Saturday, February 16, 2013

An Astrophysicist 'Young Cosmos' Creationist? Can you say OXY-MORON?

Russell Humphreys
Right: D. Russell Humphreys – the latest “astrophysicist” laboring in the service of creationist bunkum.

Above:Globular cluster at 50,000 light years distance. The light from its stars has taken that long to reach Earth, or more than 8 times longer than creationists deem the age of the Earth to be!

One really has to wonder what intellectually deformed sort of nitwit – who calls himself an “astrophysicist”- can forego all the major postulates and principles (NOT beliefs!) of physics and astrophysics and subscribe to patently obvious bunkum like a young Earth or young cosmos. We have already beheld one such character, in Jason Lisle, reputed to be an astrophysicist based on one Ph.D. doctoral thesis in which – perhaps for the first time in his academic life- he came close to doing real science. But even that had numerous holes, e.g.

Among the powerful arguments I made to show Lisle’s young Earth-young Sun etc. claims are bollocks (and automatically disqualified him from being any "real astrophysicist") is the fact he  rejects nuclear fusion in the Sun as the primary energy source.  Any first year astrophysics student knows that given accepted-known  nuclear fusion reactions the time taken to steer a spectral class G star through the Main Sequence- goes on for millions of years. Thus Lisle adheres to nonsense (for a thousands of years old Sun)  that NO REAL astrophysicist would hold! For example, Lisle in one dvd on “The Young Sun” attempts to convince gullible fundie and other viewers that he can show the Sun is “young” so fits in with the Genesis fairy tale that the Sun can be no more than 6,000 years old (since in Genesis the Earth was made before the Sun, an impossibility anyway as I’ve shown in a number of blogs).

Lisle's claim, supposedly made by a "real" (sic) astrophysicist, is absolutely astounding in context (especially for a "Ph.D.") - given that it stands all of stellar evolution, astrophysics on its head, especially nuclear fusion: the basis for the Sun's energy! These are things EVERY budding astrophysicist is taught in his first graduate course in stellar astrophysics or stellar evolution. Thus, there are differing nuclear cross sections for differing fusion reactions and also differing time scales.

More to the point, the same arguments that torpedo Lisle’s claims for a young Earth, young Sun also torpedo D. Russell Humphreys for a young Earth and young cosmos. The reason? To embrace such codswallop would require rejecting most of modern stellar physics predicated on nuclear fusion. A key quantity in obtaining these time scales is the energy liberated per (nuclear fusion) chain defined as: W(r) = rE, or W = (rE)/ r which is in ergs/gram for example. (I.e. the total ergs of stellar energy given off per gram of stellar matter available for reaction.)

E is found from specific nuclear fusion reactions, such as p + p -> D2 +e(+) +v, where two protons fuse to yield deuterium, a positron and a neutrino(v). The key quantity is r, defined as the reactions/cm3. Obviously, the greater this value the shorter the energy generation time scale and the smaller the value the longer it will take. It is defined (see, e.g. Astrophysical Concepts, p. 331, by Martin Harwitt:

r = B (r)2  X1X2/ T1.5 * exp^-3[2π^4e^4mH (Z12)(Z22)A'/ h^2kT]1/3

where B is a proportionality constant, r is the density, h is Planck's constant (e.g. h = 6.62 x 10-27  erg-sec), k is Boltzmann's constant = 1.38 x 10-16 erg/K), T is absolute temperature of the reaction, i.e. in K deg, and X1 and X2 are the concentrations associated with atomic numbers Z1, Z2 while A' is the reduced atomic mass, i.e. A' = (A1 A2)/ (A1 + A2).

 Then working out 'r' for the proton-proton fusion cycle one can (after a lot of work) obtain the time scales for each chain part and the energy yielded for each, viz. (cf. Harwit, op. cit., p. 336):p + p -> D2 +e(+) +v (1.44 MeV, Time = 14 x 10  yrs.)

D2 + p -> He3 + y(gamma ray) [5.49 MeV, time = 6 secs)

He3 + He3 -> He4 + 2H1 [12.85 MeV, Time - 6 million years]

Note that the last branch of the cycle already takes 6 million years, i.e. for each fusion to furnish 12.85 Mev (millions of electron volts of energy, were 1 eV = 1.6 x 10-19   J). Thus, this cycle alone takes almost 1,000 times longer than Lisle's time of 6,000 years, as the supposed maximum age of the Sun.

The only mildly problematical time frame in the p-p cycle is for the initial fusion, which yields 14 billion years or about three times the age of the current Sun. Thus, at face value, this translates into only about one fusion every 14 billion years for the first branch of the proton-proton reaction. While that is extremely long, the Sun fortunately has a vast number of protons available in its core, so that – at a temperature of 10 million Celsius, enough can fuse to initiate helium production and energy given off. Moreover, the key "catalyst" speeding the reaction time up is the phenomenon of "quantum tunnelling" whereby a lower energy particle can surmount a higher energy barrier (what we call the "Coulomb barrier") by virtue of its wave-like properties.

To fix ideas, let us say a particle (say proton) of kinetic energy K, must overcome a barrier of energy V ("barrier potential"), via the process of "tunnelling". Consider a deBroglie wave of wavelength lD =  h/p  or lD =  h/ mv  where lD is the de Broglie wavelength) arising from (p+) of form: U(x) ~ sin(kx) where x is the linear dimension along displacement and k, the wave number vector (k= 2π/ lD).

Now, though the associated energy K < V (the barrier "height"), the wavefunction is non-zero within the barrier, e.g.

U(x_b)~ exp(-cx)

So, sketching axes for this:

!   *p
!------!-------------> x

with the potential (Coulomb) "barrier" at height V, for which we visualize the particle p(*) on the left side having "tunneled" over to the right side where it may have wave function, U(x) ~sin (kx + φ), where φ denotes a phase angle.  Note that if the barrier is not too much higher than the incident energy, and if the mass is small, then tunneling is significant.

Note also that the penetration of the barrier is a direct result of the wave nature of matter! In effect, this wave nature - which is uniquely quantum mechanical in origin- allows a higher energy barrier to be penetrated by a lower energy particle, something totally without parallel in classical, Newtonian physics.

In other words, without the benefit of quantum tunnelling, the first reaction time in the p-p cycle would be inordinately long and have to be disallowed as unphysical.

Beyond this we know the photon diffusion time (the time to make it from the edge of the solar core to the Sun's surface or photosphere) is calculated to be nearly 1 million years. This takes into account all the changed random directions the released photons undergo as a result of absorption and re-emission by particles along the way out. No core photon makes it directly through, but instead undergoes millions of interactions en route resulting in collisions. Again, 1 million years for a photon's diffusion time belies Lisle's young Sun argument! It also belies Humphreys own young Earth- young cosmos claims. (Since even the brightest O and B spectral class stars have lifetimes on the Main Sequence, much longer than this photon diffusion time)

In the case of  Jason Lisle, here’s another conundrum for his assorted worshippers to ponder: Lisle himself contradicts his 'Young Sun' assertion in his Ph.D.! (Introduction). Therein he concedes to the above dynamics for nuclear fusion occurring in the Sun! So one is forced to ask if he really believes that or if he LIED in his dissertation? If he lied then his Ph.D. isn’t worth much I don’t care which institution awarded it.

Let’s now return to Humphreys.  Let us grant, according to assorted online Wiki entries, that he is a physicist at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), like Duane Gish. He is best known for his creationist views and his attempts to reconcile reality with the notions of young Earth creationism. As in the case of Lisle  before him, this reconciliation process entails standing long confirmed physics and astrophysics on its head, and dreaming up improbable assumptions to make the reconciliation work.  It would be roughly analogous to me using an array of misplaced physics and whacky assumptions to show an elephant could be suspended from a string and the spring’s tension would support it.

While one of Humphreys favorite sayings (cited on many fundie blogs)  is evidently that scientists –astrophysicists don’t have their own evidence but just  “believe what other scientists believe” we must take care to point out he is certainly not in the same league as many pseudoscientists.  Indeed, he appears to have far more truly scientific distinctions than Lisle.   For example, his biography at Creation Ministries International lists many commendable achievements and awards, but none of his awards appear related to his young Earth-cosmos research.

This shows two things: 1) The discontinuity in awards discloses the actual scientific establishment places no value on creationism or any of its offshoot “theories” including young cosmos, and 2) Though Humphreys cites these mainstream awards for his ICR bona fides, he technically rejects their basis since he rejects the science behind them!

This is important to note because it elicits the question of why he’d cite any mainstream awards at all. If it is to show his professional scientific acumen or capabilities then it’s mostly useless because by embracing young Earth, young cosmos bollocks he’s squandered all his scientific capital. So the awards only show a once prominent physicist who has now “gone off the rails” and in many ways has lost all credibility. In many respects this parallels what happened to the once great Nobel-winning chemist Linus Pauling who tried to parlay his many scientific awards into credibility for his whackadoodle megadose vitamin C conjectures. It didn’t work. People saw through it and concluded that a once great scientist had either become senile or that he betrayed his background to enter a fringe field.

Given then the minimal odds of Humphreys doing actual astrophysics research and getting it published, say in The Astrophysical Journal, in his previous jobs (He joined ICR in 2002, after retiring from Sandia National Laboratories (New Mexico), where he'd been working in the actual scientific fields of nuclear physics, geophysics, pulsed-power research, and theoretical atomic and nuclear physics)  one has to conclude the only gig really open to him after Sandia was at the ICR, there to contrive these totally nutso “theories” (which term I hesitate to use because it dignifies codswallop more than anything else)

How nutso are they? One of the first things any budding astronomer learns is that light travels at a certain speed, e.g. c = 300,000 km/sec approximately and that the light from the distant stars has therefore been traveling for many thousands or millions of years. For example, since the Andromeda galaxy is about 2 million light years distant, the light from any stars seen in that galaxy must have been traveling at least that long. The distance measurements themselves are based on sound physics, for example, using the inverse square law for light in conjunction with Cepheid variable stars as light standards. (See, e.g. )

Ancient starlight thereby creates serious difficulties for young Earth creationists, since our ability to see stars that are billions of light years distant from Earth is incompatible with the belief that the universe was created as described by a literal reading of Genesis.  Commonly known as the starlight problem, Humphreys has attempted to explain it away through the introduction of White hole cosmology

The problem is that white holes are totally speculative. No one knows exactly how a white hole could actually form in the real universe. A black hole's origin is well known: the collapse of a massive star that is reduced to such a tiny volume (collapsar) that its gravity is large enough to suck up anything and everything in its vicinity. While we may speculate that the black hole’s singularity provides a ‘channel’ into the white hole (say via a wormhole) this is only speculation. This is not the same as hard evidence, or proof.

Even introducing the white hole into the universe as an initial condition, e.g. assuming  certain conditions of temperature, pressure, density allow their formation, doesn't resolve the thorny issue of lack of evidence. Is the Big Bang then merely a white hole? How can one say so when no evidence exists for normal white holes in the existing cosmos? . The bottom line: all our data and cosmological observations thus far show no objects that conform to the behavior of "white holes". Even quasars, once believed to be the outpourings of white holes, were ditched decades ago as certain discrepancies arose, and we now suspect they are unique ancient objects in themselves. Of extraordinary luminosity for sure, but not in the white hole class.

An even more extreme conjecture by Humphreys attempts to validate the young Earth bunkum by postulating the Earth being created within a black hole, with the associated gravity inducing time dilation effects! (See e.g. )

This would effectively have Earth's time running at a different rate to the rest of the universe.  BUT here’s the problem with this stretchy bit of imaginative overkill: if Earth’s time rate were running differently, how could we possibly have landed space craft such as ‘Curiosity’ on Mars? Or Viking on Mars, back in 1976? After all, the equations used to plan rocket –space craft trajectories are precise in terms of timing! Hence, if Earth’s time rate were that far out of synch (billions of years, in effect) we’d never be able to launch a craft successfully! Telemetry and videos received from the craft, i.e. showing Mars’ surface, shows the craft HAVE arrived, and hence Humphreys’ whacko speculations can’t be correct.

In the end, Humphreys' extreme efforts to explain away the young Earth or star light problem commits the worst sort of scientific offense and violates the well known Ockham’s Razor principle: that the simpler of two hypothesis, i.e. the one with fewer assumptions,  is always to be preferred over the more complex one.

For this reason, Humphreys’ starlight solution can’t be taken seriously, certainly by any astrophysicist worth his salt.

We therefore have to dismiss him and his far out fringe baloney, just as we do Jason Lisle.  Those who accept their young Earth- young cosmos bafflegab are religious believers, not scientifically minded seekers.

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