Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 27, 2014

Follow-Up on Saturn’s Moon Titan, its Craters, and its “Youth”


As a quick follow-up to my last blog post, a reader wrote in and their comment was published on the Creation.com website. From Mark V. of New Zealand:

You mentioned that Titan has fewer impact craters than would be expected. Does this mean that a moon or a planet which has a lot of impact craters such as earth’s moon Mercury Mars etc. is therefore old? I would suggest that the reason for the few craters is Saturn, which with its much higher gravity, would draw the various comets meteors etc away from Titan.

The CMI (Creation.com / Creation Ministries International) astronomy guy, Jonathan Sarfati, responded (links removed):

In answer to your question, no it does not. This would be committing the fallacy of denying the antecedent, as explained in Logic and Creation. The explanation for lots of craters on the moon is a brief intense swarm of meteoroids, travelling on parallel paths, probably during the Flood year. This is supported by ghost craters, evidence of rapid succession of impacts, and by the fact that 11 of the 12 maria are in one quadrant, evidence that the major impacts occurred before the moon had even moved far enough in one orbit (month) to show a different face to the swarm. See On the origin of lunar maria and A biblically-based cratering theory.

In my original blog post, I said there were two alternative ideas to cratering that would save the creationist idea behind this article:

The alternative is that the crater calibration stuff is off, and radiometric dating is wrong. So, the Moon is not 4 billion years old, it’s 6000 years old. With the crater population of Titan, that means Titan can only be, oh, around 15-150 years old. Except that it was discovered in 1655.

Or, the entire crater calibration stuff is completely wrong. Which means you can’t use it to say Titan’s surface is young, which is what he is claiming — that it is young because scientists are showing it’s young because it has few craters.

When writing that, I specifically left out the special pleading idea even though I thought that CMI would probably try to use that in responding to anyone’s question. Which they did. The special pleading is that, “Hey, we actually can’t use the Moon as a guide to cratering because its craters came in a quick, special burst!” (that some creationists attribute to Noah’s Flood because, well, ¿why not?)

I left that out because it’s really a form of my second alternative: The crater calibration techniques are bogus, you can’t use them. By Jonathan Sarfati claiming that the lunar cratering is unique and special, it means that the cratering calibration is way off because cratering chronology is BASED on the Moon. And, if it’s off, if we don’t know how to calibrate any ages with craters, then you can’t possibly use them to say Titan’s surface is young or old, which is the basis of the claim that the CMI article is based on.

So again, this doesn’t solve the problem, it introduces more problems and shows yet again that the young-Earth creation model is internally inconsistent.

You can be a young-Earth creationist and claim Titan is young (you’ll be wrong, but you can claim it). Just don’t use the crater chronology to do it. If you do, you’ll wind up going in circles as I’ve demonstrated in this and the previous post. Why? Because it’s inherently inconsistent to do so. If the consequence of a CONSISTENT crater chronology were that Titan’s surface was <6000 years old, then that would be the mainstream science thinking on the subject. It's not. Because the crater chronology doesn't show it, if you use a consistent chronology across solar system bodies.

December 19, 2011

Follow-Up on Creationists Not Liking ET Life


Introduction

In my last post, “Creationists Really Don’t Like ET Life,” I talked some about the philosophy young-Earth creationists (YECs) seem to have about ET life and discussed a few specific factually wrong statements that an article from Creation Ministries International had on its website regarding the discovery of the planet Kepler-22b.

In the “Final Thoughts” section, I stated that I had submitted feedback to them pointing out the two factual mistakes, and that I would post here if I actually got any reaction. I didn’t expect one.

The Response

But I got one. My comment to them, in full, with my full name was:

Hi, I just wanted to let you know you have at least two factual errors in your article. First, “astrobiology” was coined in English in 1903 from the French according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=astrobiology). NASA was not created until 1958, and NASA’s Origins program was not formed until the 1990s (http://history.nasa.gov/factsheet.htm), well after this term was in use.

Second, exoplanets have been directly imaged, over three years ago. A simple Google search for “exoplanet imaged” yields headlines like, “Astronomers Capture First Exoplanet Images” and “Hubble Takes First Visible Light Image of Extrasolar Planet.”

I recommend correcting your article.

In my e-mail inbox this morning, in its entirety:

Dear Mr Robbins

Thank you for your constructive criticism.

All the same, I don’t think there are errors that you claim. It may well be that “astrobiology” is not a new term, but it is a new field of research as the article claimed. Similarly, one could call “computers” a very new development, certainly for most of the public. But the word “computer” is actually over two centuries older than the word “dinosaur”.

As for the other claimed error, We don’t deny the existence of extrasolar planets, as should be clear from articles on http://creation.com/solar-exoplanet-qa, and a recent overview article in Creation magazine. But this doesn’t mean all claims are right; so the phrase is not wrong. We wrote a while ago http://creation.com/focus-211, and indeed it’s about the very man quoted in the article you wanted us to find:

Paul Kalas, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, is one evolutionist who believes that other planets will be found. But he asks whether many claims are the result of ‘planet mania.’

This is ‘a bias among astronomers in which every cavity and blob, even a wiggle, in circumstellar dust disks [disks surrounding a star] is taken as evidence for extrasolar planets.’

Kalas also points out there are huge leaps in logic. For example, some astronomers argued that a star called HR 4796 is the right age to form planets, so certain observations should be explained by planets. Kalas points out that this is like a doctor diagnosing cancer because you are the right age to have cancer.

The Argumentum ad Googlem is something of a fallacy in itself. The rare point image of a planet is fairly recent but again a point of light is a bit different from a real surface image. Until fairly recently, even stars were only seen as points of light; only in the last 15 years has an actual surface of a star been seen, and that was the huge supergiant Betelgeuse. Hubble was very excited at the time http://zuserver2.star.ucl.ac.uk/~idh/apod/ap960122.html “the first direct picture of the surface of a star other than the Sun. ”
The article has now been re-worded a bit to incorporate the above.

Regards

Jonathan Sarfati

You may vaguely recognize that name as I mocked him in this post for listing his full name and title in a CMI article he wrote on Earth’s magnetic field: “Dr Jonathan D. Sarfati B.Sc. (Hons.), Ph.D., F.M.”

Is Astrobiology a New Term?

No, as I discussed last time, it’s not. This is the text of the CMI article I was critiquing:

NASA’s Origins program is dedicated to looking for habitable planets that might harbor life. Their endeavours spawned a new field of research called ‘astrobiology’, which is to specifically search for the evolution of life wherever it might occur in the universe.

I can see now that perhaps they weren’t saying NASA invented a term, but now unequivocally they are claiming it spawned “a new field of research.” To quote from a conference abstract entitled, “Some elements for the history of astrobiology:”

A study about life in the Universe [appeared] in a French journal of popular science as early as 1935 (Sternfeld 1935). … As early as 1941 the word “astrobiology’ was defined by Lafleur as “The consideration of life in the universe elsewhere than on Earth.” … The first American symposium in astrobiology was held in 1957 (Wilson, and following papers, 1958) … . Astrobiology is not a science as young as generally thought.

The Correction

Out of potential interest to readers, here is the exact text of the original CMI posting (I was critiquing the second sentence):

Although many extrasolar planets are assumed to exist, we should keep in mind the methods used to detect them. Firstly, we have never witnessed or directly observed (i.e. with our eyes through a telescope) a planet outside of our own solar system. They are presumed to exist through indirect methods of observation. In the case of this latest find, Kepler 22b was detected using the transit method. This is where the planet’s host or nearby star’s light is seen to dim when the alleged planet passes in front of it and between our line of sight from the earth.

The new posting states, with some links left in, and strikethroughs indicating removal and underline being additions (my markup):

Although many extrasolar planets are assumed to exist, we should keep in mind the methods used to detect them. Firstly, we have never witnessed or directly observed (i.e. with our eyes through a telescope) a planet outside of our own solar system. They are presumed to exist through indirect methods of observation. In the case of this latest find, Kepler 22b was detected using the transit method. This is where the planet’s host or nearby star’s light is seen to dim when the alleged planet passes in front of it and between our line of sight from the earth. We have not seen the surface of a planet directly. In fact, until recently, not seen stars as anything but points of light. Only in 1996 did the Hubble Space Telescope see “the first direct picture of the surface of a star other than the Sun”—the red supergiant Betelgeuse, 1000 times the sun’s diameter. However, in 2008, a planet was observed from direct light reflection around the big, close, white star Fomalhaut.

Final Thoughts

First, no, I’m not going to respond as I don’t think it’s worth belaboring the point further. I was impressed I got a response at all.

I still disagree with the first one on NASA founding astrobiology for the reasons I pointed out above (it’s wrong …).

I’m impressed that they actually corrected the other point. It goes from pure denial originally to a basic news report that they seem to be struggling to spin their way but not really being sure how to do so anymore. Originally it was “None exist, we can’t see them,” to “Okay, some definitely exist but we still don’t think these others do and even if we do we can’t see their surface so so what?” It’s potentially colored by my own view of YECs, but it seems like a 5-year-old who’s lost an argument but still trying to stamp away with some thoughts of dignity.

I also wasn’t aware of an “argumentum ad Googlem.” Fascinating logical fallacy, though I think incorrectly applied in this case. I was pointing out that if they were at all familiar with the topic or had done any simple research, they would have not made a factual mistake of stating that no planet had been directly imaged. Now, if I were trying to use the argument to say they needed to include the Pacific Northwest tree octopus, then that might be considered an “argumentum ad Googlem.”

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.

August 9, 2011

Does Earth’s Decaying Magnetic Field Mean it Was Created 6000 Years Ago?


Introduction

I took a look through my blog posts for the last nearly three years and was actually surprised to find that I have not yet addressed one of the main young-Earth Christian creationist (YEC) claims for why at least Earth supposedly cannot be more than 6000 years old: Earth’s decaying magnetic field.

A recent Creation.com article by Dr Jonathan D. Sarfati B.Sc. (Hons.), Ph.D., F.M., reminded me of this. Let’s take a look.

The Background Science Observations

People discovered magnetism centuries ago, and it was really explored and formalized by – what I fondly refer to – as the Old Dead White Guys between about the 1700s and 1800s. (Yes, I realize that women and non-white people have made significant contributions to science and continue to do so, and that the Arab world kept science going while Europe was in the dark ages. But, let’s be objective: Most of the basic fundamentals of science today were figured out by white European men between the 1600s and early 1900s. We’re talking Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Gauss, Kelvin, Maxwell, Einstein, and Schrödinger here.)

Moving on, ship captains used Earth’s global magnetic field to navigate, but even in the 1700s, they realized that Earth’s magnetic field changes from year-to-year. In fact, they had to purchase new maps to correct for magnetic pointings to actually know where they were. Without a correct and current map, they could be off by tens or hundreds of miles — something significant when that reef is coming up.

Around the turn of 1900, scientists were able to start to accurately measure the global magnetic field strength. They have continued to measure it over the past century. What has been found is that the field strength is decreasing. Between 1900 and 2000, the field strength has decreased by very roughly 6%. Based on crustal rocks, we have been able to tell that the decline is about 35% from what it was about 2000 years ago, and it seems to have accelerated a little bit over the past few years.

Another interesting tidbit of information is that in the 1920s, geologists noticed that some volcanic rocks were magnetized in the opposite direction to the current magnetic field. When more and more like that were found, and when they were dated, it was discovered that Earth’s magnetic field seems to have gone through many reversals throughout its history. (If this at all sounds familiar, it’s possibly because my most popular post of all time with 10s of thousands of views, “Planet X and 2012: The Pole Shift (Magnetic) Explained and Debunked,” talks about geomagnetic field reversals, too.)

We also know that the current magnetic north pole is moving, traveling towards Russia at something like 50 km per year, while the south magnetic pole is moving somewhat more slowly these days, but it moved more quickly in the early 1900s.

What this does is paint a picture of a dynamic process that creates a global magnetic field that changes with time, the change being to its strength, specific pole locations, and even overall orientation.

Enter the young-Earth creationists.

Creationist Scenario 1

There are actually two scenarios proposed by different YECs to use this to promote their worldview. The first is one that I could not find anyone who still believes it other than “Dr.” Kent Hovind, a YEC who calls magnetic reversals “just a bunch of baloney … this is a lie talking about ‘magnetic reversals'” (from “Creation Science Evangelism” Series, DVD 6.1).

Anyway, the scenario is summarized by this paragraph:

“In the 1970s, the creationist physics professor Dr Thomas Barnes noted that measurements since 1835 have shown that the field is decaying at 5% per century (also, archaeological measurements show that the field was 40% stronger in AD 1000 than today). Barnes, the author of a well-regarded electromagnetism textbook, proposed that the earth’s magnetic field was caused by a decaying electric current in the earth’s metallic core … . Barnes calculated that the current could not have been decaying for more than 10,000 years, or else its original strength would have been large enough to melt the earth. So the earth must be younger than that.”

That quote is actually from the article in question for this blog post, “The earth’s magnetic field: evidence that the earth is young” by “Dr Jonathan D. Sarfati B.Sc. (Hons.), Ph.D., F.M.” As a side note, I find it interesting that he feels the need to flout his degrees. It’s like me calling myself “Dr. Stuart J. Robbins B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Th.D. (Hon.)” (yes, I have an honorary doctorate in theology from Thunderwood College).

So the basic idea is that if you trace the field strength back in time, based on its current trend, then you reach a point before 10,000 years ago when the field would have been too strong to (a) be physically possible or (b) to allow life to exist.

Seems plausible, except we have that pesky thing of magnetic reversals. And that thing about extrapolating past trends for 100x the length we observe the current trend for something that’s as dynamic as a magnetic field is pretty stupid.

Creationist Scenario 2

The second scenario was done by Dr. Russell Humphreys, a person that, if you are familiar with YEC “science”-based claims, you likely have run into before. From the Creation.com article I referenced before:

“The physicist Dr Russell Humphreys believed that Dr Barnes had the right idea, and he also accepted that the reversals were real. He modified Barnes’ model to account for special effects of a liquid conductor, like the molten metal of the earth’s outer core. … Now, as discussed in Creation 19(3), 1997, Dr John Baumgardner proposes that the plunging of tectonic plates was a cause of the Genesis Flood. Dr Humphreys says these plates would have sharply cooled the outer parts of the core, driving the convection. This means that most of the reversals occurred in the Flood year, every week or two. And after the Flood, there would be large fluctuations due to residual motion. But the reversals and fluctuations could not halt the overall decay pattern — rather, the total field energy would decay even faster (see graph above).”

The graph referred to is something that I have recreated as a vector graphic and used before in a presentation. I show it below:

Magnetic Field During the Flood (Young-Earth Creationist Model)

Magnetic Field During the Flood (Young-Earth Creationist Model)

When I’ve done talks on this, I explain it as, “Supposedly, we started at a high field intensity during creation, it decayed, then dropped to zero at the beginning of the flood, reversed a lot really quickly, started to climb back up to reach a relative high around the time of Jesus – I guess he had a magnetic personality [pause for laughs] – and then continued to decay as before like nothing happened.”

I’m reminded of the disclaimer during the South Park episode about Scientology that stated, “YES, SCIENTOLOGISTS REALLY BELIEVE THIS!” Yes, YECs really believe this, at least some of them. I’m really not sure what else to say here — it’s just kinda laughable; it makes no sense, and it’s pretty much 100% up to the creationists to provide any evidence for it.

I should also note that the evidence shows there have been dozens if not hundreds of these reversals throughout time. Now, my understanding was the Judeo-Christian biblical flood lasted 40 days. And then roughly a year before they went away (um, where?). So you’d need to flip that field something like once every three days for that to work out, just FYI.

A Test for Scenario 2?

I’m impressed that the Creation.com article actually does propose a test:

Dr Humphreys also proposed a test for his model: magnetic reversals should be found in rocks known to have cooled in days or weeks. For example, in a thin lava flow, the outside would cool first, and record earth’s magnetic field in one direction; the inside would cool later, and record the field in another direction.

The article then claims that two researchers, Robert Coe and Michel Prévot, found just such examples where lava that must have cooled within 15 days had a full reversal within the layer: “Three years after this prediction, leading researchers Robert Coe and Michel Prévot found a thin lava layer that must have cooled within 15 days, and had 90° of reversal recorded continuously in it.”

Their work was done in 1989, and actually published in a reputable journal (one that I just got two co-authored papers accepted in, if I may add). With the wonders of the internet, and people posting their papers on their personal websites, you can view it yourself. IF you’re a close reader, you can quickly see that the Creation.com article does misstate their research, for their paper clearly states they found evidence of a change of 3°/day, which means it would be 60 days for a full 180° flip.

I actually contacted Dr. Coe, who is a faculty member at UC Santa Cruz in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department. I explained the situation and asked him for his “side” of the story. (I forgot to ask him permission to post his response — if he gets back to me and says no, I’ll remove it.)

“In both our papers proposing a rapid field change hypothesis it was for episodes during a reversal. We explicitly stated that there was no evidence suggesting that the reversal occurred in less than the several thousand years duration typical for polarity changes. We have recently been working more on that same reversal, and our paper should be published this month (Jarboe et al., Geophysical Journal International). In it we show that the second directional jump is almost certainly due to a temporal gap in the lava-flow succession rather than rapid field motion. [emphasis mine]

“I wish you well in your campaign against creationism.”

I think if the main author of the paper the YECs cite says that they have misinterpreted his work, we can lay this to rest, despite the article’s claim: “This was staggering news to them and the rest of the evolutionary community, but strong support for Humphreys’ model.”

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure why it took me so long to do a post on the creationist claim of a decaying magnetic field being evidence for recent creation. Oh well.

Anyway, I hope that if you have some creationist leanings and have thought that this claim held charge, that you have at least begun to re-examine it and will dig deeper. DON’T take my word for it, but use this as a starting point to inquire further.

If you are someone on the fence, I hope this will push you over onto the side of real science and not the side of making things up.

And if you were already science-minded and didn’t believe the YEC side, but you didn’t know exactly how to refute this particular argument, I hope that I have helped arm you for the future.

P.S. Based on the Creation.com article number, I don’t actually think that it is very recent, but it was at least (re-)posted in the last few days of writing this.

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