Thursday 13 November 2014

Comets, Science And Religion

BBC News - Probe makes historic comet landing.

In an astonishing feat of precision engineering and applied science, scientists today landed a probe on the surface of a comet 316 million miles away travelling at 40,000 mph, after a ten year journey of 4 billion miles.

There is a slight concern that the probe might not be anchored firmly to the comet as the harpoons which should have fired into the surface may not have fired. but they are now set to perform scientific experiments to analyse the substance of the comet and to ride it round the sun, observing what happens as it heats up and gives off the stream of particles which make up the comet's tail.

What we see here is the scientific method in action and how it delivers. Very little was assumed about this comet - merely that it existed and the observed path was the real one and would be maintained. It was also hoped that there would be something solid and tangible to land on and that it wouldn't be just cloud of associated particles held together by gravity but nothing tangible in the form of a surface on which to land. Everything else was based on what is known, backed up by solid evidence and validated with experience when it came to plotting the trajectory of the comet and the craft which rendezvoused with it.

And now scientists can start to find out new things about comets, their origins, their age and their composition and, in doing so, learn new things and confirm or refute hypotheses about the age and formation of the solar system and maybe the Universe itself.

How this contrasts with the religious approach to knowledge, where everything is already claimed to be known, albeit the answer is boringly repetitive - God did it! - for which no evidence is ever proffered other than it fitting with established dogma. "God did it all therefore God did it all!" is actually not even so much an answer as a comforting mantra which abolishes the need to think, and the intellectual dishonesty in the self-confirming circularity of it would earn any science student an 'F' grade and a ticket on the next bus home.

So let's look at how the God Squad present their understanding of comets to the world.

First, the notoriously misleading which specialises in misrepresenting science and misleading people about it, in the apparent belief that this will convince them that the Universe works on magic and is controlled by their special imaginary friend, therefore people should do what the priests say, vote the way they are told to and should keep giving them money.

First they try to establish that creationists make accurate scientific predictions:

Creationists have in the past made firm predictions in advance of discovery e.g., that the moon, being young, would have a thin layer of dust [Ed. see Moon-dust argument no longer useful]... On a smaller scale, we can safely predict that there will be no life forms in Halley’s comet, and no DNA or enzymes nothing apart from relatively simple ‘organic’ molecules.

So, having bragged about a prediction based on the thickness of moon dust which even the proposer has recanted as based on wrong data and which even Ken Ham's Answers In Genesis, Inc. is too embarrassed to use any more, they then go on to bragging about being right about something that no sane cosmologist or biologist has ever predicted and for which they can give no references. Classic strawman tactic there.

Comets and a Young Universe

Some comets come back very frequently they are known as ‘short-period’ comets. Some ‘long-period’ comets are observed travelling in paths which would mean that if they were to complete one full orbit, it would take hundreds of thousands of years. Every time a comet passes close by the sun, the ‘boil-off’ mentioned earlier means it loses some of its mass. Comets have been seen to break up and disappear completely.

The ‘lifetime’ of a short-period comet, i.e. the time it would take to disappear completely, has been estimated many times to be no more than about ten thousand years. In other words, after ten thousand years there should be no more short-period comets, since virtually everybody, creationist or evolutionist, believes that they are an integral part of the solar system and were formed at the same time as the rest of it. For the believer in Scripture, this is more evidence consistent with a recent creation. The evolutionist belief in long ages requires a further step of faith to reconcile the facts a way must be found to ‘re-supply’ the solar system with comets every so often as older ones are destroyed. Thus, it is assumed that there is a vast shell of about 100 billion comets (the ‘Oort cloud’, after its inventor) at the outer edges of the solar system, too far to be seen with any telescope. Every now and then a passing star disturbs the cloud enough to knock a comet into an inner orbit, perhaps assisted by the gravity of Jupiter, and it then becomes an observable comet which begins to disintegrate each time it approaches the sun. This resupply from the cometary ‘deepfreeze’ conveniently solves the problem of why we still have rapidly-decaying comets in a 4.5 billion year old solar system.

Er... but what about the long period comet like comet McNaught with a period of approximately 92,600 years. Isn't that more than a little problem for a notion which says the Universe, let alone the Solar System, is only 6000 years old? don't mention that, for some reason.

Worth noting too is the use of the word 'invented' in the context of a scientific hypothesis. There is either a profound ignorance of how scientific hypotheses are developed and accepted by mainstream science or a deliberate attempt to mislead and to trivialise the process. There is also the traditional attempt to associate the hypothesis with evolution with which it has nothing whatever to do. It's all those evil evolutionists you know!

Then we get a classic faux pas:

It would be going beyond the facts to say that the Oort cloud does NOT exist however, what can be said is that
  1. It has never been observed, and should be regarded as at best an evolutionist prediction rather than an established fact.

Er... so the fact that it has never been observed IS evidence of non-existence! Well, I never! Just like fairies, eh? Is it only the Christian God to which that doesn't apply?

  1. The calculated motions of comets do not match well with predictions based on the believed existence of Oort’s cloud (see Lyttleton, R.A., ‘The Non-existence of the Oort Cometary Shell’ in Astrophysics and Space Science, v.31, 1974, pp. 385-401).
  2. It seems to be an ad hoc explanation to get out of a philosophic difficulty.
  3. All the evidence regarding comets is directly consistent with the assumption that Oort’s cloud does not exist, and that the reason we still have short-period comets is because the universe is too young for them to have all disintegrated yet.
  1. Science that was last updated in 1974! Typical of creationism, a single dissenting scientific paper is quoted as definitive evidence if it agrees with creationism - even if the authors were never creationists - and all the other papers are ignored or dismissed on the basis that this one was conclusive.
  2. 'It seems' offered as evidence.
  3. And lastly, completely ignoring the explanation of how short-period comets may also originate in the Oort cloud but are pulled into tighter orbits by the giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, or come from the hypothesised Kuiper Belt.
Anyway, enough of the easily debunked misrepresentation of basic science by religious loons with an agenda. Let's look now at how religions have claimed knowledge about comets based on nothing more than guesses, superstition, force-fitting reality into sacred dogmas and claims which are quite simply false:

This classic, reference-free contribution from The Christian Post in a blog entitled The Comets Of God Blog. (Glad you told us it was a blog! Might have mistaken it for... er... a blog.)

Here we learn:

Furthermore, as we learn more about comets, we are discovering that not only does the Bible contain accounts of cometary caused catastrophes but the Bible also contains scientifically sound information about comets ranging from their origin, composition, behavior and what happens during and after various types of impacts. For example, when the media reported about Comet Ison’s outgassing, long tail and told about Comet Ison coming in from the Oort cloud, a reservoir of comets at the end of our solar system; we now know that information about comets outgassing and the reservoir of comets at the end of our solar system is contained in the Bible.

Call me picky, and I appreciate that when many pseudoscientific religious frauds make claims about what the Bible says, they appear to be using a private version of it or are writing for readers who never read the Bible and won't bother to check, but I can find nothing in the Bible which talks about 'cometary caused catastrophes', the origin, composition, behaviour and post-impact effects of comets, outgassing, a reservoir of comets or even the solar system as such, let alone what is at the end (sic) of it. The Universe of the Bible has a flat Earth at the center, with a dome over it and the Sun, Moon and stars stuck to the inside of the dome. Outside the dome, there is water, apparently. When the 'heavens' are shaken the small stars can come loose and fall down to Earth.

Actually there are many other things scientists have recently learned about comets that have also been correctly written about in the Bible. For instance the Bible recognized that comets have “mouths” or “vents” in their crust through which they outgas long before astronomers observed Comet Halley outgassing through vents for themselves. Also NASA was excited to discover Comet Hartley II spewing deadly cyanide gas and that its core is surrounded by hailstones weighing upwards of 100 pounds. Few have recognized that the Bible describes how comets can produce poisonous gases and vent hailstones weighing upwards of 100 pounds (Revelation 16:21). In the last 20 years or so scientists have learned that comets were the main source of the water in the Earth’s oceans by comparing the chemical fingerprint of the water in the ocean to the chemical fingerprint of the water in a certain class of comets. Amazingly enough, the Bible refers to comets as the “sources of the great deep” and the “water jars of the heavens.”

Again we aren't privy to where in the author's apparently private Bible he/she found these 'many other things' about comets. They appear to have been omitted from my King James version. In my version, Revelation 16:21 says:

And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

Revelation 16:21 (KJV)

Nope! Nothing about comets, venting or poison gas.

And nowhere can I find any reference to "sources of the great deep". The "water jars of the heavens" appears in some translations (KJV uses the less poetic 'bottles of the heavens") but nothing about comets. In fact, in context, it's clearly talking about making it rain:

Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the cockerel understanding?

Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?

Job 38:36-38 (NIV)

Wise ibises and sentient cockerels too, eh?

Maybe you need to be a trubuleevah to know how to read those words properly. Or maybe the only reference he can come up with just doesn't say what he claims but it was the best he could do.

Anyway, even if that stuff isn't in the Bible it must be in there somewhere if only we could interpret it, so why not say it's in there anyway? The readers probably never read the Bible and aren't going to check just in case it doesn't say what they know must be in there.

And then, of course, we have the medieval superstitious nonsense about comets being messengers or harbingers of disaster. The thinking seems to have been that the Universe was an orderly place with the stars and celestial bodies following their set paths, and then along come comets to upset this orderliness. Obviously something is going wrong! So whatever went wrong was due to the comet in a classic piece of confirmation of bias that would grace any creationist proof of god.

Probably the most spectacular manifestation of evidence-free religious dogma associated with a comet was the mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult, apparently because their leader and chief loon, Marshall Applewhite had announced that there was a spaceship travelling behind the Hale-Bopp comet which had come to collect the spirits of true believers and take them to another planet.

In a grim manifestation of the power of cultic dogma over vulnerable minds, the members of the cult all saw the good sense in this and killed themselves on Applewhite's instructions.

Unlike science, none of the religious and superstitious claims about comets has any basis in fact and none has a shred of supporting evidence - which is why science today landed a probe on a comet but religion again failed to lift even a feather an inch off the ground. Science admits it doesn't know and that what it thinks it knows may not be so, so it goes and checks. Religion, like a Dunning-Kruger simpleton, 'knows' it all already so has no need to check - and ends up just looking stupid.

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  1. Take that! Creationists...............

  2. I agree with Zarathustra in his comment here above. Not only is this a well-written blog but it's also full of facts and logic. But if creationists can't refute and debunk the presented facts, I'm afraid they'll try to do the same as uncanny Manny, a.k.a.the psychopathic liar and eternal loser, i.e. trying to harass, insult and assail Rosa in person. Never will they succeed by choosing that strategy! Facts speak for themselves.


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