So, as promised, it’s time for part two of “The Creationists and the Shrinking Sun”.
The second main tack of the creationists and the shrinking sun is to *not* use the bare
measurements of an allegedly shrinking sun as their evidence. Instead, they use it as
evidence for a very peculiar theory. It’s an interesting approach for a couple of reasons: it
actually *proposes a theory* (a bad theory, but hey, at least it’s a theory!); it uses some recent theories and observations as evidence; and it casts the whole concept of how the sun works as part of an elaborate conspiracy to prop up evolution.
So let’s take a look at the argument. Here’s a typical version of it from from [creationism.org](http://www.creationism.org/ackerman/AckermanYoungWorldChap06.htm).
>What causes the sun to shine? Prior to the rise of Darwin’s evolution theory, the great
>nineteenth-century scientist Hermann von Helmholtz proposed a simple and effective model–
>gravitational collapse. The only problem with the concept was that it would not allow anything
>approaching the vast amounts of time demanded by the theory of evolution. If the sun produced its
>energy by gravitational collapse, the sun could last no longer than a few million years, and for
>evolution to have even a ghost of a chance much more time is required.
>Around the turn of the century, the famous scientist Lord Kelvin created difficulties for
>evolutionists by presenting a number of powerful arguments against the long ages needed by their
>theory. In a widely heralded debate with the famous evolutionist Thomas Huxley, Lord Kelvin tore the
>evolutionists’ position to shreds with simple and straightforward physical arguments that the earth
>and solar system were not old enough for life to have arisen by Darwin’s proposed evolutionary
>process. Among Lord Kelvin’s arguments on the age issue was the time factor for the sun’s survival
>based upon Helmholtz’s accepted model of gravitational collapse. Lord Kelvin had the theory of
>evolution on the ropes and had seemingly dealt the knockout blow.
>What happened? The discovery of atomic radiation changed the whole picture. Evolutionists suddenly
>took new courage as the phenomenon of atomic radiation seemed to provide the necessary answer to
>Kelvin’s challenge. With regard to the question of why the sun shines, the gravitational-collapse
>model became unfashionable, and in the 1930s Hans Bethe introduced the currently accepted view that
>thermonuclear fusion in the sun’s core is the source of its energy.
> Flies in the Ointment
>Although the nuclear-fusion theory of solar burning is widely accepted in scientific circles, it has
>one serious drawback. Unfortunately, a large-scale nuclear-fusion reaction in the sun’s interior
>would give almost no indication of its existence, and so the concept is difficult to verify
>scientifically. As it turns out, however, there is one very expensive method of verification.
>Princeton astronomer John Bahcall, along with Raymond Davis of the Brookhaven National Laboratory,
>wrote a research report on this work in 1976.1
>To “catch” neutrinos (particles released during certain nuclear reactions) and verify the
>thermonuclear-fusion theory, a large cavity was dug deep underground in a South Dakota gold mine.
>The necessary apparatus for detecting neutrinos was then constructed. The importance of this
>research in terms of providing necessary testing of the widely accepted general theory of evolution
>cannot be overemphasized. As Bahcall and Davis explain:
>>One may well ask, why devote so much effort in trying to understand a backyard problem like the
>>sun’s thermonuclear furnace? . . . The theory of solar energy generation is … important to the
>>general understanding of stellar evolution. . . .
>>There is a way to directly and quantitatively test the theory of nuclear energy generation in stars
>>like the sun. Of the particles released by the assumed thermonuclear reactions in the solar
>>interior, only one has the ability to penetrate from the center of the sun to the surface and
>>escape into space: the neutrino. Thus neutrinos offer us a unique possibility of “looking” into the
>>solar interior. . . . the theory of stellar aging by thermonuclear burning is widely used in
>>interpreting many kinds of astronomical information and is a necessary link in establishing such
>>basic data as the ages of the stars. . . . Thus an experiment designed to capture neutrinos
>>produced by solar thermonuclear reactions is a crucial one for the theory of stellar evolution. …
>>It is for . . . these reasons . . . that so much effort has been devoted to the solar neutrino
>>problem [emphasis added].2
>From a creationist point of view, the results of the neutrino-capture experiments are very exciting,
>for they indicate that the thermonuclear-fusion theory of solar radiation may be entirely wrong. The
>sun is not emitting the necessary neutrinos. In an Associated Press story of March 1980, Kevin
>McKean discusses the impact of the “case of the missing neutrinos”:
>>The neutrino is a particle emitted during certain nuclear reactions, including several of those
>>believed to power the sun. It travels at or near the speed of light, like an invisible ray, and can
>>penetrate miles of very dense matter without striking anything. Trillions of neutrinos from the sun
>>stream through our bodies every second. Because neutrinos can escape from deep within the sun,
>>scientists realized they might be a good way of checking whether the reactions believed to power
>>the sun are really happening. Chemist Ray Davis Jr., of Brookhaven National Laboratory in
>>Brookhaven, N.Y., led a team that set up a neutrino detector nearly a mile underground at the
>>Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, S.D. In nearly a decade of operation the detector has found only
>>one-third the expected number of neutrinos. . . . “It seems to me that we’re not even at first
>>base,” Bahcall says. “We have just realized we have a ball game and all we know is somebody is out
>>there throwing fastballs at us and we can’t even see them.”3
>Again quoting from Bahcall and Davis:
>>For the past 15 years we have tried, in collaboration with many colleagues in astronomy, chemistry,
>>and physics, to understand and test the theory of how the sun produces its radiant energy (observed
>>on the earth as sunlight). All of us have been surprised by the results: there is a large,
>>unexplained disagreement between observation and the supposedly well established theory. This
>>discrepancy has led to a crisis in the theory of stellar evolution; many authors are openly
>>questioning some of the basic principles and approximations in this supposedly dry (and solved)
>Evidence from the Stars
>Failure to find the predicted neutrinos was the most direct and telling of a number of serious flies
>in the ointment of the thermonuclear-fusion theory of solar burning. In a 1975 article, geo- and
>astrophysicist Harold Slusher explained two other difficulties.5
>First, the chemical composition of stars should change as they proceed through their supposed
>thermonuclear life cycle. However, observational studies of what should be stars of vastly different
>ages show them all to have roughly the same chemical composition. This presents a real enigma for
>the evolutionary nuclear-process theory.
>Second, and equally damaging, is the frequent occurrence of star clusters that are gravitationally
>bound and thus presumably originating at the same time, yet containing stars of vastly different
>ages on the thermonuclear-burn sequence. Some cluster observations are so mind boggling from an
>evolutionist point of view that even if there were not an abundance of other empirical evidences,
>these alone ought to rule out the vast-age concept. The most dramatic is a cluster of four stars in
>the Trapezium of the Orion nebula. These four stars are moving away from a common point at a high
>rate of speed. If the motion of these four stars is projected backward at their present speed, their
>paths lead to a common point of origin only about 10,000 years ago. Yet, according to the accepted
>scheme, the stars in the cluster are vastly older than 10,000 years. Slusher asks, “If the cluster
>cannot be old, how can the stars be old?” Indeed, this amazing cluster raises the question of
>whether the creation itself should be considered as older than 10,000 years.
Collapsed down, this version of the argument is: “The sun doesn’t really work by fusion, but by gravitational collapse. Evidence for this includes the measured shrinking of the sun (the power comes from gravitational collapse, so it *must* be contracting); the lack of solar neutrinos (the reason the sun isn’t generating as many neutrinos as standard fusion theory predicts is because there’s no fusion going on!); and the gravitational structure of certain star clusters.
Do I *really* need to explain what’s wrong with this? Probably not, but I’ll do it anyway.
As I’ve said before on this blog, good science requires good math; and the worst math is *no* math. The theory that fusion powers the sun is a very careful, well developed theory including very solid math. The math allows the theory to make very precise predictions about what kinds of radiation we should expect from a large scale fusion reaction, including quantities of neutrons and neutrinos. The creationist criticism of the measured neutrino numbers is a demonstration of the *good* quality of the theory.
The creationist “gravitational collapse” model completely lacks any supporting math. It’s all just words. It’s easy to say that sun isn’t powered by fusion, but by something else like “gravitational collapse”, or “electromagnetic z-pinch” (to mention another awful no-math “theory” about the sun). But if you don’t include any math, you can’t make any predictions that can *really* be tested. The
creatonists can *say* “the number of neutrinos are wrong”; but they can’t say *what* number of neutrinos there *should* be according to their theory. They can *say* that “measurements show that the sun is shrinking, which agrees with the gravitational collapse theory”, but they can’t say *what rate* of shrinkage corresponds with the amount of heat coming from the sun.
In fact, what it really comes down to is that it’s *not* a theory. Because a theory makes *precise* predictions, and explains the evidence. But the “gravitational collapse” thing isn’t a serious theory. It’s a masquerade. What they’re really doing is trying to put together a list of arguments *against* an old earth; but they think that there’s more credibility to their argument if it’s
presented as a *positive* argument in favor of a theory with some kind of explanation, rather than a *negative* argument against a theory that most people have never even questioned.
All of the real “evidence” for the gravitational collapse theory are *negative* arguments: the fusion theory predicts X number of neutrinos, but we actually observe only roughly x/3. The fusion theory supposedly requires gravitationally bound clusters of stars to have nearly equal ages, but that’s not what we see. And so on. They never show how any of it *supports* their model; just how it supposedly *doesn’t* fit the real scientific model.
To make matters even worse, their criticisms aren’t even any good. The “missing solar neutrinos” thing is typical: it’s not really a problem, it was *never* a show-stopper for the fusion model of the sun, and it doesn’t do anything to support their alternative.
First, and most important: It doesn’t support their argument. Just like the “intelligent design” gang
spend their time arguing about how evolution can’t happen, these guys spend their time arguing that
the old-sun fusion model is wrong, *not* that their model is right. The missing neutrinos *do not*
support a gravitational-collapse young-sun explanation. Gravitational collapse absolutely *cannot* explain the observed neutrino flux. *At best*, the missing neutrinos were a problem for the solar fusion model, not a support for the gravitational collapse.
Second, the problem was never that great to begin with. It was a fascinating problem, certainly. And it took a lot of time and work to figure out what was going on. But it was never a big enough problem to throw away all of the other evidence that supports solar fusion. Only in the bizarre dreams of crazy creationists was this a problem that could kill the idea of an old fusion-driven sun.
Finally, the missing neutrinos problem has been solved. We know, and have known for a long time
that there are multiple kinds of neutrinos, called *flavors*; the current theory says that
there are three flavors: electronic, muon, and tau. [More recent work than what’s cited
by the creationists shows that neutrinos can oscillate between different flavors.](http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/articles/bahcall/) The fusion model predicts
that electron neutrinos will be produced; so the detector that was used for the original
experiments only looked for electron neutrinos. With later work to test for other flavors
of neutrinos, the “missing” neutrinos have turned out not to be missing. The creationist article that I quoted was originally written in 1986, which *was* before the solution to the missing neutrino
problem was discovered, but numerous creationists continue to quote the article I’m dissecting, and to claim that the “missing neutrinos” are a problem that proves a young earth. (Not to mention that even by 1986, there were numerous discussions of *possible* solutions to the missing neutrino problem, along with ways of testing them. The real scientists didn’t just throw up their hands and say “A problem we don’t know the answer to – we give up, goddidit.”)
As a concluding note, the article does have an addendum concerning the discovery of the solution. The addendum was placed on the web in 2002, and makes for a good laugh:
>As forecast in 1986, the issues raised in this chapter have continued to be the focus of much
>scientific research. Relevant developments from a creationist perspective are reported in a 1996
>article, Evidences for a Young Sun, by Keith Davies. Davies summarizes three lines of scientific
>evidence pointing to a young sun. Access this article at:
>More recently, scientists associated with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada report that the
>long-sought missing neutrinos, discussed at the beginning of this chapter, have now been found. An
>article on the Sudbury findings was published in the June 19, 2001 New York Times and may be
>accessed at: http://dept.physics.upenn.edu/~geneb/phys362/press/19NEUT.html
>The implications of this development for estimates of the sun’s age and operating mechanism will
>have to await further analysis by scientists who are open to the possibility that the data points to
>a young sun.