Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No Progress on Young Earthism's Biggest Problem: Starlight. Part I

The cop out of creation weekism

After a break of a few years I thought it time to revisit Christian young earthism’s greatest unsolved conundrum and see how they are getting on with it. This problem is simply expressed as follows: How does star light cross millions of light years of space in less than 10,000 years? The cosmos is so big that any significant redistribution of cosmic energy requires millions of years.

For young earthists everything in the cosmos has to be accounted for within their tight framework of at most 10,000 years of cosmic history*; in fact the fundamentalist theme park ministry Answers in Genesis insists that one must believe that framework to actually be much nearer 6000 years or else one courts heresy.  Therefore for AiG’s young earthists everything, absolutely everything, must have happened very quickly; no process can be extended over more than a mere 6000 year duration.  Contrast this with established science which has available a huge time window to resource the processes of creation – from a few years to billions of years. Because young earthists have such a narrow window to work with they either put heavy reliance on flood geology or throw their hands up and claim it’s all a miracle of the “creation week”. Consequently in fundamentalist cosmology their resort to ad-hoc miracles is not necessarily an option they actually prefer but often it is the only option available to them, as we shall see. 

In a blog post dated July 2017 and entitled “Ingredient of Life” Discovered in Distant Star System, AiG supremo Ken Ham comments on the recent discovery of a chemical in a star system and which has been referred to by establishment scientists as an “ingredient of life”. This is what Ham says:

Infant Star Systems?
Now, it’s claimed that the star system in which this chemical was found contains “young stars in their earliest stages of evolution.” But Dr. Danny Faulkner, AiG’s PhD astronomer who taught astronomy at a secular university for over 26 years, says,

“The system in question, IRAS 16293-2422, consists of three stars, each probably having mass similar to the sun. The system is located in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. Most astronomers think that stars are born in such dense clouds of dust and gas, so they have interpreted stars embedded in the cloud as having recently formed. Note that this is an interpretation, not clear evidence that these are stars in their infancy.”

These stars don’t give us a window into the formation of stars or our own solar system. We would agree that they are young stars though because all the stars are young, created just 6,000 years ago on Day Four of Creation Week.

He made the stars also. (Genesis 1:16, NKJV)
By the way, read “A Proposal for a New Solution to the Light Travel Time Problem,” a fascinating (though somewhat technical) article by Dr. Faulkner on stars and specifically on the question of starlight traveling great distances in a young universe.

Regardless of Faulkner’s qualifications it seems that too much time in the employ of AiG has blunted his  analytical abilities: See herehere and here. Moreover, judging from the above quote it looks as though Faulkner doesn’t understand the role of evidence – evidence must always be interpreted, although those interpretations have different levels of likelihood, succinctness, rationality, ad hoc-ness, special pleading, closeness to observational protocols etc. And of course those interpretations gain huge kudos if they are used to make successful predictions rather than act merely as an imaginative post-facto dot joining exercise (See herehere, here and here). The idea, as touted by Ken Ham, that one can sharply separate “observational science” from ” historical science” is just an indication that he really doesn’t understand science and that he’s an academic dunce – see here.

But what I would like to focus on here is Ham’s link to Faulkner’s proposed “new solution” to the star light problem.  This solution can be found on a web page which also provides links to numerous AiG articles on the star light problem. See here:

Faulkner’s “new solution” can be found here:

In his paper Faulkner admits that starlight is a big, big unsolved problem for young earthists; Faulkner’s very first sentence is:

The light travel time problem is one of the greatest challenges that recent creationists face today.

Too right! But to cut a long story short Faulkner’s proposal resorts to the bottomless pit of ad hocery allowed by appeal to the miraculous: Here’s his abstract:

I identify a little-noticed issue in the normal formulation of the light travel time problem. In addition, I lay groundwork for the beginning of a new solution to the problem. This solution invokes similarity between creative acts of Day Four and other days of the Creation Week, but especially Day Three. The Day Three account suggests unusually fast growth for plants. In similar fashion, this possible new solution suggests unusually fast propagation of light on Day Four, probably by rapid expansion of space. This is an appeal to a miraculous event rather than a physical process to get distant starlight to the earth. It is not yet clear whether this suggestion could have testable predictions. If this is the correct way to look at the problem, it may be that we are seeing much of the universe in something close to real time. I briefly compare this possible solution to the light travel time to other previously published proposals

Faulkner’s “solution” is dated 23 Feb 2014. Also on the same starlight web page we can find a link to Jason Lisle’s September 2010 Anisotropic Synchrony Convention (ASC) model “solution”. So Faulkner’s “solution” has been proposed over three years after Lisle’s.  Faulkner, however, starts out afresh and proposes a “solution” that has little or no relation to Lisle’s. As I have remarked before young earthist starlight “solutions” aren’t usually progressive in the sense that they build on the work  of other young earthists that have gone before them, rather they simply clear the ground and start again; evidence of the theoretical bankruptcy of what they are doing. In fact Faulkner helpfully lists the many diverse attempts to solve the problem. Viz:

  1. Question the distances
  2. Light created in transit as part of a fully functioning universe
  3. Light follows some peculiar non-Euclidean space so that light from the entire universe can arrive in just a few years, regardless of great distance
  4. A decrease in the speed of light, allowing for light from the entire universe to reach the earth very quickly, within the Creation Week
  5. Biosphere model, or, as some critics of this model call it, the soft gap
  6. Cosmological models using general relativistic effects to get light to reach the earth very quickly during the Creation Week.
  7. Time convention (i.e. Lisle’s ASC model)

I suppose we can add Faulkner’s solution as number 8 in this list.  None of these attempts is a clear development based on previous attempts – they all branch out in different directions, clearing the ground and starting again; all signs that Christian fundamentalists are making heavy weather of the starlight problem.

However, having said that I was interested to note that on the AiG starlight web page another of AiG’s tame scholars, John Hartnett, has an article that strongly criticises Faulkner’s “solution” and then in another article Hartnett actually goes on to develop his own ideas based on Jason Lisle’s ASC model; this is actually the first time I have seen another fundamentalist building his theory on the ideas of another. You might conclude then that perhaps for AiG Lisle’s model is where the starlight problem is at; but no: Ken Ham bypasses all that and goes back to Faulkner’s work. This may indicate that Ham favours this solution in spite of Hartnett’s strong criticisms. I suspect that Ham, who is not the brightest of sparks,  probably doesn’t understand the work of Lisle and Hartnett. More to the point, however, is that Ham is head of a sales organisation whose customer base is the average scientifically challenged fundamentalist Christian: Faulkner’s idea is much more customer friendly than Lisle’s and Ham probably understands that. Ham may lack scientific aptitude but I don’t doubt his sales acumen; after all that is his job and he seems to have had some measure of success in that role. Moreover, as part of his sales technique, like all good cult leaders, he’s not past using some very spiritually intimidating language, as also did the religious salesmen Charles Taze Russel, the founder of the Jehovah’s witnesses.  Ham’s  endorsement of what really only amounts to a sales friendly solution to a big headache doesn’t help promote any confidence that AiG are making any substantive scientific progress toward solving their star light problem; rather, appearances are that fundamentalism is in disarray on this issue.

As I hope we will see in the next part of this series Hartnett’s criticises Faulkner largely on the  basis that Faulkner’s approach is far too ad hoc and disrespects known physics by simply patching in the miracles required to make everything look right. Hartnett’s criticism might work if it weren’t for the fact that Faulkner confines the light transmission miracle entirely to the creation week when who knows what God was up too. Faulkner is therefore able to wave away Hartnett’s objections which are based on the expectations of known physical laws, such as expecting that the miraculously meddled with light might betray either red or blue shifts. But according Faulkner, in the creation week God simply acts to contrive things so that it all works out fine by sheer brute authority and creative fiat; after all, what is young earthism but a belief in a miraculous “creation week” when God did His inscrutable thing His way! Faulkner admits that his solution probably isn’t scientific in that it may not be testable.  But Hartnett is very uneasy with this as he would no doubt like to do a little genuine science in order to earn his “Creation scientist” job title. But Ken Ham has shown us who and what he favours and it’s not science. He might talk about AiG loving science but let’s face it that’s just lip service – in reality he hates (established) science and much prefers sales**. So, Mr. Hartnett, stop trying to be scientific about creation!

For in the final analysis AiG, and especially Ken Ham, are not about science; they are about being a sales organisation selling anti-science products. It’s about befuddling their benighted patrons and muddying the waters with sufficiently technical sounding bafflegab to give the appearance that the difficult question of starlight is in the capable hands of AiG “experts”; that’s all that’s needed for a sales organisation like AiG. In his post linking to Faulkner’s article Ham makes special point of telling his readers that the article by Faulkner is “fascinating though somewhat technical”. That’s all the average AiG customer will really want to know.  And yet clearly John Hartnett can see that the whole thing is a scientific sham. But ever the salesman Ken Ham knows that all he need do is wave vaguely in the direction of his “research” department and make noises to the effect that they are well qualified, they’ve got the matter in hand and point to a paper or two too full of technical bafflegab, too technical for the average AiG customer to actually engage it.

Faulkner’s underlying motive, just like Jason Lisle’s, is in fact commendable. He’s hankering after creative integrity. He wants to avoid any suggestion that the light signals we see from the stars didn’t actually leave those stars; that is, the signals aren’t lying in the sense that they are not delivering a message about cosmic states of affairs that never existed. He wants, rightly, a truthful universe, not a fraudulent virtual universe. In fact Faulkner criticises fundamentalist Henry Morris favouring the idea that light was created in transit:

Thus, the stars could not fulfill their purposes unless they were visible right away, so God made them with their light already en route to earth. This has a certain amount of appeal to it, but it also could be construed as deceptive on the part of God to make light containing tremendous amount of information of physical processes that never happened. Since the vast majority of the universe is more than a few thousand light years distant, it would seem that we will never see light that actually left these distant objects, and hence much of the universe amounts to an illusion. This concern has been the primary motivation of those seeking other solutions to the light travel time problem.

But if Faulkner is looking for a cosmos of epistemic integrity he has actually got a big problem with his solution if he thinks it doesn’t entail epistemic fraud.

Let us suppose that astronomers see some event in the depths of space millions of light years away like, say, a super nova. When is that event, according to Faulkner, supposed, to have happened?  It could not have happened after the creation week because according to Faulkner the laws of physics were then settled and therefore information about the event would not have arrived at Earth in time. This leaves Faulkner with only two options. Either

a)     Information about the  event was already embedded in the ray of light that God stretched out between earth and the distant stars during the creation week or

b)      The event occurred during the creation week.

I take it that Faulkner wouldn’t like option a) since we would then be “seeing” an event that never took place. But if he selects b) he has some tricky questions to deal with.  We see distant super nova events occurring months, years and centuries apart. Somehow all these events have to be squeezed into the creation week and the miraculous light transmission stretching process has to be so contrived that the information about these events, after the end of the creation week when standard physics applies, is embedded in the light beam sufficiently close to Earth and correctly spread out in space in order to give us the impression of an ongoing process of stellar evolution occurring over months and years. Thus what we see as apparently a process conforming to known laws of physics in actual fact occurred during the miraculous creation week. In a word we are looking directly into the creation week, but are unaware of it; and when we do it's as if the "creation week" was stretched over a much longer period of time than just one week! I think this is somewhat straining the idea of a cosmos that has epistemic integrity.

Another issue is this: Unless Faulkner is also going to miraculously speed up cosmic processes during the creation week he has a poser regarding such things as colliding galaxies or galaxies in gravitational interaction  – processes that take millions of years to mature because gravitational communication doesn't exceed the speed of light. But in any case since time, in the final analysis, is measured in terms of the number of distinguishable events between two states it is arguable that time measured in this way entails a cosmos billions of years in the development – unless of course one is going to argue like fundamentalist John Byle who actually proposes that the cosmos is some kind holy deception designed by God to deceive wicked human scientists! The latter is essentially the same as waving it all away under the heading of “mature creation” thus hamstringing scientific epistemology. If fundamentalists like Faulkner want to get away from positing the bogus history bogey young earthists have got their work cut out.

 All these problems trace back to one prejudice:  Fundamentalists just won't accept that Biblical prose is not always to be read literally but mythologically. But as we have seen anyone who doesn't accept fundamentalism's prose-literalism is liable to be spiritually abused and threatened with divine displeasure. 


This series is likely to consist of two more parts: 1) I’ll have look at the spat between Faulkner and Hartnett and then 2) have a look at Hartnett's development of Jason Lisle’s whole new can of worms.


* Russell’s Humphreys white hole solution may be an exception to this: He allows billions of year of time to pass in the wider cosmos, although gravitationally dilated earth time only sees 6000 years passing.

** Ken Ham's advertising announcement blog post dated 18/7/2017 is entitled "Get quick answers to tough questions".  Quick answers: That's the problem! Scientific answers are not always quick and sales friendly as Ken would no doubt prefer them to be. Ken's use of Faulkner's quick bodge perhaps reflects Ken's preference for sales over science. 

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