The Star of Bethlehem

Supernova remnant N 63AIn 1955 Arthur C. Clarke published a short story titled The Star, about (spoilers!) a Jesuit astrophysicist investigating the remnant of a supernova referred to as the “Phoenix Nebula” that destroyed a civilisation when it exploded. This is revealed to have been the source of the star over Bethlehem, concluding:

[O]h God, there were so many stars you could have used. What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?

Did I mention spoilers?

Anyway, Your Origins Matter has today posted an article called The Most Famous Star, about possible explanations for the event – supernova or supernatural. Continue reading

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Planetary Evolution

Creationists, especially those at the Institute for Creation Research, just love tarring every science that they don’t like as ‘evolution.’ They have successfully made much of the American public distrustful of the word, so it’s unsurprising that they would try to exploit this else-ware. I’m sure, if you asked them, few people would have trouble with the observed life-cycle of stars – but call it stellar evolution and many will object.

Of course, the trouble with that example is that stellar evolution is actually a Thing. It’s just that that’s irrelevant to what creationists mean when they talk about “evolutionary models of stellar formation.” Put it this way: my bike tires have “Evolution” on them, as a brand-name. Here in the topsy-turvy world known as the antipodes, evolution has positive connotations, though admittedly they apply more to Lamarckian evolution than Darwinian. Point is: when Brian Thomas goes and writes a story under the heading Did Astronomers Find an Evolving Planet?, he’s using the word wrong for a reason, even if in this case ‘Planetary Evolution’ may also be a Thing.

Unrelated Protoplanetary Disks, Orion Nebula Continue reading

Creationist Misinformation: Mercury

Mercury Magnetic FieldIn this Daily (pseudo)Science Update from the Institute for Creation Research’s Brian Thomas returns to the field of Astronomy with a post entitled Messenger Spacecraft Confirms: Mercury Is Unique.
Basically, as usual, we have a short laundry-list of things that are currently unknown, but in all reality probably will be within a few years. They are presented as things that cannot be explained, except by God. But this introduction works for anything I’ve talked about since I started this blog. What are the specific claims?

First, they say that “Mercury can’t be anywhere near as dense as it actually is”, which they support with a reference to another creationists website, which doesn’t back up the claim itself. Presumably, they are commenting on the current inability of models to predict the arrangement and features of the planets. Creationism, on the other hand, predicts and explains nothing.

Second, he mentions that the planet has a higher level of sulphur than is considered possible if it formed as close to the sun as it is now. Why exactly it couldn’t have spiralled inwards over time I don’t know…

And then we get to the magnetosphere. Mr Thomas begins:

[F]or many years the “dynamo theory” (which has since been shown to be false) was the only explanation offered for magnetic fields on rocky planets that are supposed to be billions of years old.

Whoa! Citation bloody needed! The dynamo effect works (unless you’re saying that god does it directly, like people used to think with lightening). Have they ever heard of radioactivity? Maybe the planet’s density is a result of having lots of uranium, or something. The heat generated from that would probably be sufficient.

The final problem they have is the magnetic field of Mercury. Basically, it’s stronger on one end than the other. He asks: “What natural process would cause that?”

The reuters article he cites gives one possible explanation – “one theory is that the planet’s magnetic field is in the processing of flipping.” Another article says that it “suggests that Mercury’s south polar region is much more exposed than the north to bombardment by charged particles from the sun.” Just because something is unexplained doesn’t mean that it is unexplainable. And hey, that means we have not one but two explanations! Isn’t that even better? 😀

He finishes:

According to Space.com, “Scientists don’t fully understand the import of many of Messenger’s early findings.”3 In light of what are best explained as Mercury’s purposeful peculiarities, and of its young-looking magnetic field, this statement might be better rendered as: “Evolutionary scientists don’t understand why Messenger’s early findings show that Mercury looks both young and uniquely created.”

No. You can’t just say that when something is not explained, God must’ve done it. There is no evidence in that that points to the planet being young, over any other explanation. Science does not default to Creationism, in the same way that it didn’t default to Geocentricism, when all the stuff about Mercury’s orbit was being puzzled over a hundred years ago. That was solved by Einstein, but that doesn’t mean that Newtonian gravity doesn’t work. Even if we needed such a big ‘paradigm shift’ to explain this now, it would still involve the universe being much older than 6000 years.

The Earth Was Uniquely Created

I reckon I can swallow this category whole. It’s not really much, and I’ve covered much of it before.

Article I: Earth Was Created For Life

“It has been suggested that this page be merged into Earth Was Created in a Wonderful Location” (actually, if this was on wikipedia it wouldn’t last long for other reasons, but that’s not the point)

Basically, we go over he whole goldilocks zone thing that would be better served under the “Wonderful Location” title. But anyway…

So apparently, life couldn’t arise anywhere else in the solar system, but there’s life here, therefore the universe was created. Interestingly, they only talk about the other planets – no mention of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

I would make the claim that we can’t say at this point that there really is no other life in the solar system. On earth, life survives on volcanic vents under the sea – this could easily be the case on other planets and moons as well (though not necessarily under a sea). We can’t rule out non-earth life at present, we just haven’t found any yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if, should life be confirmed on Titan or anywhere else, the ICR will immediately pronounce it to be evidence of the power of God or some such – after all, if God is omnipotent, why can’t he create life anywhere? They’ll also declare it to be proof that scientists are wrong if if is found outside of the goldilocks zone – they have no trouble talking about other outmoded ideas as if they are the last word in science…

Article II: Earth Was Created in a Wonderful Location

This article is broken up into two parts. It should be three and include the above article as well, but never mind…

The first part is about how, if we were located anywhere in the galaxy other than where we are (two thirds out and on a minor spur of a spiral arm) there couldn’t be life in the solar system. As I alluded to before, this doesn’t really help the creationist case. If God is omnipotent and created the world only a few thousand years ago, he wouldn’t have had to be concerned about this sort of thing. Alternatively, had life arisen via natural means some time ago, it could only have survived in such a place as this (if the premise is correct, which it may well be). Therefore, only in such a Wonderful Location could we be here talking about it.

The second part, entitled “Our Planet is Perfectly Located Within Our Solar System”, is not actually about the “goldilocks zone”. Instead, it’s more about how the set-up of the solar system (such as Jupiter and the Moon) prevents asteroid impacts on the earth. This is… odd. This is coming from people who believe the earth is only a few thousand years old, while the craters would have taken a few billion to build up via such a method that we could be conceivably “protected” from them. This section also suffers from the criticism I gave for the above – if God is omnipotent, why did he rope in a moon and a few planets to his work for him? Also, what makes our moon “unusually large”? If the moon is, what is Charon?

Article III: Earth’s Core Was Created to Protect Life

This article seems to be a pile of half-baked ideas that haven’t really been expanded into a full-sized article:

Our planet was created for life.

A smaller planet, like Mars, would be unable to hold our atmosphere, which protects us from meteoroids and keeps the temperature within the range needed for life.

A larger planet, like Neptune, would trap too much atmosphere. The pressure and temperature would greatly increase.  A  stronger gravity from the increased size would also trap harmful gases in the atmosphere.

Earth has a strong magnetic field. This protects us from harmful radiation from the sun.

Venus has a much thicker atmosphere than us, but is around the same size as we are. Titan is much smaller than us, with a much larger atmosphere than we do. And define “harmful gases”. All of these, including the magnetic field reference, have the same problems as the previous article.

Article IV: Earth’s Water Cycle Protects and Provides

A nice piece of water chauvinism here.

“Water is the most abundant chemical compound on earth” – what about Silica and Alumina? They’re pretty common.

This article is basically waxing lyrical about how the water cycle is such a wonderful thing. It doesn’t really help the “Uniquely Created” story though – Titan has a similar system with methane, while Mars probably used to have a water cycle as well. The article also implies that you need water for life. You need it on the earth, yes, but not necessarily anywhere else. There’s plenty of water on Europa as well, as it happens.

Annd that’s it for that category, and indeed all of the “physics” section, as the all the categories under “Branches of Physical Science” are empty (Even Radiometric Dating) excluding the “related articles”. I’ll go over them after I finish the “Evidence from Science” branch of the Topics tree.

Next up in the archives: Catastrophes.