If you thought that was pretty scary, there's a physicist by the name of Thomas G. Barnes
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.
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
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
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.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank