|Feature Article - January 2011|
|by Do-While Jones|
Is there no limit to what people will believe if it is prefaced by the phrase, “Scientists say …” ?
Someone once asked, “Why is it that when an astronomer tells you there are 100 billion trillion stars, you believe him; but when a sign says, ‘Wet Paint’, you have to touch it?” We realize it is a rhetorical question meant merely as a joke; but there is a serious answer. It could be that the sign has been there so long that the paint has had time to dry. We don’t know if the paint is still wet or not. Since we are naturally curious, we do an experiment to see if the paint is still wet. We can verify if the paint really is wet or not by touching it.
When an astronomer tells us how many stars there are, how far away they are, what they are made of, and how old they are, there is no way we can know if he is correct. We have to take his word, based on his reputation, the degrees he has earned, and the college where he earned his degrees. He can never prove what he tells us is true, and we can never prove he is wrong. Cosmology is based on a few astronomical observations, resulting in conclusions which have to be accepted by faith in the cosmologist. That makes it personal, which makes it emotional.
We received this email (indirectly) from Ken regarding our recent article on missing short-lived isotopes 1 illustrating our point.
The reality is that we understand quite well how such isotopes are formed in stars, and these processes produce both long- and short-lived isotopes, as well as non-radioactive isotopes. Potassium, for example, comes in three common isotopic forms: Potassium-39, potassium-40, and potassium-41. Only potassium 40 is radioactive, but all three types are found in nature, since the half-life of K-40 is more than a billion years. Now, lead (Pb) also comes in several isotopic forms, which include Pb-204, Pb-206, Pb-207, and Pb-208. The "missing" isotope, which is easy to generate in reactors, is Pb-205 which has a half-life of about 30 million years. Since the material from which the earth is formed is much older than that, no Pb-205 remains on earth.
What's the point? The only way to claim that the natural process of element-building in stars could produce all of the isotopes of lead - except for Pb-205 - would be to identify a process that would somehow produce long-lived isotopes like K-40 while not producing short-lived isotopes like Pb-205 (even though it could make all of the other forms of lead!). There is, in fact, no such process - and the creationists know this. Therefore they are reduced to the ridiculous explanation that the reason those isotopes are missing is because God made it that way. In more direct terms, God deliberately set out to fool us about the age of the earth.
Sorry, but I'm not buying into the idea of a deceptive God.
There are two keys to his logic. The first key is his first sentence. He thinks “we understand quite well how such isotopes are formed in stars.” The fact is that some people THINK they know, but the process has never been observed. Nobody really knows anything at all about how all the elements in the universe were created. The cosmological stories about elements being produced by exploding stars are just stories. Yes, stars apparently explode today, producing novas or supernovas, but that doesn’t mean that all the elements in the universe were created that way.
Scientists don’t agree on how all the elements in the universe were formed. Every theory has significant problems. Scientists can’t even agree on how many stars there are.
Astronomers who examined eight relatively nearby galaxies have found evidence of a surprisingly high abundance of faint, low-mass stars — each has about 10 times as many as the Milky Way. Those elderly galaxies are so chock-full of faint stars that the researchers extrapolate that the heavens contain up to three times the total number of stars previously estimated.
The profusion of stars also suggests that the early history of the cosmos may need a rewrite, perhaps doubling previous estimates of the total mass of stars in many of the universe’s first, massive galaxies. If so, those early galaxies would have forged stars at a much more prodigious rate, says Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University. He and Charlie Conroy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., describe their study in a paper appearing online in Nature on December 1.
The number of stars in the universe is highly uncertain, but astronomers have previously put the total at about 100 billion trillion, or 1023. 2
From a practical point of view, it matters if the paint is still wet if you sit on the recently painted bench. Does it really matter if there are 100 billion trillion or 300 billion trillion stars? Does the number of stars affect what you eat, how long you will live, who you will marry, or how rich you will be? No, it only affects your life if you let it affect what you believe. The actual number of stars (and their locations at the moment of your birth) don’t affect your life—unless you let them.
Let us be uncharacteristically repetitious because this is really important. Whether or not you get paint on your pants when you sit on the recently painted bench depends upon whether the paint is actually wet or not. It doesn’t matter what you believe. If you believe the paint is dry, but it is actually wet, you will get paint on your pants no matter how strongly you believe the paint is dry. But when it comes to astrology or cosmology, the truth doesn’t matter. Your belief is all that matters. If the astrologer tells you not to go outside today because of your astrological sign, your decision to stay inside is based on your belief, not the actual power of the position of the stars.
Cosmology is nothing more than a modern form of astrology. Some people make life-altering decisions based on what they believe about the formation of the universe. Ken is one of these people.
Remember, the first key to Ken’s logic was his belief that he knows how all the elements in the universe were formed. He believes a cosmological story about how all isotopes were formed. He has no way of knowing if that story is correct or not. Practically speaking, it is irrelevant whether or not isotopes were formed by that process, or some other process. All that matters is that he believes it.
The second key to understanding Ken’s argument is that he has certain beliefs about the character of God. He thinks he knows what God would or would not do. He thinks he knows why God did not create Pb-205. He thinks God did it to make the Earth look old.
Ken’s email is based just as much on what he believes about God as it is on what he believes about nuclear reactions. He is trying to convince us to agree with him based on what he “knows” about God. Is Ken an expert theologian? Does Ken know God well enough that we should trust what he tells us about God?
It would not surprise me if, when Stephen Hawkings dies, someone discovers a recording that is labeled, “Do not play until after my death.” When the recording is played a mechanical voice could very well say,
For decades I have been conducting a secret experiment. I wanted to discover how gullible people are. So, I kept telling taller and taller tales. Some of these ridiculous stories are on-line at http://hawking.org.uk/index.php/lectures/publiclectures. I expected that sooner or later everyone would recognize them to be nonsense. But no matter how fantastic the stories were, highly educated people believed them. In fact, the more highly educated they were, the easier it was to fool them. The experiment failed. I never could reach the “Gullibility Limit.”
There is something to be learned from every experiment, whether it succeeds or not, whether the experiment is done on purpose or not. Sometimes more is learned from failure than success. Decades of experiments failing to create life from scratch through natural processes has taught us why life could not have originated that way.
Similarly, all these different cosmological explanations requiring fudge factors like dark matter and dark energy fail to explain astronomical observations, and simply prove that the Big Bang Theory is just a big bust, and that there is no limit to gullibility!
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Disclosure, November 2010, “Missing Isotopes”
2 Cowen, Science News, January 1, 2011, “Billions, billions, and more billions”, Page 10, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/its-really-full-stars