Exposing PseudoAstronomy

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.

March 28, 2010

When Encyclopedias Are Bad: A Closer Look at Conservapedia – “Mars”


Introduction

Last week, I wrote an article about how Conservapedia calls “black holes” and “dark matter” “liberal pseudoscience” in a very “huh?” moment. It still is confusing to me why they would waste mental energy on calling those things “liberal pseudoscience.” But I digress.

I thought I might take a closer look at some of their actual astronomy articles. Since I’ve been studying Mars for the last 4 years fairly in-depth, looking at their article on Mars seemed like a natural article to take a peek at.

I found what I expected – creationism and “problems for evolutionists” – but I also found what I didn’t expect – gross errors in information and zero references to back up most of what was stated.

The Good

I’ll start out by showing that I’m not completely out to “diss” Conservapedia. Their article has some good things. It correctly states that Mars is the 4th planet from the sun, for example. It gives the interesting factoid that researchers with missions on the planet will often adopt a “Mars day” work schedule that’s about a 25-hr day (as opposed to Earth’s 24-hr day). It talks correctly about what causes seasons on Mars. It even (mostly) correctly discusses the whole “face on Mars” issue.

The “Eh, That’s Wrong, But It’s Minor”

Let’s first deal with some assertions. Specifically, near the beginning, it states that Mars’ 26-month synodic period makes it a “particularly difficult object to explore, [sic]because opportunities to launch a rocket probe to Mars occur so far apart in time.” Rather, Mars is pretty much the easiest planet or planet-like object to get to by spacecraft, except for our moon. It’s close by, there’s NO WAY that the world’s space programs are funded enough to make craft to visit the planet more often than every ~1.5-2 years, and we can actually land on it and survive as opposed to the actual closest planet to us – Venus.

Towards the end, it discusses exploration of Mars. It states, “Mars has been the subject of more attempts to explore it, and more failures, than any other planet.” This is wrong. To-date, at least based on NASA’s Chronology of Venus Exploration and Chronology of Mars Exploration, Mars has had 40 missions, while Venus 43. Minor, but still a mistake.

Under their “Young Mars Creation Model” (see below for more on that), it states, “Discoveries by the Mars Excursion Rover Opportunity have led …” Unfortunately for Conservapedia, The MER craft acronym stands for, “Mars Exploration Rover,” not “Excursion.” Minor, but slightly humorous.

The Bad

Note: This section will not address the creationist stuff, look to the next for that.

I was reading through the page and the biggest thing to stand out was the following two paragraphs:

“Mars contains the largest of three major geologic features in the Solar System. The largest impact basin, the largest volcanoes and the largest canyon are all found on Mars and in a clear relationship to each other. This relationship provides the key to understanding Martian geology.

“Mars’ largest impact basin is called Hellas. As shown in the topography map, on exactly the other side of Mars from Hellas is Mount Alba Patera, the largest volcano by surface area. This antipodal juxtaposition suggests that the Hellas impact caused the eruptions of Alba Patera and the volcanoes of the Tharsis plateau to the south and southwest. To the east is found the gigantic rift valley called Valles Marineris.”

Alright, there are a few things here. First, a very minor one. “Alba Patera” is the name of the volcano, not “Mount Alba Patera.” When features were originally assigned names when we got the first good images back from spacecraft, “Mons” (singular) / “Montes” (plural) were given to very large and obvious mountains, “Patera” (singular) / “Paterae” (plural) were assigned to very large, irregularly shaped features, and “Tholus” (singular) / “Tholi” (plural) were assigned to “small” mountains or hills. Nothing has two designations. And later imagery revealed some of the montes, paterae, and tholi were volcanoes.

Moving on, I don’t want to concentrate on the whole Alba Patera is antipodal to Hellas Basin. Suffice to say, the ages don’t really work out. It’s possible, but it is no way a given that this is the case.

Rather, I want to focus on the other information given on Hellas: According to this article, Hellas Basin is the largest crater on Mars, and it’s the largest crater in the solar system. Wow.

In a word: NO.

First off, let’s put some numbers down. Hellas Basin< is very roughly 2200 km across and about 9 km deep (it’s difficult to measure the diameter because no one actually knows where the rim is, so you have different people making different estimates). For comparison, that’s just friggin’ big. It’s well over half the size of the United States.

But it’s not the biggest in the solar system, and it’s not even Mars’ largest.

Check out Utopia Planitia on Mars. It’s pretty much due north of Hellas, and it pre-dates Hellas by roughly 400 million years. It is also roughly 50% larger than Hellas, having a diameter of about 3300 km and being about 4-5 km deep on present-day Mars. Now that’s big. But to be fair, I suppose that Conservapedia’s article can be saved if we say that by “biggest” they mean “deepest.” Oh, and if you want to play around on Mars, looking at various features, I highly recommend Google Mars.

Anyway, Utopia is by far the largest impact basin on Mars. Or is it? The largest topographic feature on Mars is its crustal dichotomy – the north is low and flat and young (at least its visible surface), while the south is high and hilly and old. Again, check out Google Mars and zoom out. There have been many, many explanations proposed for this dichotomy, but the latest one to be shown to be viable is that of a really really big impact, very early in Mars’ history. Being a guy who studies craters, I like this idea, but I do think it has awhile to be shown somewhat conclusively. In this case, it is possible that even Utopia is just second place to an impact “basin” that covers nearly half the planet.

Moving on, though, we have the moon. Discovered on the lunar far side about 50 years ago resides the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This thing is also big. It’s about 2300 km in diameter – so bigger across than Hellas but not Utopia – but a whopping 13 km deep. So now, our goal of saving Conservapedia’s article by saying “biggest” means “deepest” doesn’t work, either. Oh, and there’s also Google Moon to have fun with.

The Creationist Take

In any normal article talking about Mars, I don’t think anyone would expect sections about young-Earth creationism. But, *gasp*, Conservapedia does.

It first shows up in the discussion about Mars’ magnetic field. There is none. There are pockets of crustal magnetism that locally are stronger than Earth’s, but there is no global magnetic field. In the section on Mars’ “magnetosphere,” it directly refers to Russell Humphreys, who is a creationist whose ideas I’ve discussed on this blog before.

It next comes up in the entire section on, “Problems for Uniformitarian Theories” (that’s code for old-Earth) that talks again about Mars’ magnetic field. Except, rather, it talks more about how Mercury’s magnetic field is an open question for astronomers rather than Mars’.

Finally, we get to the entire section, “Young Mars Creation Model.” I’m not entirely certain how anything that they discuss in the section actually supports their conclusion of: “This shows that, like Earth, Mars has evidence that it is only a few thousands of years old and not 4.6 billion years old.”

It does state, “The dating of [Hellas basin formation triggering Alba Patera’s volcanism] from craters places it at about the time of the Great Flood on Earth.” Of course, this is completely uncited. But being someone who actually studies craters on Mars and has the largest database of said craters in existence, I can unequivocally state that the craters on Mars’ present-day surface show it to be ancient – over 4 billion years old.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps I’m being unfair. After all, the editor of the page that put up the bulk of the information I talked about has no background in astronomy. Rather, he’s in charge of Conservapedia’s attempt to re-write the Bible. And in the spirit of Wikis, perhaps I should attempt to edit the page myself to make the corrections (fat chance …).

But rather, I think this serves as an example of two things. First, it’s another example of how Conservapedia should not by any stretch of the imagination be considered a good source for scientific information.

Second, it shows that encyclopedias in general should not be taken as gospel. Students should not use them as their source material. They may use them as a starting point, but they need to look at the references, evaluate them, and in the end find actual original source material.

December 21, 2008

Creationist Claim: Spiral Galaxies “Wind Up” Too Fast for an Old Universe


Introduction

In preparation for a few public lectures I’ll be doing in the next 6 months, I wanted to address another one of the three main (that I’ve see) straight-forward young-earth Creationist claims about astronomy that “prove” we live in a young universe: Spiral galaxies “wind themselves up too fast.”

This is actually the #1 claim in Russ Humphrey’s treatise on “Evidence for a Young World” that you can find on sites such as Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research (e.g., this link).

Note that the #2 reason presented is that comets would disintegrate too quickly (which I’ve addressed here) and the #5 claim (#3 astronomy claim) is that the Earth’s magnetic field is decaying too quickly, which I will address in a future blog post.

About Spiral Galaxies

Spiral galaxies, such as the one above (M101), are generally medium- to large-sized congregations of stars. They have either a bulge in the center or a bar in the center. The bulk of the galaxy is a disk (much wider than it is thick) that contains spiral arms. For more basic information on galaxies, see this link.

The feature in question in creationist circles is these subjectively beautiful spiral arms themselves. The trick is that these arms are not “solid.” It is not the case that stars either always exist within a spiral arm or they always exist outside of an arm. Rather, the arms are constantly picking up stars and losing others. What the arms represent are just density waves.

The common analogy to think of is cars on a highway. You may be driving along with many dozens or hundreds of meters between you and the car in front of you. Then, for no apparent reason, you start to get much closer to the car in front of you. And then, for the next several kilometers, there are only maybe five to ten meters between you and the car ahead of you. Afterwards, traffic seems to thin out again and there’s a large distance between you and the next car.

What you have just experienced is a density wave. You are a star, traveling the road that is an orbit around the galaxy, and every now-and-then you find yourself in a density wave where you have to slow down.

The mechanism that perpetuates the density waves – why they don’t just dissipate – is that as a star approaches a density wave, it will speed up slightly due to the gravity of the stars there. And as a star is about to leave a density wave, it will slow down a little, again because of the higher gravity there. So they won’t just smooth out over time.

How did the spiral arms get there in the first place? The main idea here is that all you need is a disk of stars. Stars closest to the center of the disk will need to rotate around it faster than those near the edge, just like planets in our solar system (Mercury’s velocity around the sun is much faster than Earth’s). This can easily set up the initial differential rotation needed to start them.

In addition to this, stars do not orbit on circular paths, rather on elliptical ones (Kepler’s first law). When farthest from the center, their velocity will be at its slowest (Kepler’s second law). When you have just a few extra stars traveling a little slower in some parts of a differentially rotating disk, then you will get spiral patterns.

The Creationist Claim

To quote from a source other than Russ Humphreys: “Stars closer to the center of a spiral galaxy orbit the galaxy faster than stars farther away. Over many millions of years, the difference in orbital rates should wind the spiral tighter and tighter. We do not see any evidence for this in galaxies of different ages.” (This is from the Creation Wiki website.)

Problems with the Creationist Claim

The problem with this is that it rests upon the unstated major premise that density waves are physical parts of galaxies that contain a set of stars that is unchanging. That way, the differential rotation will cause them to “wind up” into a featureless disk. As I have already explained above, this is simply not the case. Galaxies are not like figure skaters.

Another problem is a timescale here. Russ Humphreys may be correct when he places a maximum age of “a few hundred million years” on his fallacious understanding of the theory of spiral galaxies. However, many others, including the one quoted above, will say “many millions of years,” or even “thousands of years.”

Those time scales are way too short. The sun takes about 250 million years to orbit around the galaxy once (as anyone who watches Monty Python knows). There is no way that – even given their faulty understanding of the model – galaxies would “wind up” within less than 1% the time it takes a star half-way from the center (about where we are) to complete a single orbit. This is actually a fairly good example (like comets) about how creationists often don’t understand the timescales involved with astronomical phenomena.

Creationist Refutes of the “Naturalistic” Refutes

(1) To quote again from the Creation Wiki website, the very first response to the explanation I have given is, “First of all this is a theory not a proven fact.” This is, to put it nicely, a bogus argument. As I have stated many times on this blog, a scientific theory is when a hypothesis has withstood all attempts to falsify it, and all data are explained by it. So even them saying it’s a theory is an admission of that. However, “theory” is often used in a derogatory manner by creationists because the colloquial definition is more along the lines of, “a vague idea.”

(2) The next response is, “Furthermore, it does not come from first principles, but is simply the latest in a series of theories designed to save the long age theoretical system from reality.” Well, yes it does come from first principles. Try running a computer model of spiral galaxies, and you’ll see it work pretty darn well after only plugging in “first principles” like gravity.

The next part of that, “series of theories,” is not as derogatory as they intend. Science progresses. If one theory has explained all the data to-date but then the next piece it can’t explain, then a new theory needs to be developed. This, of course, is in contrast to creationism where evidence that refutes their “theory” is simply tossed out the door.

The final part of that sentence, “series of theories designed to save the long age theoretical system from reality,” is simply an attempt to paint what I’ve presented as an Argument from Final Consequences (logical fallacy) when it simply is not.

(3) The final claims, that observations of M51 have shown that the arms in the center don’t fit with this theory – is a misreading of the technical literature. The reference given (Zaritsky et al. (1993), “Inner spiral structure of the galaxy M51,” Nature, 364) clearly states:

The coherence of the arms over this large radial range challenges current theories of spiral structure. We suggest that a combination of several mechanisms, such as the interaction of M51 with the neighboring galaxy NGC5195, forcing by the central ‘bar’, or distortions from density waves, is required to generate the observed structure.

No where does it “[call] into serious question [the spiral density wave theory] by the
Hubble Space Telescope’s discovery of very detailed spiral structure
in the central hub of the ‘Whirlpool’ galaxy, M51,” to quote Humphreys. Rather, it states that just using a simple model that I laid out that you would get in an introductory astronomy class does not tell the whole story. It tells a lot of it. But you do need other information in order to explain every detail of the observations.

Final Thoughts

I think that with this post, I’ve fairly tidily explained why creationist arguments for a young universe based on spiral galaxies are fallacious, generally falling subject to a gross misunderstanding of the theories involved, the technical literature, and various other, smaller, factors.

I also want readers to remember that I am not trying to undermine religion. Faith in a divine creator is a completely separate issue. It is only when people use that faith as a starting point to make testable, scientific claims that I will explore them and refute them if fallacious enough.

November 10, 2008

What Does it Mean to “Prove” the Big Bang? – De-Mything the “Myth” that It Has Not Been “Proven”


Introduction

The Big Bang is one of the fundamental theories (and I do mean “theory” in a scientific sense) of modern cosmology. It describes what happened just after the universe formed, how primordial matter was made, and the growth of structures like galaxies and superclusters of galaxies.

Being so fundamental in nature, it is not surprising that people who want to try to use astronomy to support a religious creation mythology try to mythify it, or at least cast enough doubt and suspicion on its plausibility that their adherents will take their word for it. (This is not a straw man on my part, but it is discussed in the broadcast (below) for several minutes towards the end.)

This entry is based on refuting the “Myth that the Big Bang Has Been Proven” Institute for Creation Research radio broadcast, originally aired on December 11, 1999, and re-aired on June 22, 2002.

Background Information

I don’t really have enough room here (and you likely don’t want to read) to go into the whole theory of Big Bang Cosmology, nor to really discuss in-depth the Three Pillars of evidence for the Big Bang theory (expanding universe, cosmic microwave background radiation, amounts of the light elements; sometimes the growth of large-scale structures is tossed in as a Fourth). Rather, as is generally the case when I discuss an ICR radio episode, I will address the claims as they come.

Individual Claims

Claim: “It seems like every time we turn on the TV, read the newspaper, or listen to the news, we hear about the big bang.” (at the beginning of the broadcast, by the narrator).

Response: Right off the bat, here, we have a straw man argument – they’re arguing against something that simply isn’t true. Honestly, think about it: When was the last time you picked up a newspaper or turned on the TV (unless it was a sci-fi show) and they were discussing the Big Bang?

Claim: “8 to 20 billion years ago, the date is not quite certain, the universe began suddenly.” (about 1 min 5 sec, Danny Faulkner).

Response: I’ll begrudge them this that when the show was originally recorded 10 years ago, the date wasn’t really certain, and estimates ranged from about 10-20 billion years for the formation of the universe. However, the latest data from the WMAP satellite places the age at about 14.1 billion years for the age of the cosmos.

Claim: “One of the misconceptions of the Big Bang theory is that, since the universe is expanding, the theory must be true.” (~1:30, Narrator). Immediately following, “It turns out this isn’t true at all, it turns out the expansion of the universe was discovered before the Big Bang model was developed. In fact, the Big Bang model was developed to explain why the universe was expanding.” (Danny Faulkner)

Response: I’m trying to find the logical fallacy that is effectively, “you’re either ignorant of the field, or you’re lying.” I think I can again politely refer to this as a straw man fallacy because he’s arguing against something that we astronomers don’t actually say. It is true that the expanding universe is one of the Three Pillars of the Big Bang. In general, logically, if something is getting larger today, it must have been smaller in the past. Unless something happened further in the past to change this, then the logical assumption is that it would continue to shrink the further in the past you go, until it was an infinitesimally small thing. But, this is not the only line of evidence, as I very briefly mentioned in my Background Information above.

The second sentence of this claim is, to my knowledge, mostly correct. But that’s how science works: We think something operates one way (originally, the “Steady-State” model saying that the universe has pretty much always been like it is today). But, new evidence (expansion) shows that our thinking was incorrect. Hence, we need to revise our models, or come up with new ones. I’m honestly not sure why they emphasize this except in the sense that it’s a subtle ad hominem attack (effectively, “You crazy ‘evolutionary’ astronomers don’t know what you’re doing, you have to keep changing your theories”) as well as a small tu quoque fallacy (effectively, “My evidence may not be valid, but neither is yours.”).

Claim: “One scientific problem with the Big Bang is that no like process has ever been observed so, science is supposed to deal with observation … yet no one has ever seen an explosion like a Big Bang. So right away, that places the Big Bang outside the realm of science.” (~2:00, Jonathan Henry)

Response: Ah, my first use of the False Continuum fallacy by attempting to argue that astronomers are guilty of the Inconsistency logical fallacy. In other words, he is implying that astronomers are being inconsistent in that we can’t have seen a Big Bang, therefore it’s faith, just like we’re claiming religion is faith because we can’t see (a) G/god(s). But the false continuum is that there really isn’t a fuzzy line of “scientific faith” in the Big Bang – there are real consequences and real predictions that come from it.

Unlike creationism, from where there can be no scientific evidence, “proof,” nor predictions from, models of the Big Bang predicted the existence of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR, or sometimes CMB) – the discovery of which resulted in a 3-way Nobel Prize – as well as predictions about the relative abundance of hydrogen to helium, lithium, and beryllium, which have so far been observed to be consistent with the Big Bang model.

It’s true, we can’t “see” the Big Bang, nor can we see another Big Bang simply by definition. But we can observe its effects and check for their consistency with that model. And so far, they support the Big Bang.

Claim: “One of the … predictions … has been that all matter in the universe aught to be distributed evenly everywhere.” (~3:00, Jonathan Henry)

Response: Again, ignorance, a lie, or politely a straw man. No one argues this to be the case because it’s OBVIOUSLY not the case (the fact that you sit separate from your chair, the air, the planet, and the solar system is proof that this is not the case). It may have initially been that when the theory was first developed that this was a consequence. But, that was quickly modified because, as I said, it obviously is not the case. We explain the non-uniform distribution as being caused by tiny fluctuations in the universe at the earliest times. Over hundreds of thousands of years, these grew into much larger variations in density, which led to the large-scale structures that we see today.

Claim: Paraphrasing this claim from Russ Humphreys (~4:15) – The Hubble Space Telescope has observed galaxies that formed about 700,000 years after the Big Bang, but this can’t be because galaxies take longer than that to form.

Response: This is actually a pretty neat science result (NASA Press Release, a more recent one than the show was referring to). What it shows is that galaxies were actually already being formed earlier than had been previously assumed, but that was only under one model of galaxy formation – a “Top-Down” approach where larger galaxies form first. What this is evidence for is more of a “Bottom-Up” mechanism, where smaller things formed first, in this case dwarf galaxies. So this is another case where there is a “distortion” of the facts. (Another related article.)

Claim: “Dark matter is the brain child of the fertile imagination of the Big Bang theorist who, not seeing the amount of matter that their theory requires invent other matter that we can’t see. … Dark matter … is pure speculation.” (~4:45, Russ Humphreys)

Response: Again, ignorance, a lie, or politely a straw man. To my knowledge, the ideas behind dark matter originally had nothing to do with the Big Bang. The problem was that stars in the outer parts of spiral galaxies were moving too quickly. In order to get them to move as fast as they were, our current understanding of physics required that there be much more mass, otherwise the stars would escape the gravitational pull of the galaxy because there wasn’t enough material that we could see to hold them all in. The alternative – which still have many proponents – is that our Newtonian theories of gravity need to be revised, that they work on the scales of humans, planets, and solar systems, but there may be a small term in the equations that only becomes noticeable on the scale of galaxies. You may ask, “What does this have to do with the Big Bang?” Good question. I’d like to know that, too, since the original Big Bang theories have nothing to do with dark matter.

Now, we can look at the CMBR and determine that there is a significant mass component to the universe that we can’t see, which we refer to as dark matter. WMAP results put it at about 23% of all the energy-mass of the universe being composed of dark matter. To to very quickly re-cap, the idea of dark matter originated because stars were moving too quickly for galaxies to be only composed of matter we could see, and this was later verified to be a “dark matter” by observations of the CMBR … it is not required for the Big Bang theory, nor would its existence or lack of existence have anything to do with whether or not the Big Bang model is correct.

Claim: “According to evolutionary theory, huge gas clouds were produced by the Big Bang. Soon these gas clouds collapsed into stars, planets, and galaxies, which emitted microwave radiation. Because of the pockets and clumps of these galaxies, there should be corresponding pockets of radiation. Therefore the Big Bang theory would predict that cosmic radiation would be uneven throughout the universe.” (~5:30, Narrator)

Response: I honestly don’t know what to say to this. What the narrator stated is equivalent to saying, “Water is dry.” It’s just wrong. One would think that if they have any sense of intellectual honesty, they would at least check on their facts.

The idea behind the CMBR can really be summed up in about 3 sentences: After the universe formed, it was very hot, and light (photons) could not move without being absorbed and re-emitted by atoms, which meant that the universe was opaque (kinda like a star). As the universe continued to expand, it cooled down, and eventually light was finally able to stream freely without interacting with the atoms. This first light, from when the universe became transparent, is what we see as the CMBR.

Now, what the CMBR reflects are the fluctuations in density in the universe at that time. Hotter regions of the CMBR indicate denser regions, and cooler indicates more rarified regions. The reason that it is in the microwave has nothing to do with galaxies, stars, and planets emitting microwave radiation, it’s because the radiation comes from so far away (back in time) that the light has been stretched into the microwave wavelengths. If we existed billions of years ago, it would be higher-energy light, even to the point of visible, and the entire sky would literally glow with it.

For more information on the CMBR, visit the WMAP Overview.

Claim: Paraphrasing this claim from Russ Humphreys (~6:00) – The variations in the CMBR are 10x smaller than what scientists predicted, but this is now claimed as proof of the Big Bang.

Response: As I said above, this is the nature of science. I honestly don’t know if this claim is correct, but even if it is, it does not take away from the idea that the CMBR was directly predicted from the Big Bang theory. Different perturbations of that theory can be used when it’s not well-constrained by other data. Based upon the best available data at the time, astronomers may have predicted the variations would be larger than they found them to be.

That they were discovered to be smaller meant that they had new constraints on their models and could go back and revise them to better fit the data, which can then be used to make future predictions. This has nothing to do with showing that the Big Bang is wrong, just with revising the specifics, which is how science works. Creationism, on the other hand, hasn’t changed in hundreds of years because there is only one piece of “evidence,” the Bible.

Claim: Paraphrasing this claim from Otto Berg (~7:30) – The biggest problem with the Big Bang is how to account for the formation of life? How could life evolve from a dead cluster?

Response: This is a straw man. The origin of life has absolutely positively NOTHING to do with the Big Bang (nor, for that matter, does it have anything to do with evolution).

Claim: “All life has carbon in it … [but] it’s an extreme improbability that carbon would have formed … since [the universe] was only 25% helium. [For carbon] to form, it would require two helium atoms to combine at exactly the right velocity with enough energy but not too much energy, it would collide and form a beryllium atom, and that beryllium atom would combine with another helium atom – with the right velocity, not too much not too little – to form the carbon atom. If you think about the improbability about that carbon atom — it’s very improbable. All life has carbon.” (~8:30, Otto Berg)

Response: I’m not sure why a particle physicist doesn’t know this, but Big Bang Nucleosynthesis (the third pillar) does not produce carbon, or if it does, it’s very very little. The early universe was pretty much like a star – except the whole universe was a star. Protons and neutrons fused to hydrogen, or deuterium, and deuterium could fuse into helium. But these conditions did not last very long, and they only had time to really fuse about 23-24% into helium-3 and helium-4. A very little bit of lithium-7 was created, but only a negligible amount (if any) of carbon. So if nothing else, he’s actually correct, but it’s a non sequitur.

Today’s carbon formed in stars. Massive stars, generally more massive than the sun, can easily reach the temperatures and pressures required to make forming carbon not a statistical improbability. We’ve known this for decades, as it’s relatively basic nuclear physics. Where did the carbon in life today come from? Past generations of stars. Carl Sagan put it well: “We are star stuff.”

For more on the fusion processes in stars, you can see the Fusion beta page of my revised astronomy website (please note that the bulk of the site is not yet finished, but that page is reasonably complete and fairly extensive).

Final Thoughts

The Big Bang is far from a myth that young-Earth creationists may have you believe. Is it “Proven?” Or is it a “Fact?” No. But really nothing in science is. A “Fact” means that it is TRUTH, that it is known beyond all doubt. As I discussed in my LHC particle two months ago, that’s not how science works. It only takes one verified and inexplicable observation to destroy a theory.

But from a scientific standpoint, a “Theory” is as close to a “Fact” as we can get. The Big Bang Theory has been tested and revised over almost the last 100 years. It has withstood efforts to disprove it, and it still remains the foundation of modern cosmology.

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