Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Comets: Deconstructing fundamentalist anti-science.

The face of sectarian authoritarianism: Anti-scientist Jonathan Safarti tells us 
what we've got to believe if we don't want to compromise our faith!

In these posts here and here I contrasted Ken Ham's tame astronomer Danny Faulkner's treatment of the second law of thermodynamics with that of young earthist Jonathan Sarfati. Sarfati sensibly warns young earthists not to use it as argument against evolution. Faulkner on the other hand falls for all the old traps that young earthists fall into over the nature of the second law of thermodynamics. 

Sarfarti is a New Zealander who writes articles for Creation Ministries International (CMI). As I have related in my VNP blog Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis (AiG) emerged out of a fundamentalist schism involving CMI and Ken Ham's friend and ex-business partner John Mackay. I wrote about this complex affair in this blog post. CMI still have unresolved issues with John Mackay;  see  here:

(or see my post on the MacKay affair if this web page should disappear).  While I'm on the subject of inter-fundamentalist feuding I may as well also mention the schism between the supporters of Kent Hovind and Hovind's son Eric.The feud seems to have been triggered by Kent's divorce and his son subsequently siding with his mother. One of Kent's supporter's, Pastor Steve Anderson, referred to Eric as one of the most evil men out there.  Eric Hovind, by the way, is in cahoots with AiG (AiG has criticized - and rightly so - the quality of Kent Hovind's creationist ministry). I did a short blog on this fundamentalist family feud here. As a Christian I find this whole sordid business of vicious spiritually fueled in-fighting very embarrassing. I can only sympathize with atheists who see it as further justification for an atheist world view.

With knowledge of the foregoing background  I was interested to see that Jonathan Sarfati has an old article on CMI about comets. As he seems to be a more competent operator than Faulkner I was anxious to compare his article on comets with those of Faulkner who has also posted on comets (See here for samples of the poor quality of Faulkner's thinking).

The article by Sarfati that I would like to scrutinize can be seen here:

The article is rather old (June 2003) and comet research at that time had (and still has) plenty of way to go. However, more to the point is that Sarfati's article is a fine specimen of fundamentalist habits of mind and it is that which is of greater interest to me than fundamentalist (anti)science.   


At the beginning of Sarfati's article we read this:

SARFATI: It was the Biblical worldview which led to the science that explained comets. The Bible teaches that the universe was made by a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:33), who gave mankind dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26–28). Historians of science, regardless of their own religious faith, from Christians to atheists, acknowledge the vital importance of the Christian worldview in the rise of modern experimental science.

MY COMMENT: From a Christian perspective that is probably a fair summary: The Christian faith leads to a belief in a knowable cosmos, knowable because of a core belief in its created rational integrity. This promotes a sound mind which is not easily seduced by the nihilism of postmodernism. The irony is, as we shall see, that Sarfati's fundamentalist world view does not have much respect for the rational integrity on which science depends; fundamentalism is on a collision course with the order and rationality of God's creation. 

There is further irony here in that this self-same scientific project which the Christian world view encourages and which Sarfati praises also led humankind into a cosmological revolution that overturned the cosy Ptolemaic universe and ultimately uncovered the huge depths in both space and time. Ostensibly the cosmos no longer looked like a stage set centered around Earth where the story of salvation was being played out. This is and was a challenge for Christians.  Moreover, as Western Christian protestant groups became more and more marginalized from mainstream intellectual life, fundamentalists, as we well know, went into denial and attempted to reinstate the cosy dimensions of time if not of space. 

To get round the discoveries of modern science Sarfati and his ilk have to split science into so called "observational" and "historical" or "non-observational" science in order to cast doubt on what they classify as the latter. This is an error in the fundamentalist epistemic, for as I have said before all science is at once both observational & historical, and non-trivial scientific objects seldom, if ever, classify as directly observational (See here, and here for more) 

Safarti's anti-science world view is effectively alluded to early on in his article:

SARFATI: The Word of the Creator of the comets, which inspired the development of the science that demystified them, also tells us when He made them. In Genesis 1:14–19, He told us that He made the sun, moon and stars on Day 4 of Creation Week, which was about 4000 BC, as Kepler and Newton realized. Since the Hebrew word for star, כוכב (kokab) refers to any bright heavenly object, it presumably includes comets as well.

MY COMMENT: The fundamentalist mind is thoroughly dualist in outlook and perceives a sharp dichotomy between the "natural" and the "supernatural".  Cosmic "creation" is seen as an act of God's magical words whereby he speaks the stars into existence*1<\sup>. Clearly this world view is not very science friendly; as Sarfati implies it means that God conjured up the comets, like the stars, as is, just like that!, presumably with their constituents, distribution and trajectories determined by divine fiat. This means that little or nothing is known about the process of comet formation and their properties have to be taken as brute fact.  In the fundamentalist paradigm of creation there is great freedom to patch-in what ever one wants with little regard to any rational integrity or any underlying theoretical conjectures. An extreme case of this fundamentalist "just like that" paradigm can be witnessed in Jason Lisle's "mature creature" cosmogony where he resorts to the old young earthist strategy of positing cosmic signals created in transit in order to explain apparent cosmic interactions (see here for more on this).

SARFATI: The features of comets make perfect sense in a Biblical timescale, but are a huge problem for evolution/billions of years. Because all age indicators work on assumptions, the argument here is not claimed as ‘proof’ of a ‘young’ solar system. Because of the reliable eye-witness account of the Creator in the Bible, the young age is accepted. And this article, among many others,3 shows that even under the evolutionists’ own assumptions, there are huge problems for their timescale

MY COMMENT: Let's start by focusing on what Sartfati means when he says that the features of comets make perfect sense in a Biblical time scale. Does he mean that he understands how the composition, distributions and trajectory of comets is a logical outcome of the time scale he is offering? Of course not! For if he believes that comets came about as a result of God speaking them into existence then that puts very little constraint on their properties; for who can guess what Sarfati's magician God is going to conjure up?  As I've already remarked this is very similar to Jason Lisle's theory that the particles which are the basis of the interactions between the stars or between galaxies were created in transit; an idea mooted in the 1961 fundamentalist book The Genesis Flood. Thus both Lisle and Sarfati have very little constraint on what they can postulate with their "mature creation" world view; just about anything goes and concomitantly very little understanding is therefore being offered. This is what Sarfati refers to when he tells us confidently that what is effectively "magic" makes "perfect sense" of cometary properties!

Because so little is known about the origins of comets much is hidden behind our ignorance and therefore Sarfati is wrong to say that comets are a huge problem for evolution/billions of years. As Sarfati himself admits we know so little about the Oort cloud: The Oort cloud is a conjectured object and its properties rather vague; if we did know more about its size, composition and even, in fact, if it exists it would then constrain our expectations about the life time of cometary invasions and a theoretical inconstancy might then give scientists a huge problem. But in the meantime too many sliding variables make outright contradictions impossible. 

To be fair to Sarfati he has conceded above that none of this is proof of young earthism. Thus Sarfati is in effect admitting that he's simply trying to put a spanner in the works of current cometary theory; after all, this is really all that the young earthist anti-scientist can be expected do, because as we have seen a world view that can always be rescued by appeal to divine fiat has no rules and is therefore not very amenable to scientific epistemology. But this admission by Sarfati is at least a step in the right direction: Some fundamentalist anti-scientists don't make this clear: They point to the weaknesses in current theories without pointing out that this doesn't allow the interpolation that the cosmos is just 6000 years old. Instead they come out with vague statements like "Therefore the universe must be young!" and let their audience fill in what is meant by "young".

Note the common anthropomorphism one sees among fundamentalists of Sarfati's ilk Viz: "the reliable eye-witness account of the Creator."  God, of course, has no eyes and therefore we've no idea how God experiences things. If Genesis 1 is God's experience of creation it certainly doesn't follow that it would be the same experience from a human perspective!  We have little or no  idea what it is like to have the Divine first person perspective and therefore a metaphorical/mythological interpretation rather than literal interpretation for Geneses is in order; if a human "eye-witness" were at the creation there is no telling, a priori, what it would look like to the human eye. After all, the young earthists weren't eye-witnesses there at the time of creation so how do they know what it looked like?

SARFATI: This means that the comet is slowly being destroyed every time it comes close to the sun. In fact, many comets have been observed to become much dimmer in later passes. Even Halley’s comet was brighter in the past. Also, comets are in danger of being captured by planets, like Comet Shoemaker–Levy crashing into Jupiter in 1994, or else being ejected from the solar system. A direct hit on Earth is unlikely, but could be disastrous because of the comet’s huge kinetic (motion) energy. The problem for evolutionists is that given the observed rate of loss and maximum periods, comets could not have been orbiting the sun for the alleged billions of years.

MY COMMENTS: Yes, individual periodic comets can't orbit the sun for billions of years, but because we have very sketchy ideas about the origins of comets we can draw no strong conclusions about how long cometary invasions into the inner solar system have been going on. Sarfati should have been more careful with his wording. His last sentence should have read in the singular; that is:

A comet could not have been orbiting the sun for the alleged billions of years.

And not in the plural: 

Comets could not have been orbiting the sun for the alleged billions of years.

This latter careless expression puts Sarfati in the same category of error making of Faulkner and which I picked up in this blog post. Since established science has sketchy ideas about the supply of comets  (plural) we don't know how long that supply would last!

SAFARTI: The highest period of a stable orbit would be about four million years if the maximum possible aphelion (furthest distance of an orbiting satellite from the sun) were 50,000 AU. This is 20% of the distance to the nearest star, so there’s a fair chance other stars could release the comet from the sun’s grip.

However, even with this long orbit, such a comet would still have made 1,200 trips around the sun if the solar system were 4.6 billion years old. However, it would have been extinguished long before. The problem is even worse with short-period comets.

The only solution for evolutionists is hypothetical sources to replenish the supply of comets:

MY COMMENT: I'm not disagreeing with any of this. Sarfati is right in telling us that given the fragility of comets regular visits to the inner solar system by one comet can only last so long and therefore established science must find a way to keep up the supply of invading comets.  (But see appendix I for yet another wild card - it is conceivable that cometary invasions are a "new" thing)

But notice one thing here: 4 million years, the longest possible period of a comet's orbit, is a lot larger than 6000 years. So we can see that Sarfati isn't going to get a figure of 6000 years out of his "science"! But then he doesn't need to: Comets were created "just like that!"

Here's what Sarfati says about the Oort cloud: 

SARFATI: No observational support Therefore it’s doubtful that the Oort Cloud should be considered a scientific theory. It is really an ad hoc device to explain away the existence of long-period comets, given the dogma of billions of years.

MY COMMENT: He's repeated another error by Faulkner. Sarfati is misrepresenting the process of scientific epistemology. The Oort cloud is a legitimate scientific conjecture that seeks to fit the data dots. In the sense of being part of the process of scientific discovery advancing a hypothetical object, as long as it is acknowledged is such, is a scientific strategy. Ergo, the Oort cloud is a scientific theory in that respect (See my post on Faulkner where I make the same point). Moreover, the Oort cloud is observational in so far as it seeks to explain what we know about comets from celestial observation. Sarfati seems to be displaying the usual fundamentalist misunderstanding of the relationship between theory and observation. All theories are observational in so far as they attempt to explain observations although the epistemic distance of the objects being explained may mean that not enough observational data is available for them to pass from conjecture to settled science. There is no sharp cut-off between "observational" science and historical or non-observational science; rather we have a sliding scale of epistemic distance. Trouble is, fundamentalists have a habit of thinking in black and white terms and seek unambiguous, non-fuzzy categories which gives them a philosophical pretext to discredit historical science.

SARFATI: Collisions would have destroyed most comets: The classical Oort cloud is supposed to comprise comet nuclei left over from the evolutionary (nebular hypothesis) origin of the solar system, with a total mass of about 40 Earths. But a newer study showed that collisions would have destroyed most of these, leaving a combined mass of comets equivalent to only about one Earth, or at most 3.5 Earths with some doubtful assumptions.

The ‘fading problem’: The models predict about 100 times more NICs than are actually observed. So evolutionary astronomers postulate an ‘arbitrary fading function’. A recent proposal is that the comets must disrupt before we get a chance to see them. It seems desperate to propose an unobserved source to keep comets supplied for the alleged billions of years, then make excuses for why this hypothetical source doesn’t feed in comets nearly as fast as it should.

MY COMMENT: Safarti refers to two problems with Oort cloud theoretical models tendered prior to 2002: Namely:

Problem 1: A model of the early solar system predicts that too few comets find their way into the Oort cloud because they are ground to dust via collisional processes before they are ejected into the Oort cloud.  See here:

Rapid collisional evolution of comets during the formation of the Oort cloud S. Alan Stern & Paul R. Weissman
Coupling dynamical and collisional evolution of small bodies II : Forming the Kuiper Belt, the Scattered Disk and the Oort Cloud  Sébastien Charnoz Alessandro Morbidelli

Problem 2: A theoretical model predicts too many NIC and dormant Halley-type  comets.  See here:

Where Have All the Comets Gone?  Mark E Bailey
The mass disruption of Oort Cloud comets: Levison HF1, Morbidelli A, Dones L, Jedicke R, Wiegert PA, Bottke WF Jr.

So, on the one hand we have a theoretical model which suggests that the Oort cloud doesn't contain enough viable material to act as a supply of comets and on the other hand theoretical model research which suggests there are not enough NIC comets observed. Conflicting results like this are the signs of a theoretical discipline which is still very much feeling its way. Collisional and interactional dynamics is very sensitive to the typical diameters of the objects in interaction and the output of these models will very much depend on these parameters.  Given the epistemic distance of the early solar system and the conjectured Oort cloud it is no surprise that models are churning out perplexing results.

But Sarfati cannot have his cake and eat it; either a lot is known about the origins and distribution of comets or very little is known; we seem to be nearer the latter rather than the former. If on the other hand knowledge of the Oort cloud was on a much firmer foundation and yet theories still came up with unequivocal inconsistencies Sarfati might have a case. But if as Sarfati has acknowledged it seems our knowledge is sketchy to say the least, inconsistencies and perplexing results are no surprise. Sarfati can't have it both ways: Given the state of knowledge about the conjectured Oort cloud he cannot make claim to unresolvable problems and yet at the same time claim that this is not "observational" (sic) science. (What Sarfati really means by "not observational science" is simply that the objects being studied here have a large epistemic distance)  

SARFATIThe Kuiper Belt is supposed to be a doughnut-shaped reservoir of comets at about 30–50 AU (beyond Neptune’s orbit), postulated as a source of short-period comets. It is named after Dutch astronomer Gerald Kuiper (1905–1973), sometimes considered the father of modern planetary science, who proposed it in 1951.

To remove the evolutionary dilemma, there must be billions of comet nuclei in the Kuiper Belt. But nowhere near this many have been found—only 651 as at January 2003. Furthermore, the Kuiper Belt Objects discovered so far are much larger than comets. While the diameter of the nucleus of a typical comet is around 10 km, the recently discovered KBOs are estimated to have diameters above 100 km. The largest so far discovered is ‘Quaoar’ (2002 LM60), with a diameter of 1,300 km (800 miles), which orbits the sun in an almost circular orbit [Ed. note: Sedna, discovered on 14 November 2003 and reported on 15 March 2004, after this article was written, is probably larger]. Note that a KBO with a diameter only 10 times that of a comet has about 1,000 times the mass. So in fact there has been no discovery of comets per se in the region of the hypothetical Kuiper Belt, so it so far is a non-answer. Therefore many astronomers refer to the bodies as Trans-Neptunian Objects, which objectively describes their position beyond Neptune without any assumptions that they are related to a comet source as Kuiper wanted.

MY COMMENT: Sarfati's article is showing its age: This passage is no longer relevant. Cometary research has moved on, but  not with the help of Sarfati!

See: Viz:

WIKIPEDIA: The Kuiper belt was initially thought to be the main repository for periodic comets, those with orbits lasting less than 200 years. Studies since the mid-1990s have shown that the belt is dynamically stable and that comets' true place of origin is the scattered disc, a dynamically active zone created by the outward motion of Neptune 4.5 billion years ago; scattered disc objects such as Eris have extremely eccentric orbits that take them as far as 100 AU from the Sun.

The Kuiper belt is distinct from the theoretical Oort cloud, which is a thousand times more distant and is mostly spherical. The objects within the Kuiper belt, together with the members of the scattered disc and any potential Hills cloud or Oort cloud objects, are collectively referred to as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Pluto is the largest and most massive member of the Kuiper belt, and the largest and the second-most-massive known TNO, surpassed only by Eris in the scattered disc. Originally considered a planet, Pluto's status as part of the Kuiper belt caused it to be reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. It is compositionally similar to many other objects of the Kuiper belt and its orbital period is characteristic of a class of KBOs, known as "plutinos", that share the same 2:3 resonance with Neptune.

SARFATI: Summary: Comets are not portents of doom, but are objects God created on Day 4. The successful prediction of comet appearances was an early triumph for modern science, inspired by a Biblical worldview. Comets lose so much mass every time they shine that they could not be billions of years old. Evolutionists propose various sources to replenish the comet supply, but there is no real observational evidence, and numerous unsolved theoretical difficulties. Therefore comets make much more sense under a Biblical timescale.

MY COMMENT: Sarfati once again shows that he really hasn't taken on-board the relationship between observation, theoretical objects and epistemic distance. Clearly there is observational evidence for the Oort cloud in as much as observed comet visitations are thought to be an outcome of the theory. But the observations so far do not yet provide enough evidence to take the Oort cloud concept out of the realm of hypothesis. Moreover, the state of Oort cloud research in 2003 means that there remain too many sliding variables for discrepancies, difficulties and inconsistencies to add up to a blatant contradiction and therefore refute the hypothesis with certainty. Moreover, as we shall see the epistemic distance of the Oort cloud is such that even now there are too many unknowns to either "refute" or "prove" the idea.

As I have already pointed out Sarfati can in no way predict the distribution, composition and trajectory of comets and instead all he can say is that they are celestial objects "God created on Day 4". From such a position only a fundamentalist mind could make a statement like "...comets make much more sense under a Biblical timescale." 


Observing the Oort Cloud?
Christian Fundamentalists  a have tendency to think in dichotomies and the idea that "observational" science is something which slowly fades with epistemic distance is not likely to have an easy fit with a mentality which seeks to secure clear cut charges  a) of heresy, b) of evading divine authority, c) of unorthodoxy and d) of compromise. With this in mind just how observational is the Oort cloud? Here's what Wiki says about the Oort cloud hypothesis (emphases mine):

The Oort cloud (named after the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort), sometimes called the Öpik–Oort cloud, is a theoretical cloud of predominantly icy planetesimals believed to surround the Sun to as far as somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000 AU (0.8 and 3.2 ly)

Astronomers conjecture that the matter composing the Oort cloud formed closer to the Sun and was scattered far into space by the gravitational effects of the giant planets early in the Solar System's evolution. Although no confirmed direct observations of the Oort cloud have been made, it may be the source of all long-period and Halley-type comets entering the inner Solar System, and many of the centaurs and Jupiter-family comets as well.

The Oort cloud is thought to occupy a vast space from somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 AU (0.03 and 0.08 ly) to as far as 50,000 AU (0.79 ly) from the Sun. Some estimates place the outer edge at between 100,000 and 200,000 AU (1.58 and 3.16 ly). The region can be subdivided into a spherical outer Oort cloud of 20,000–50,000 AU (0.32–0.79 ly), and a torus-shaped inner Oort cloud of 2,000–20,000 AU (0.0–0.3 ly). The outer cloud is only weakly bound to the Sun and supplies the long-period (and possibly Halley-type) comets to inside the orbit of Neptune. The inner Oort cloud is also known as the Hills cloud, named after Jack G. Hills, who proposed its existence in 1981. Models predict that the inner cloud should have tens or hundreds of times as many cometary nuclei as the outer halo; it is seen as a possible source of new comets to resupply the tenuous outer cloud as the latter's numbers are gradually depleted. The Hills cloud explains the continued existence of the Oort cloud after billions of years.

The outer Oort cloud may have trillions of objects larger than 1 km (0.62 mi),[3] and billions with absolute magnitudes brighter than 11 (corresponding to approximately 20-kilometre (12 mi) diameter), with neighboring objects tens of millions of kilometres apart.[6][17] Its total mass is not known, but, assuming that Halley's Comet is a suitable prototype for comets within the outer Oort cloud, roughly the combined mass is 3×1025 kilograms (6.6×1025 lb), or five times that of Earth.Earlier it was thought to be more massive (up to 380 Earth masses), but improved knowledge of the size distribution of long-period comets led to lower estimates. The mass of the inner Oort cloud has not been characterized.

If this is up date then it is clear that as the article admits the Oort cloud is still a very conjectural object where the exact parameters characterizing its properties are unknown. Also just look at the spatial distances involved; the Oort cloud could extend up to 3 light years from the Sun! So getting a spacecraft out there with current technology looks unrealistic. Moreover, at these distances it is unlikely that even today's telescopes would detect dark objects about 10 miles across.  In fact the web page below (dated 2015) discusses the question of the telescopic observability of Oort cloud comets. After presenting some calculations the author then concludes: 

The observation of Halley by the VLT represents the pinnacle of what is possible with today's telescopes. Even the Hubble deep ultra deep field only reached visual magnitudes of about 29. Thus a big Oort cloud object remains more than 20 magnitudes below this detection threshold!

The most feasible way of detecting Oort objects is when they occult background stars. The possibilities for this are discussed by Ofek & Naker 2010 in the context of the photometric precision provided by Kepler. The rate of occultations (which are of course single events and unrepeatable) was calculated to be between zero and 100 in the whole Kepler mission, dependent on the size and distance distribution of the Oort objects. As far as I am aware, nothing has come of this (yet).

So if this answer is right then with current technology no one is going eyeball an Oort cloud comet any time soon, even with the aid of a telescope. In the fundamentalist mind this will likely disqualify the Oort cloud from the category of  "observational" science.  What then would need to be done for the Oort cloud to fall into the fundamentalist's "eyeball" category of "observational science"? 

The author of the above quote mentions the Kepler mission's attempt to detect Oort cloud comets via star occultation. More about this topic can be found on these web pages::

But the Kepler mission, even if it came up with observations consistent with the Oort Cloud hypothesis, may not classify as "observational" science from the perspective of the eyeballing fundamentalist. Firstly, theoretical science has to be invoked in order for cometary occultations to be distinguished from planetary occultations; that will, of course, entail assumptions. Secondly, even if Kepler came up with the right number of the right type of occultations, that is, between 0 and 100,  this still doesn't fit with the naive observer's concept of "eyeballing" the Oort cloud - it would just amount to a tiny sampling of the cloud and the extrapolation to this huge tenuous object from such a small data set would entail the use of statistics and assumptions that are not unassailable if we are so minded.  It is unlikely that we will be able to eyeball the Oort cloud in its entirety any time soon and so fundamentalist eyeball-science will remain safe! 

The anti scientist at work
Eyeballing fundamentalist's insistence on so-called "observational science" is ultimately subversive of the whole scientific project..... for all our observations are, in the final analysis, seen through a theoretical lens, a lens which the fundamentalist refuses to use. All science is at once both observational and theoretical - the two go hand in hand. There are however variations in epistemic distance which render some objects more theoretical and less observational than others. But as I have said  fundamenatlists don't usually think in shades - they more naturally to think in dichotomies; us vs them, saints verses heretics, goodies verse baddie, insiders vs outsiders, the faithful vs apostates, the Christian community vs evil conspirators etc and this dichotomised social world view colors their perception of science with its very human epistemic frailties.

And that exactly describes Sarfati; he refuses to lift a finger to advance cometary science; but then how can someone who believes that comets were spoken into existence, just like that, with all their properties as is, be of help to science? The role of the anti-scientist is to bring down established science to the satisfaction of his fundamentalist audience. Sarfati's "science" is so empty that there is nothing in his paradigm to stop him declaring that the Oort cloud itself could have been spoken into existence just like that, thus giving the mere appearance of a solar system that has emerged from a cloud of dust and gas. In the fundamentalist world view anything goes; except of course established science which must at all costs be proved wrong. When he thinks he has done this Sarfati then triumphantly tells his audience of simpletons that ...comets make much more sense under a Biblical timescale. 

Safarti fills the role of an anti-scientist perfectly. He has science qualifications which give him credence among his benighted followers. His scientific training will also equip him to attack the inevitable assumptions that have their roots in the Christian belief in a cosmos of rational integrity and which are the basis of all scientific theories ....not least the assumption that the cosmos has a rational integrity which allows true scientists to rule out, for example, that the particles behind long term cosmic interactions were not spoken into existence in transit. 

Anti-scientists like Sarfati are time wasters. Too much time can be spent in deconstructing their inner world view, a teetering tower of Gish gallop built up over many years and which does the rounds in fundamentalist sub-culture.

Lastly here's what Sarfati thinks of evangelical Christian astronomer Hugh Ross, who is an old Earth creationist but who does not accept evolution. This is what Sarfati says of him (my emphases):

SARFATI: The Canadian-born astronomer Hugh Ross is the leading proponent of the view that the days of Genesis 1 were billions of years long. He has influenced many leading evangelicals, and is president of the ostensibly Christian apologetics ministry, Reasons to Believe, in California. As his testimony makes clear, his compromise in Genesis is due to his faith in the ‘big bang’. This leads him into all sorts of unorthodox views, such as millions of years of death and suffering before Adam; plants feeling pain; a local flood; manlike creatures that created art, superglue, and made ocean voyages but didn’t have souls, etc.

[Ross] urges Christians to accept the consensus view of astronomers, and let it over-ride the grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture.

MY COMMENT: Fundamentalists are evangelicals but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. This passage by Sarfati brings out the difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical who isn't a fundamentalist. As I often say fundamentalism is one part doctrine and 2 parts attitude; this means that an evangelical might accept young earth (or even flat earth) and yet not, in my books, classify as a fundamentalist because their attitude to other Christians hasn't become hardened and exclusive. Christians of the latter variety are Paul Nelson and Sal Cordova. The Wiki article on fundamentalism does a good job of characterizing the defining attitude of fundamentalism:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups—mainly, though not exclusively, in religion—that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

Fundamentalist insiders regard us outsiders as residing in the Christian equivalent of Islam's Dar_al-Harb, the house of war. We can see this exclusive attitude at work with Sarfati; he even questions the faith of an evangelical like Ross who in many respects would have a lot in common with Sarfati. And yet Sarfati uses the extreme expressions like "the ostensibly Christian apologetics", "his compromise in Genesis" and "all sorts of unorthodox views" to describe RossNone of this is really new though; Ken Ham makes similar attacks on evangelical Christians and his organisation Answers in Genesis even attacks those Christians who believe the Earth to be only as old as ten thousand years. 

Fundamentalists attempt to justify their authoritarian claims by telling us they are just following the Bible; accordingly, they believe their authoritarianism is excused because they are, in their view, simply acting as a divine mouth piece. But in the above quote Sarfati gives the game away.  He talks of Christians who over-ride the grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture. The grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture" is a cluster of concepts which in the fundamentalist mind justifies the use of the literalist lens when reading scripture. The Bible, of course, says nothing of the grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture". It is an extra Biblical contextual construction that must be invoked by the fundamentalist in order to understand the Bible in a literalist way. This is because the Bible cannot be absolutely self-interpreting; it requires us to bring the requisite contextual resources it needs to be correctly interpreted. In effect Bible meaning can't bootstrap itself - the bootstrap needed is always extra biblical. (See here and here for more on this topic)

Because we are proactive parties in scriptural interpretation we become epistemically responsible for our interpretations and therefore they have no authority. Sarfati has fallen for the illusion that somehow he has direct access to God's mind and this leads to an authoritarian outlook and the standard belief among fundamentalists that those who contradict their views don't have  genuine and well thought out reasons for rejecting the fundamentalist context of interpretative principles. Like all other fundamentalist philosophies Sarfati's grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture can itself be deconstructed piece by piece.  

Sarfati's fundamentalism might be more plausible if all fundamentalist spoke with a unified voice, but of course they don't -- as we've seen from the interfundamentalist schisomogenesis I referenced at the start of this post. Fundamentalists, by definition, are highly sectarian and authoritarian and in bad cases they are the precursors of cult Christianity. 

Below I have reproduced a fairly recent article that appeared on Yahoo. It's  an indication of just how full of wild cards Oort cloud research is. There is no basis for Safarti's assertion that ...comets make much more sense under a Biblical timescale. 

Alien star 'nudged' our solar system 70,000 years ago (and its effects are still visible now)

Scholz’s star, seen in this artist’s impression released by NASA, is
 now 20 light years away (AFP Photo/Lynette Cook)

Around 70,000 years ago, a small, reddish star came near our solar system and disturbed comets and asteroids – just when modern humans were beginning to leave Africa.
The star – Scholz’s star – named after the German astronomer who discovered it – approached less than a light-year from the Sun, when Neanderthals were still on our planet.
Astronomers from the University of Cambridge have verified this week that the effects of the star are still visible now in the movements of distant asteroids and comets.
Nowadays it is almost 20 light-years away, but 70,000 years ago it entered the Oort cloud, an area of objects at the edge of the solar system, beyond Neptune.
First found in 2015, astronomers analysed the nearly 340 objects of the solar system with hyperbolic orbits (very open V-shaped, not the typical elliptical) – and found that some of them are still influenced by the passage of Scholz’s star.
Lead author Carlos de la Fuente Marcos says, ‘Using numerical simulations we have calculated the radiants or positions in the sky from which all these hyperbolic objects seem to come.
‘In principle, one would expect those positions to be evenly distributed in the sky, particularly if these objects come from the Oort cloud; however, what we find is very different: a statistically significant accumulation of radiants. The pronounced over-density appears projected in the direction of the constellation of Gemini, which fits the close encounter with Scholz´s star.’


More links to web pages on the Oort cloud:

One by Safarti:

*1:  See a blog post by Ken Ham dated 12th April 2018  where he says: 
The universe didn’t start with a big bang. It started when God spoke things into existence. And it’s important to note that the Big Bang idea is based on naturalism and has the stars and sun coming before the earth—whereas the Bible states that God created the earth before the sun and stars.

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