Exposing PseudoAstronomy

October 20, 2011

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


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

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

Wonders of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doom and Gloom, Therefore God

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

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

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

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

Et cetera.

Final Thoughts

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

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

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


June 23, 2011

Creationists Complain on Censorship Because Math Apparently Shows GodDidIt


“It’s said that, according to the law of aeronautics and the wingspan and circumference of the bumblebee, it is aeronautically impossible for the bumblebee to fly. However, the bumblebee, being unaware of these scientific facts, goes ahead and flies anyway.” — Mike Huckabee, 2008

That quote is a fitting opening to this blog post, where after my hiatus I return to my bread-and-butter, batting at the low-hanging fruit offered up by young-Earth creationists (YEC). This post in particular response to the latest Institute for Creation Research (ICR) article by Brian Thomas, “Journal Censors ‘Second Law’ Paper Refuting Evolution”.

In reading up for writing this blog post, the Discovery Institute (the Intelligent Design think-tank) has also posted an article about it.

Crux of the ICR Article

The bulk and point of the article is, as usual from the ICR, to complain that evilutionists are so insecure that they can’t stand dissent and that the Truth is in the Bible. That said, let’s look at what’s different in this one.

The crux of this particular article is that a “math professor Granville Sewell of the University of Texas, El Paso showed that notions of nature alone building the complex structures of DNA are as unlikely as nature building a computer [and] either event would violate the second law [of thermodynamics].”

In other words, he’s claiming that, just as Huckabee claimed that Science says bumblebees can’t fly therefore GodDidIt, that Science says DNA can’t arise naturally therefore GodDidIt.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The second law of thermodynamics is “the entropy one.” It can be interpreted to verbally state, “The entropy of an isolated thermodynamic system cannot decrease.” In thermodynamics, entropy is the inability of energy to do work. Unscientifically, “entropy” can be thought of as the chaos in a system.

For example, an unlit match has a fair amount of stored chemical energy. Light the match, and it will produce heat that can do work, but smoke will rise – parts of the match that have burned – and that material will no longer be able to perform any useful work. Thus, entropy has increased.

Entropy should NOT be confused with the opposite of “order.” In fact, the order in a system can increase while entropy also increases. An example I like to use is to say you have a bunch of different sized marbles or rocks that are all mixed together. As they settle, they will sort by size. As they settle and sort by size, potential energy in the material is lost, the overall entropy has increased, but the overall order has also increased (because they are now sorted by size).

The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Evolution

This has been addressed SO MANY TIMES that I’m not going to do it here. People much smarter than I have shown the absolute rubbish of this claim before, so I will simply refer you to TalkOrigins.org (link 1, link 2).

If you really want a short version of the several ways this is a non sequitur, one is simply that Earth is not a closed thermodynamic system — we are open to space, receive energy from the sun, and radiate energy to space.

A quick-and-dirty second reason is that pockets within a thermodynamic system CAN DECREASE in entropy so long as the system as a whole increases or stays the same.

Going a Bit Deeper Into This Case

The story the articles I linked to in the Introduction tell about are of the math professor in question submitting a paper to a math journal, having it accepted, but then at the last minute having it withdrawn. Hence the “silencing,” “censoring,” and other various claims.

I obviously cannot speak for the journal editor. I don’t know what backdoor dastardly deeds may have gone on. Or may not have gone on. I can, however, look at some of the facts about this professor and what the Intelligent Design people state. Two in particular came up.

First, Prof. Sewell has written intelligent design literature before where “he concludes that there is nothing in the history of life to support Charles Darwin’s idea that natural selection of random variations can explain major evolutionary advances.” An earlier work can be found here. Obviously then, this is a person who has a particular framework in mind from which he operates. That is not a crime, nor is it a bad thing. But it does provide some context.

Second, Prof. Sewell hired a laywer. That in itself says something. An academic hiring a lawyer because his paper was rejected from a journal? I may be new to this whole being a Ph.D. thing, but I’ve been around academia my entire life. I have never heard of someone hiring a lawyer and paying them $10,000 to fight because their paper was rejected from a journal (Andrew Wakefield may be an exception but that’s a different issue – the lawyer came when the paper was retracted over a decade later).

To me, this screams Discovery Institute test case all over it. The DI seems to have more lawyers on staff than “scientists,” and they very frequently try to use the legal system (judicial and legislative branches) to get what they want because they can’t through normal academic channels. Now, this is supposition on my part – I admit that. And then I looked into the law firm, which is decidedly conservative (based on the people and cases) and religious (considering they have references to Genesis 12:3 and Psalm 122 very visibly on their website).

Now, again, being a conservative Christian law firm isn’t bad for purposes here. But what it does is add to this story, strongly indicating there is more to it than just a poor math professor who is upset that his innocent paper was rejected.

Final Thoughts

I have actually skimmed Prof. Sewell’s paper. You can, too. It’s actually an easy read. A lot of it is quotes. It’s four pages long. And it reads a lot like ID and YEC articles I’ve read over the years and it repeats many of the tired, debunked ID/YEC claims.

But, there is a bigger picture here beyond the simple case in point, publishing, and alleged “viewpoint discrimination” (an ID buzzword). That’s why I opened with the Huckabee quote (which also, by the way, is wrong). If we observe something repeatedly, objectively, and clearly (such as a bumblebee flying), but our current scientific understanding of the process cannot account for it, then our science is incomplete. It does not mean GodDidIt. That’s the whole point of science: To figure out how the world works.

We don’t know how the DNA molecule arose. And that’s why scientists are trying to figure it out. Scientists don’t use the God of the Gaps argument, as Brian Thomas, the ICR article author does, and look to the Bible to find out that GodDidit.

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