The cure for cults that want to deny others
their freedom of speech is more freedom of speech
-- Fredric Rice

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Creationist Cults

Here's an older text that covers the idiot notion that the Earth's magnetic field is some how decaying, together with coverage of related crackpot notions. Unfortunately no author is indicated in this piece - flr


If you thought that was pretty scary, there's a physicist by the name of Thomas G. Barnes who's an outright creationist. I was writing an article for a newsletter on creationists' views of physics and was flipping through copies of the _Creationist Research Society Quarterly_ which our library here actually carries (catalogued in the religion section of course).

I got all sorts of funny and scary misinterpretations of physical phenomena by people too ignorant to know any better. However the thing that made my skin crawl was seeing the name Thomas G. Barnes popping up all over the place, and references to various articles that he's been submitting to _CRSQ_ since the mid-seventies. The short blurb about authors state that he's a Professor Emeritus in Physics at the University of Texas at El Paso (one can understand why the department might have wanted to give him emeritus status). He's also served on the _CRSQ_ editorial board since the mid-eighties although I don't remember seeing his name in recent issues.

Barnes' has a crackpot notion that gravity is an "electric" field or a component of the electromagnetic force. Electric charge is not separable from mass, presumably meaning there are no such things as neutral particles. Barnes believes that he's come up with a unified field theory to explain all of physics, using only the electromagnetic force; the strong and weak nuclear forces are also components of EM.

To make all of this stick, he has to throw out relativity and quantum mechanics, and revert back to things like the ether and a Bohr model of the atom. (He solves the problem of electrons spiralling into the nucleus by way of a "transformer" model of the electron.)

I didn't have time to look at Barnes' 'research' closely. However if anyone is interested and has access to back issues of _CRSQ_, some of Barnes' articles that have appeared in the 1980s include:

vol 19, pp 113-116, 1982; vol 21, pp 56-62, 1984;
vol 19, pp 208-212, 1983; vol 21, pp 186-189, 1985.

A while back, I came across one of Dr. Barnes' books, "Space Medium", in which he discusses some of the things you mentioned. However, since I am not a physicist, I have no frame of reference for evaluating any of his theories. If you come across any evaluations of his theories, please let me know. (And if anyone posts some info on Dr. Barnes, could you please email me the articles; I currently have limited access to Usenet.)

So that there is no misunderstanding, let me state for the record that I am a creationist. My interest in Dr. Barnes' work stems from the fact that I really do want to find out if his theory really is a "crackpot" idea. I frankly admit that I am out of my area on this one; I've got the original journal articles on the "around the world" Cesium clock experiments which certainly do seem to show time dilation.

In a related topic, you refer to the articles in CSRQ as "all sorts of funny and scary misinterpretations of physical phenomena by people too ignorant to know any better". I would certainly not categorize the CSRQ as such. Just because the articles are bucking the current status quo does not make the authors "ignorant". I would respectfully argue that most of the authors are quite knowledgeable in the fields that they address. If you have specific examples to site, that's one thing, but to call the authors ignorant and claim that they are misinterpreting the facts is quite another. After all, this is what the entire creation/evolution debate boils down to: Everyone agrees on the facts; what we disagree on are the specific theories which attempt to explain the facts.

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When I was talking about the "scary misinterpretations of physical phenomena" in my posting, I was refering to articles about physics. I'm sorry if that was not clear enough. I agree that most of the stuff in _CSRQ_ is not about physics and I would not be well qualified to judge the content of these other articles.

However as a graduating senior in physics (and astronomy), I can tell right away that when articles concerning physics do appear, they are written by people who know little about the field.

One example is a decay in the speed of light which is Barry Setterfield's main schtick. Setterfield's written articles (_Ex Nihilo_, vol 27, pp. 56-70) and a book (_The Atomic Constants, LIght, and Time_, 1987) which propose that the speed of light is decreasing over time, and suggesting that it was millions of times faster in 6000 years ago than today. He has come up with this to try and explain the apparent enormous size of the universe, which doesn't make sense in a young-earth creationist model. Along the way, he proposes that a decaying c (speed of light) will make radioactive decay rates faster in the past as well and a whole bunch of other things that will make creationism work.

There are so many problems with Setterfield's theories that even creationists writing in _CSRQ_ are criticizing him (G. E. Aardsma, vol 25, pp. 36-40, 1988; D. R. Humphreys, vol 25, pp. 40-45, 1988; R. D. Holt, vol 25, pp. 84-88, 1988; G. R. Morton, vol 27, pp. 60-67, 1990). Setterfield's main piece of evidence is taking all of the measurements of c and their errors, which go back some two hundred years, plotting them on a graph with respect to time, and drawing an exponentially decaying line through the error bars, showing such-and-such an exponential decay over time. Never mind that older measurements, especially ones from two hundred years ago are bound to be less accurate than ones from this century, but other creationists have even attacked him on the statistics which he's used to try to prove his point. The most damaging evidence however is the fact that one of his first data points (one of the really old ones) is off by a sign--that is, instead of appearing above the x-axis with the other points, it's below the x-axis, thus throwing off his whole fit.

Not withstanding attacks by fellow creationists, Setterfield's theory fails on the actual physics. There is _no_ evidence that the speed of light is decaying. Learning about the fundamental properties of light was the big field back in the 1800s so physicists have worked and argued such a problem to death. Unfortunately all of these arguments and papers came out more than a hundred years ago so most people don't get to hear about them today.

But once you start messing with the non-constancy of c, you bring a whole tub-load of stuff falling down on you since the speed of light is inextricably linked with so many other physical constants and properties. For instance you would have to throw out the conservation of energy for electric and magnetic fields since energy densities for the classical definitions of E&M fields depend linearly and inversely on constants which themselves can be defined by their relationship with c.

In another _CRSQ_ article, V. E. Ettari tries to place doubt on the measure- ments of redshifts for distant galaxies (vol 25, pp. 140-154, 1988). Redshifts indicate that galaxies are not only very far away, but suggest that the universe is expanding and had its beginnings in a Big Bang billions of years ago. Thus if the measurement of redshifts are prone to errors, there would appear to be problems with the Big Bang theory.

Ettari has written one of the most error-filled articles I have ever read. It is chock full of mistakes and twists physics around in many instances while trying to make its point. There are actually so many mistakes that I don't even know quite where to begin. But for just a few examples . . .

For one thing, Ettari proposes that phenomena such as dispersion and light scattering by dust can produce redshifting. Since we don't know what sort of dispersive materials or how much intergalactic dust is out there, we can't be sure how accurate our redshift measurments are.

This is totally, absolutely, and flatly wrong. Effects like dispersion and light scattering are totally unrelated to redshifts. There is no common link between them and redshifts and the only reason one should suppose the existence of one is if he does not understand physics very well.

Another case of bringing up totally unrelated phenomena is the mention of temperature and Doppler broadening of spectral lines. The shape of spectral lines can be changed by various physical properties of the material or matter that is producing the spectral lines. A very hot object will have broader lines (and broader in a certain shape) than a cooler object. This is due to the fact that emitting atoms (or molecules) in a hot object will have larger velocities as they bang around, resulting in slight Doppler shifting of the emitted line depending on whether the emitter was moving towards or away from the observer at the time of emission. However since there is an equally likely chance that another atom will be moving in the opposite direction and emitting, as a whole, the spectral line "stays in the same place." However the contributions from emitters moving at different velocities relative to the observer will result in a broadening of the line.

Similarly if you are taking spectra from an entire galaxy, then the effects of Doppler broadening will become important. Different parts of the galaxy will be moving either towards or away from you and if you don't concentrate on a small fraction of the galaxy but the whole thing, you will see components that are blue and red-shifted, also resulting in line broadening.

However broadening of lines does not change the fact that they still have about the same wavelength as an unbroadened line (it will take pretty high speeds to result in significant deviations from the mean wavelength). Statistically the broadening will still center on the original unbroadened wavelength, since there exists a group of emitters that have no relative velocity with us.

Then again there is actual Doppler shifts in wavelength due to the fact that the whole galaxy is receding or moving towards us at some velocity. Then you will see a shift in the wavelengths of spectral lines. This however is a separate effect from the other two, and one can separate out the effects from data during data analysis of spectral images.

Finally D. J. Benton has a written a fairly decent article on the special theory of relativity (vol 25, pp. 88-90, 1989). He tells simply what SR says and does not say--fair enough since there aren't any factual errors. However in a letter that is printed a few issues later, he says a few things which show what his opinions are of the topic. Benton cites things like the Twin Paradox and the "Muon Paradox:" if time dilation shows the apparent age of muons travelling near the speed of light, what of the apparent age of photons at the speed of light? He then dismisses the Michelson-Morley experiment as being no more than "an interesting wave phenomenon and have nothing to do with an ether." I don't think I have time to discuss each of these topics in detail, but Benton's comments show the level of ignorance about SR. The Twin Paradox is really no paradox at all and it is only confusing to those who haven't studied SR well enough and don't have all the details to the problem; likewise with the "Muon Paradox." His views on the Michelson-Morley experiment show not only that he doesn't know much about special relativity, but also that he doesn't know much about classical 19th century physics as well.


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"You can lie about ICR all you want." -- Jason Daniel Henderson

"Thank you for your permission however there's never any need to.
Creationist propaganda is already self-debunking." -- Fredric L. Rice

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