Thursday, July 3, 2008

Conservapedia on starlight

Eight days ago, we had a guest replier here on the Rational Reply and I mentioned a few things about the insanity that is Conservapedia. What is Conservapedia? We'll no amount of simple introduction of mine will suffice to truly explain the insanity that goes on there, but I'll give it a shot.

Imagine an encyclopedia where the actual stated goal is to be biased. Imagine an encyclopedia where all articles are filtered through one person. If he says that article is good, it is. If he says that article is bad, it is. Imagine an encyclopedia where people are banned regularly for the act of talking about the articles they are writing.

That can't possibly work, can it? Of course not. It's a flaming train wreck of site, a testimony to religious stupidity, and absolutely hilarious to read!

Today, we delve into one of their works - the Starlight Problem!

What is the Starlight Problem? Well, it's that pesky detail that Albert Einstein brought to our attention: the speed of light is a constant. Since we can measure that speed and we can measure the distance to various stars in the cosmos and we find that those things are more than 6,000 light years from Earth, anyone who believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old has a rather large problem on his hands. Rational people, on the other hand, don't have a problem at all.

Here is, and remember I'm not making this one up, Conservapedia's article addressing this "problem".

Starlight problem

The starlight problem, or starlight travel-time problem is an objection against the young-Earth creationist argument that the universe is only 6,000 years old, in which the age of the universe is based primarily on the Genesis narrative. The problem is that if the universe is only 6,000 years old, one has to explain how light from stars more than 6,000 light years from Earth has reached us in the time available.

This so feels like the Spanish Inquisition Monty Python skit!

* cheesy inquisitor voice *
The problem is how light reached us in only 6,000 years...and measuring the age of the universe from a religious book!

The problems are how light reached us in only 6,000 years, measuring the age of the universe from a religious book, and choosing the bible for that book!

The several problems light reached us in only 6,000 years, measuring the age of the universe from a religious book, choosing the bible for that book, and not checking the accuracy of that book against the rest of the universe!

Amongst these issues are such diverse problems as how light reached us in only 6,000 years, measuring the age of the universe from a religious book, choosing the bible for that book, not checking the accuracy of that book against the rest of the universe, and actively making up bizzaro world theories that kinda, sorta fit in with that book!

Despite this frequently being put as an argument against young-Earth creationism, light travel time is also a problem for the Big Bang theory.

There's stuff we don't know about the Big Bang theory?!? That's it! Young Earth Creationism must be completely correct!

Creationists have proposed a number of solutions. The currently-favoured solutions involve time dilation, in which time passed slower on Earth than in other parts of the universe.

Okay! That makes perfect sense! It's not the ancient goat herders that were wrong, it's that time itself has been altered! It's all clear now.

The size of the universe

Big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it really is.

Using parallax calculations, the Milky Way galaxy alone can be directly observed to have a diameter of approximately 80-100,000 light years. Calculations based on the observed brightness of supernovae of known energy output can determine the distance to more distant objects. The most distant object known is a star cluster approximately thirteen billion light-years away from Earth, observed by the Hubble Telescope using gravitational lensing.

Although creationists have at times disputed the size of the universe, virtually none propose that it is less than 12,000 light years across.

That's a refreshing breath of sanity scented air!

Suggested solutions to the problem

That the book is wrong? Nah! What was I thinking?!?

Several solutions have been proposed by creationists to explain how a young universe may be reconciled with these observations.

* pulls up a chair *

* gets some Doritos *

Oh boy! I can't wait to hear this!

They also point out that there is a logical fallacy in the argument, as the observation that many stars are millions of light years away is one of distance, not time. No matter how reasonable, it is a deduction, not an observation, that the starlight from stars millions of light years away would have required millions of years to reach Earth.

All except for that pesky "speed of light in a vacuum is a constant" thing. Curse you, Albert!

Light created in transit

Some creationists have proposed that the light we see from stars more than 6,000 light years away was not emitted by those stars, but was created 'in transit' by God.

Godidit! But did he use His Noodly Appendage?

However, most creationists reject this explanation,

Because they're not completely stupid.

as the light contains images of events that would therefore never have actually happened, including supernovae, meaning that we are seeing an image of a star exploding, even though the star never existed. This would make the creator a deceiver.

And He would never invite us to the really good parties ever again. He's kind of vicious that way with a really, really, really long memory for those kinds of slights.

Moon-Spencer theory

Some creationists promoted an idea by Parry Moon and Domina Spencer that light somehow takes a shortcut through "Riemannian Space", taking no more than 15 years to reach Earth from the outer limits of the universe. However, this idea never really caught on and appears to no longer have adherents.

And is therefore included in this article for what reason?

Decrease in the speed of light

Creationist Barry Setterfield has proposed that the speed of light was faster in the past. This idea initially found wide acceptance by creationists, but is now widely rejected, although some still hold to the idea.

And, of course, an encyclopedia is the place to postulate widely discredited ideas.

One criticism of it by anticreationists

What is an anticreationist exactly? Is that anyone who disputes any creationist idea? Or is it a code word for evolutionist? Or perhaps a code word for scientist?

was that if the speed of light had changed, we should see the difference in the Fine Structure Constant as measured by nearby stars versus distant stars, but this was not observed. Yet in 1999, John Webb, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and his colleagues reported astronomical observations suggesting that the value of the fine-structure constant may indeed have changed. They subsequently published this in Physical Review Letters. However, although this showed that mainstream scientists are prepared to entertain the idea of a change in the speed of light when it suits them, the size of the change did not provide specific support for Setterfield's idea.

In addition, there were other problems with the theory, leading most creationists to drop the idea, although some credit it with stimulating further research.

Which leaves us 0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts so far with the theories! And we're not saying that the scientists have rejected these ideas, it's the creationists that are saying they don't work!

Not to point out the breathtakingly obvious again, but if no one believes these theories - why are they in an alleged encyclopedia?

* knock knock knock *

UPS delivery man, sir!

* Front door opens *


I have a letter for you from a Brother William of Ockham

Thank you!

* Opens the letter *

"Jim, thanks for taking the time to listen to the advice of a friar who's been dead for 660 years! The answer to your question is really, really simple. It's not really an encyclopedia.

Have fun watching the fireworks show tomorrow!

Brother Bill"

You know that guy is so helpful sometimes! He rocks!

Humphreys' model

In 1994 Dr. Russell Humphreys proposed a new cosmology that includes a bounded universe with a center and an edge, that God had created 6,000 years ago as a much smaller body than today, then stretched it out, making it much larger. In Humphreys' model, because the universe has a center and an edge (unlike the unbounded model of the Big Bang universe), the center of the universe is also the center of a gravity well, meaning that gravity is stronger at the center of the universe than at the edge.

As gravity can affect the rate at which time passes, he calculated that while the six days of creation week were passing on Earth, billions of years' of time was passing at the edge of the universe. According to this idea, the Biblical references to time are according to an observer (real or imaginary) on Earth, so ages are given in "Earth time".

This model receives cautious but wide support among creationists.

By jove, this one is just wacko enough to confuse people who a) want to believe him and b) aren't actually scientists! Woot!

Time dilation field

Dr. John Hartnett, a creationist physicist, spurred by Humphreys' model, has proposed an alternative time dilation model, by theorizing the Earth was in a time-dilation field during the first few days of creation, from Earth's point of view, while billions of years passed for the rest of the universe. According to the Bible, God "stretched out" the heavens (space), and this movement during creation week caused time to travel faster for those objects, in accordance with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, adding to the time dilation caused by gravity, per Humphreys, in accordance with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

When all else fails, lets just go back to the old standard of the Earth being the center of the universe and really, really special!

Starlight Problem for the Big Bang Theory

Despite the use of the Starlight Problem in arguing against young-Earth creationism, the Big Bang theory has its own light travel problem, known as the horizon problem.

The Big Bang model proposes that the temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) would have varied considerably from place to place early in the universe, yet because the speed at which this radiation can disperse from hotter to colder parts of the universe is limited by the speed of light, there has not been enough time for the radiation to even out, yet observations today show it to be extremely uniform (with fluctuations at the part-per-million level).

The problem is this: even assuming the big bang timescale, there has not been enough time for light to travel between widely separated regions of space. So, how can the different regions of the current CMB have such precisely uniform temperatures if they have never communicated with each other? This is a light-travel–time problem.

A number of solutions to this problem have been proposed, including several versions of an "inflationary model", in which space itself expanded faster than the speed of light early in the Big Bang, but after different areas exchanged radiation to even out the temperature. However, there is no consensus on which explanation is correct, and each of the proposed solutions have their own problems.

Which is why the Cosmic Background Explorer's findings completely blow away the Big Bang theory! Oh wait a minute...they don't. It's data actually has shown a great fit with the predicted black body curve.

Still! It's not like they know everything! So that makes one thing crystal clear....Godidit! Yay! Is it time to declare victory and rush back to the church? Of course it is!

1 comment:

PalMD said...

hmmm...a rather good fisking...thanks