Thursday, 19 April 2012

How Creationists Lie To Us - 8

We're now half-way through the treasure-trove of creationist bad science called It's A Young World After All By Dr Paul D. Ackerman, PhD., an assistant professor of psychology with no history of research in any science subject, no peer-reviewed science papers to his name, no record of having presented any papers to an audience of professional scientists and indeed no recognised higher qualifications in any science subject. Dr Ackerman never-the-less feels competent to assure his readers that science has got it all wrong.

This blog deals with Chapter 7. Just another seven tedious chapters to go...

7 - The Vast Beyond.

Here he lays his cards on the table:

As a biblical creationist, I believe that God created the heavens and earth out of nothing (i.e., not out of any preexisting matter) a few thousand years ago. ... If the seven days of the creation week described in the first chapter of Genesis are understood as regular twenty-four-hour days, the figure of six thousand years then applies to the whole of creation.

To many, the idea of a recent creation by the Word of God is an incredible concept. Agreed, the concept is incredible. However, in the area of ultimate origins, all the alternatives are incredible. Consider, for example, the dominant evolutionist scenario for the beginning: the Big Bang.

According to the Big Bang concept all the matter of the universe—all of reality—was once compressed into a tiny ball. For some reason the tiny ball became unstable, exploded, and turned into stars, planets, strawberries, cockroaches, Good Humor wagons, committees, and this book.

A great portion of the resources and brainpower of modern science is being poured into an effort to make this materialist scenario sound plausible. The attempt has been monumental and the results impressive, but the conflicting hard data are mounting up, and it is time for people to begin pointing out that "the emperor has no clothes." The view that the present physical universe somehow created itself and is billions of years old is contradicted by the growing weight of powerful physical evidence. The creation is not billions of years old; it is quite young.

Of course this is nothing more that the Kalâm Cosmological Argument (KCA) in disguise, but what's interesting here is how Ackerman sets his readers up with a straw man argument in his grossly over-simplified and frankly wrong definition of the Big Bang Theory and then presents his own 'A Magic Man Magicked It Out Of Nothing By Magic' notion as a more reasonable alternative. There is not, and there never will be, any attempt to explain how this magic works to make everything out of nothing nor where the magic man came from and what it was made of, and yet creationists continually demand science provide detailed proof of every minutiae of a scientific theory.

"You have to prove beyond any possible shadow of a doubt everything about your theory or my evidence-free notion wins!" This is of course nothing more that an abdication of responsibility and a triumph of intellectual and moral cowardice on the part of creationists. You can bet your house that if creationists had even the slightest scrap of real, authenticated, definitive evidence for their particular god which came anywhere close to the standard of proof they demand of science, we would never hear the last of it.

False Dichotomy. If this isn't a plane it must be a peanut-butter sandwich.
What he is trying here is the classic Creationist tactic of the False Dichotomy Fallacy and it depends entirely on the parochial ignorance of his target market for its success. His readers are expected to assume without question that, if he can cast doubt on science, the only reasonable alternative on offer is the locally popular god which just happens to be the one he is pushing. What he doesn't say, and what his readers are expected not to know, is that precisely the same argument can be used for any other hypothetical god or any other crack-pot notion you can dream up and to which you can simply assign responsibility for everything. The fact that the KCA was devised by medieval Islamic theologians to support their version of a god is simply ignored.

Let's move on to the specifics:

Consider, for example, the dominant evolutionist scenario for the beginning: the Big Bang. According to the Big Bang concept all the matter of the universe—all of reality—was once compressed into a tiny ball.

The Big Bang Theory of course is nothing to do with the Theory of Evolution By Natural Selection (TOE). The TOE would still apply even if you could show that the universe has always existed or that it was built by a construction firm. The TOE is an explanation of the biological fact of evolution on Earth just as the Theory of Gravity is an explanation of the fact that there is an attractive force between bodies related to their mass.

But that error aside, if indeed it was an error, the gross distortion of Big Bang (BB) cosmology here is disgraceful. No serious cosmologist of theoretical physicist would claim that all the matter in the universe was once compressed into a ball. The BB explains how matter was created. It does not claim it was all there to begin with.

The basic concept is actually quite easy to follow. As Einstein showed, matter is energy and energy is matter. At its lowest level energy consists of four fundamental forces: weak and strong nuclear force; electromagnetic force, and gravity. All observation confirm that the gravitational energy in the universe is equal to the sum of the other three forces, so, if gravity is regarded as the opposite of the other three forces, the sum total of energy in the universe is zero. The universe is, in total energy terms, literally nothing. It's like borrowing from a bank. You have money, the bank has an asset in the form of your debt, but you have money to spend. No wealth was created in that transaction.

And where is the evidence for all this? As with all science, the evidence can come from making predictions from the theory and testing them:

One of the predictions made by the BB Theory is that there will be a particular ratio of light elements in the universe. Guess what? The observation matches that prediction exactly.

One of the early criticisms of the BB was that there should still be traces of the initial heat and there was none. Except there was. When the microwave background radiation was detected, by accident as it turned out, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson and for which they were awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physics, it turned out to be exactly as the BB Theory predicted, if the universe is as old as BB cosmologists say and has been expanding at the rate the red-shift suggests.

This has been discussed at length in a recent book by a real scientist Professor Lawrence M Krauss, A Universe From Nothing. It has also been the subject of a book by Professor Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design.

Lawrence Krauss' book also deals at length with the origin of 'dark energy' and 'dark matter' which leads me on to the last of Ackerman's attempts at the false dichotomy fallacy: the clustering of galaxies and his half-baked analogy with helium-filled balloons.

Quite simply, galaxies do not fly apart because they have gravitational mass holding them together. We know this because we can see them er... not flying apart. Incidentally, they would fly apart if they had insufficient gravitational mass, not because they behave like helium-filled balloons in Earth's atmosphere, but because of the speed of rotation of galaxies. As Relativity tells us, moving objects travel in a straight line through curved space and space is curved by mass, so, to appear to be moving in an orbital motion, they must be moving through a gravity field sufficient to hold them in that orbit.

Dr Ackerman's helium-filled balloons tended to disperse because their movement in Earth's locally chaotic atmosphere was also chaotic. Basic physics tells us that in the absence of energy to overcome it, entropy means loss of order. They tended to move away from one another because there are more ways in which they can do that than there are ways in which they can move towards one another and none of them had sufficient mass to produce a gravity field which would prevent it - which a few moments thought would have told him, is also why they floated upwards.

Once again, Ackerman has, either wilfully or through ignorance of the subject on which he so confidently expounds, got his basic science badly wrong, and so, inadvertently or by design, produced another misleading chapter which would have been laughed at by any decent scientific peer-review process.

Lastly, and so far the only subject raised by Ackerman for which science does not yet have a complete answer, is the question of the 'Dog Star' Sirius and the evidence from ancient history that it had a distinct red tinge, whereas today it is blue-white. This question is discussed here. Ackerman, as we've come to expect now, get's his science muddled and presents only one hypothesis to account for this apparent change as though it were the only one. Firstly, he 'forgets' to mention that Sirius is actually a binary star, that is, two stars in stable orbit around each other. Sirius B (beta) is one of them and is, as he says, a white dwarf.

From the Wikipedia article:

The possibility that stellar evolution of either Sirius A or Sirius B could be responsible for this discrepancy has been rejected by astronomers on the grounds that the timescale of thousands of years is too short and that there is no sign of the nebulosity in the system that would be expected had such a change taken place. An interaction with a third star, to date undiscovered, has also been proposed as a possibility for a red appearance. Alternative explanations are either that the description as red is a poetic metaphor for ill fortune, or that the dramatic scintillations of the star when it was observed rising left the viewer with the impression that it was red. To the naked eye, it often appears to be flashing with red, white and blue hues when near the horizon.

So, as Ackerman could easily have found out had he tried, there are several alternative hypotheses to account for the apparent change in Sirius' hue as seen from Earth. None of them is entirely satisfactory. Quite simply, we do not yet know and we are not even certain that there was a change, though that seems probably.

And so here we have an example of Dr Ackerman trying the familiar old creationist fall-back, the God Of The Gaps Fallacy. The reader is expected to assume that if there is something science has not yet discovered or answered in the minutest detail, the only possible explanation is that the locally popular god did it. Note also the uncritical acceptance as true the evidence that Sirius really did once appear red. Strange that Ackerman seems so ill-disposed to accept science which doesn't agree with his theology, when a completely different set of impossibly high standards of evidence are called into play, eh?

We could, of course, fill all these gaps with the equally preposterous and evidence-free notion that it was caused by a celestial peanut butter sandwich with equal logical validity and intellectual honesty. As a technique it appeals only to those who like to pretend that their ignorant superstition somehow trumps science and learning and gives them a greater understanding of reality than those who study it. It is nothing more than an excuse for intellectual indolence and it goes hand-in-hand with cultural arrogance and parochial ignorance.

I wonder how many scientific discoveries Dr Paul D. Ackerman, PhD. can think of which were made by a scientist sitting back in smug self-satisfaction and declaring that it must have been a god that did it. In fact, it was only when we stopped thinking like that that science began to make any real progress.

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  1. The problem with creationists is that they are by and large from backgrounds influenced by Abrahamic absolutist religions. These leave 0% space for thinking and personal exploration of an idea; one's choices are believe completely or be branded a heretic, which in turn could get your burned at the stake and to this day might lead to the loss of a career.

    The facts, in this case, don't matter; the Religious Book, and ONLY the Religious Book, is the solution to all things. And so only what it says has any validity in these peoples' eyes.

    As far as I've come across, Hindus and others from non-Abrahamic backgrounds have no problem at all with the scientific point of view.

  2. You deserve a prize for wading through this tripe and turning it to these illuminating and entertaining posts.
    Can anyone come with a name for the prize?


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