Good Math/Bad Math

Monday, May 01, 2006

Relativity and Young Earth Bogosity

I was forwarded a really great link to the latest "theory" being put forward by those jokers at Answers in Genesis to explain the age of the earth. Folks, this one is a real winner! It's one of the funniest things I've read in years.

The problem that these guys have is that they need to reconcile their young-earth religion with the fact that when we look into space, we see a universe that overwhelmingly appears to be incredibly old.

For years, their claim was that the speed of light used to be faster. This has gradually started to fall out of favor, mostly because it's blindingly stupid. You still see it a lot among the various low-level goons of the creationist movement, but the leaders have moved on. The problem with this "argument" is that you can't change the speed of light without changing a whole lot of other things: many of the basic constants are interrelated in various ways to make our universe behave the way it does. Put ultra-simply, alter the speed of light, and suddenly chemistry stops working. Or as the geniuses over at "Answers in Genesis" put it:
The biggest difficulty, however, is with certain physical consequences of the theory. If c has declined the way Setterfield proposed, these consequences should still be discernible in the light from distant galaxies but they are apparently not. In short, none of the theory’s defenders have been able to answer all the questions raised.
The new claim is trickier, and wiggles it's way around the fine-tuning thing. The new argument is that the earth is at the center of the universe, and that this creates a relativistic time-dilation effect around the earth which means that time on earth is dramatically slower than time in the rest of the universe - so the rest of the universe may be billions of years old, but the earth itself is only 6000 years old.

Here's how they introduce it:
Let us briefly give a hint as to how the new cosmology seems to solve the starlight problem before explaining some preliminary items in a little more detail. Consider that the time taken for something to travel a given distance is the distance divided by the speed it is traveling. That is:

Time = Distance / Speed

When this is applied to light from distant stars, the time calculates out to be millions of years. Some have sought to challenge the distances, but this is a very unlikely answer.7

Astronomers use many different methods to measure the distances, and no informed creationist astronomer would claim that any errors would be so vast that billions of light-years could be reduced to thousands, for example. There is good evidence that our own Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across!

If the speed of light (c) has not changed, the only thing left untouched in the equation is time itself. In fact, Einstein’s relativity theories have been telling the world for decades that time is not a constant.
It's a really great start. First, we jumble the dependent and independent variables, to define time as linearly dependent on speed. Then we babble a bit about Einstein to argue that time isn't constant, and so we can jiggle about this little equation. But wait - that's nothing. Really. If that was as far as they went, I wouldn't have wasted my time writing this. It gets much better.

Here's the real prize, the coup de grace. This is just magnificant stupidity:
Dr Humphreys’ new creationist cosmology literally ‘falls out’ of the equations of GR, so long as one assumes that the universe has a boundary. In other words, that it has a center and an edge—that if you were to travel off into space, you would eventually come to a place beyond which there was no more matter. In this cosmology, the earth is near the center, as it appears to be as we look out into space.

This might sound like common sense, as indeed it is, but all modern secular (big bang) cosmologies deny this. That is, they make arbitrary assumption (without any scientific necessity) that the universe has no boundaries—no edge and no center. In this assumed universe, every galaxy would be surrounded by galaxies spread evenly in all directions (on a large enough scale), and so, therefore, all the net gravitational forces cancel out.

However, if the universe has boundaries, then there is a net gravitational effect toward the center. Clocks at the edge would be running at different rates to clocks on the earth. In other words, it is no longer enough to say God made the universe in six days. He certainly did, but six days by which clock? (If we say ‘God’s time’ we miss the point that He is outside of time, seeing the end from the beginning.)10
Yes folks - if we assume that earth is at the center of the universe: the literal center of the universe; and we take the combined mass of the entire universe and treat it as a point mass at the center of the earth; and then we use that mass as the mass of the earth and plug it into the relativity equations, we get a truly amazing time-dilation effect around the earth.

That's it. That's the prize of creationist thinking. So what's wrong with it? Well, before I start, I want to say that I'm pretty sure that most of the folks reading this don't need this explained to them. I don't think you're anywhere near that stupid. But I've got to act as if I did think you were that stupid, because I couldn't write about it otherwise.

First: you can compute a pretty good approximation of instantaneous gravitational forces between bodies by treating them as point-masses at their center of gravity. But they are not point masses. And if you do anything but an instantaneous calculation, treating them as point masses will give you the wrong result. They've made a fundamental math mistake here: a simplifying assumption can only be applied in the specific type of calculation for which it was designed, in the specific situation where it was derived. They're applying it in a very different situation - they are not doing an instantaneous calculation of gravitational forces. But they've done far worse than that - they've elevated a computational shortcut to the status of a physical law! The fact that under some circumstance, you can calculate some value more easily by making a simplifying assumption does not make that simplifying assumption a physical fact!

Second: the very meaning of relativity is that there is no universal frame. This whole silly concept is based on the idea that there is a single universal frame, with earth at the center, and that this makes the location of earth fundamentally different from anywhere else in the universe.

(In an interesting connection with the recent discussion of symmetry: relativity describes a set of fundamental symmetries about the universe. This nonsense is creating a fundamental assymetric point in a bogus way, and then applying the equations that describe the symmetry at the assymetric point.)

And then they take it even further!:
It is fortunate that creationists did not invent such concepts such as gravitational time dilation, black and white holes, event horizons and so on, or we would likely be accused of manipulating the data to solve the problem. The interesting thing about this cosmology is that it is based upon mathematics and physics totally accepted by all cosmologists (general relativity), and it accepts (along with virtually all physicists) that there has been expansion in the past (though not from some imaginary tiny point). It requires no ‘massaging’—the results ‘fall out’ so long as one abandons the arbitrary starting point which the big bangers use (the unbounded cosmos idea, which could be called ‘what the experts don’t tell you about the “big bang”’).
Yes - it's lucky that they didn't invent time dilation and relativity and stuff, because we would have made fun of them. And this is all based on rock solid math and physics! No massaging of results! No special conditions! As long as you use relativity while discarding the fundamental mathematical and physical premises upon which relativity is predicated, it's all perfectly valid and obvious!

24 Comments:

  • This guy's got a PhD in physics? From a non-podunk university (LSU)? The value of a degree from LSU just took a serious nose dive.

    By Anonymous ArtK, at 8:35 PM  

  • I played around with this a few days ago, with the assumption that the time dilation happened 6000 years ago and then stopped, because a continuing time distortion effect would have some of the same difficulties as the changing speed of light. Not to mention that the universe does NOT revolve around the earth. Ah well.

    By Blogger Qalmlea, at 8:58 PM  

  • Hi Mark,

    Oh wow, I missed this little gambit courtesy of the creationist.

    Nice pull-apart; I was impressed by your not getting too sarcastic (it is pretty hard sometimes).

    By Blogger Interverbal, at 10:24 PM  

  • Yeah, I had seen that creationist arguement a while back. The AIG article I read attacked the starlight argument (stars are millions of light years away, how can we see them?) which showed that Creationist ideas about a young universe were flawed. AIG had the gaul to complain that the guy obviously didn't know about the Creationist' relativity arguement - and, therefore, the evolutionist was clearly ignorant of the latest Creationist theories. (roll eyes)

    By Anonymous BC, at 10:54 PM  

  • I love this part:


    The interesting thing about this cosmology is that it is based upon mathematics and physics totally accepted by all cosmologists (general relativity), and it accepts (along with virtually all physicists) that there has been expansion in the past (though not from some imaginary tiny point). It requires no ‘massaging’—the results ‘fall out’...


    Creationists believe in a micro bang, but not a macro bang!

    Something has indeed fallen out, but I don't think it's their results.

    By Anonymous Eric Wallace, at 11:07 PM  

  • This is the worst and most dishonest application of physics I have ever seen.

    Why am I not surprised that this is a creationist argument?

    By Blogger Broadside, at 11:29 PM  

  • What the folks at AIG have not yet seen as an implication of this theory is its impact on Ark zookeeping logistics. Instead of speculating how the animals aboard miraculously hibernated or did not have to eat so much, simple time dilation solves the problem - Noah and his family are the center and the walls of the Ark the boundaries, therefore time passed slower for the animal stalls farther from Noah's cabin. Noah could then easily have plenty of time to feed, water & clean the stalls of the thousands of animals on the ship.

    By Anonymous steve, at 12:53 AM  

  • This is why high-school physics (which relies on doing nice tidy instantaneous calculations treating carts rolling down hills as point masses) is not sufficient to put together a scientific theory.

    By Blogger Thomas Winwood, at 2:40 AM  

  • The new argument is that the earth is at the center of the universe, and that this creates a relativistic time-dilation effect around the earth which means that time on earth is dramatically slower than time in the rest of the universe - so the rest of the universe may be billions of years old, but the earth itself is only 6000 years old.

    Wouldn't that mean that the stars they're so worried about would actually appear to be even closer than they actually are? You'd get kind of a mirage effect as the light bent, surely.

    Will double-check this when doing GR revision - it'll be good practice :)

    By Blogger Lifewish, at 5:36 AM  

  • I could feel my brain cells dying as I read that. Thanks a lot.

    By Anonymous Scott Simmons, at 9:22 AM  

  • This whole silly concept is based on the idea that there is a single universal frame, with earth at the center, and that this makes the location of earth fundamentally different from anywhere else in the universe.

    For some reason, I find something very appealing in the Principle of Mediocrity, or whatever they call it. :)

    I could feel my brain cells dying as I read that. Thanks a lot.

    I only got 300 Coulters worth of cell death, though I confess I only skimmed some parts. How many did you get?

    By Blogger Bronze Dog, at 9:57 AM  

  • My theory: The brain protects itself from the effects of reading the creationist gibberish by creating a time-dilation effect through laughter. ;)

    By Blogger Ron, at 12:34 PM  

  • The YEC argument from relativity theory has a very post-modern feel to it. Take the desired conclusion, pick a starting point, then construct an argument based on one's own interpretation of scientific literature so the argument is imbued with "derived" authority.

    By Anonymous Mike, at 12:55 PM  

  • So, um, if there's a millionfold time dilation on Earth relative to the rest of the universe, doesn't it follow that starlight should be incredibly intense? Since we're seeing millennia's worth of starshine in a split-second glance? And on top of that, shouldn't there be a cosmological blueshift, since both material objects and the light they produce are gravitationally collapsing on top of us? Why aren't we dying from cosmic radiation?

    I really think they're better off sticking with "God made it look old."

    By Anonymous Anton Mates, at 1:20 PM  

  • I really think they're better off sticking with "God made it look old."

    So sayeth the doctrine of Last Thursdayism.

    By Blogger Bronze Dog, at 3:51 PM  

  • Hey, let's not forget the shameless lies, either, like this one...

    That is, they make arbitrary assumption (without any scientific necessity) that the universe has no boundaries—no edge and no center.

    The Big Bang theory makes no such assumptions. In fact, the Big Bang theory assumes that the universe DOES have a center; the location at which the Big Bang itself occurred! The universe also has an "edge", since it's basically an expanding sphere of matter and energy... outside the sphere there isn't any matter.

    By Blogger Lord Runolfr, at 4:56 PM  

  • For the previous post, it may help to read Flatland and Sphereland.

    As his lordship's post suggests, the universe does have a center and an edge. All of 3D space is the edge, and the center is outside our 3D space.

    By Blogger Bronze Dog, at 6:42 PM  

  • One curious thing about this article is that the Answers in Genesis nuts have always tried to distance themselves from the geocentric nuts, apparently for fear of being called nutty.

    This article, though, is about as geocentric as it gets. Is this a signal of detente or desparation?

    By Blogger bcarson, at 6:03 PM  

  • Just to expand on what bronze dog said, the Big Bang did not occur at a location in an empty universe and then expand outward into that empty space. Rather, the big bang completely filled the entire universe, and then the entire universe expanded. Within the three dimensions of the universe there is no "edge" beyond which there is no matter and also there is no center with a privileged relationship relative to the Big Bang.

    By Blogger trrll, at 6:47 PM  

  • Yes folks - if we assume that earth is at the center of the universe: the literal center of the universe; and we take the combined mass of the entire universe and treat it as a point mass at the center of the earth; and then we use that mass as the mass of the earth and plug it into the relativity equations, we get a truly amazing time-dilation effect around the earth.

    How do you get that from the passage you quoted? It doesn't read anything like that to me, nor is it what Humphreys has proposed.

    By Anonymous MartinM, at 8:39 AM  

  • And doesn't this only explain distances based on Red Shift? Distances based on parrallax aren't affected by this.

    According to this:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/distance.html

    We are currently at the 8,000 light year mark and by 2010 be up to 32,000 ly.

    If you take cephid variables from there...

    By Anonymous KeithB, at 3:04 PM  

  • Keithb: actually, depending on what model they use, parallax might make it worse. For example, if they're using some kind of hyperbolic spacetime, the light paths will actually curve outwards as they come towards the Earth. As a result, they'll hit the planet at a sharper angle, making it look like the star is even closer than it is.

    I may be horribly misunderstanding them of course.

    Oh, I've just spotted another one. Wouldn't light that entered a location in which time was running slower actually be blue-shifted? That's a question that's actually worth emailing AiG about when I'm bored...

    By Blogger Lifewish, at 6:39 AM  

  • The problem with this "argument" is that you can't change the speed of light without changing a whole lot of other things: many of the basic constants are interrelated in various ways to make our universe behave the way it does. Put ultra-simply, alter the speed of light, and suddenly chemistry stops working.

    What about the theorized changes in the fine-structure constant?

    By Anonymous Urijah, at 12:48 PM  

  • Interestingly, there is sort of a universal reference frame -- the rest frame of the cosmic background radiation. However, it doesn't affect the conclusions of GR.

    By Anonymous brandon, at 8:18 PM  

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