: I would agree that, taken at its face, 2(a) does have some scientific problems. Evidence that I have talked about before does seem to show that the universe – at least as we now know it – had a definite beginning. However, that may not actually be the case. Stephen Hawking has posited the idea that the universe and time may be closed, but unbound. To get an idea about what this means, think of a sphere: You could walk along the surface of a sphere literally forever and never come to the edge of it. Therefore it’s closed (it’s a finite size) but unbound (the geometry has no edges, no beginning nor end).

To say that 2(b) is “absurd” is an ad hominem logical fallacy that just ridicules it without providing a reason why it would be false, rather just implying that its false by name-calling. Granted, this is akin to the “Grandfather” paradox of time travel, where it sometimes is put such that you can’t go back in time and kill your grandfather because then you never would have been born to go back in time and kill your grandfather. Another slight wrinkle on this that is less of a paradox and more of an incestual scenario is that you go back in time, kill your “grandfather,” and then end up “arranging things” [rated PG blog] such that you become your own real grandfather.

That seemingly shouldn’t be “allowed” to happen, but again, since we are dealing with the universe itself, there are possible ways that the universe could have caused its own formation. For example, some ideas are that there was a previous universe that went through a “Big Crunch” and then rebound, forming our own universe. In that sense, the previous “universe” was the parent of our own “universe.” However, I’m not sure if any actual theoretical cosmologists put stock in that scenario, so I’m willing to grant that 2(b) is unlikely, but not “absurd.”

The original post then simply states that 2(c) is the only logical conclusion, that something else must have created the universe. The person then commits two HUGE logical fallacies of a non-sequitur – that that “something” that created the universe must have been God (in other words, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the something that created it was “God”) – and the fallacy of the Unstated Major Premise – that “God” actually exists.

To give you an example of why this is an “absurd” argument, think of this scenario: I come across a bird in the forest, sitting on a tree. I have never seen another animal before, nor do I know how it could have been formed, so I follow an apparent line of logic to figure out how it formed: I reason that the bird must have a cause. The cause could be the bird (a) always existed, (b) created itself, or (c) something else created it. (a) is has problems, (b) is “absurd,” and so I reason that God created it. But to you, an outside observer, you realize that I just made a major leap of literally “faith” to go from “something” created it to “God” created it … when more likely it hatched from an egg that was created by its parents and (a) G/god(s) had nothing to do with it even if (s)he/it even exists.

Other Critiques

There are other possible scientific explanations for how our universe came into being. “Brane Theory” is one, that holds that multidimensional membranes somehow interacted to create the universe. Others involve the cyclical approach I mentioned above. Another is that we represent a “pocket” of inflation from another, different, larger universe. We don’t know, but to attribute something that we don’t know to (a) divine creator(s) is yet another logical fallacy, the God of the Gaps.

Another, major, weakness of this argument is … Who/What created God? If everything must have a cause, and the idea that nothing has “always” existed, then what created God? This is a special pleading case as well as an example of the Inconsistency logical fallacy, where they’re stating that the universe can’t not have a cause, but God can.

Further Reading

Much more intelligent philosophers than I have argued about the Cosmological Argument. I invite you to read some other sources (some pro, some con):

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