Subject: The speed of light controversy. Topic: The speed of light controversy. By Robert

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Subject: The speed of light controversy. Topic: The speed of light controversy. By Robert Day in the Creationism Digest ---------------------------------------------------------------------- From "The Velocity of Light and the Age of the Universe," part 1, by Barry Setterfield, in the journal Ex Nihilo, vol. 4, no.1, 1981: "If you propose that the universe and all in it is the product of an act of creation only 6-7000 years ago, many people ask - "How is it that objects millions of light years away can be seen? Surely such light would take millions of years to reach us." Setterfield, in this and subsequent articles, proposes to set the scientific world on its ear, stating that "The basic postulate of this article is that light has slowed down exponentially since the time of creation. This thought is radical and at first looks outside of confirmation. However, there are at least 40 observations of the speed of light since 1675 which support this suggestion." Setterfield goes on to supply various measurements for c in a table that will become a major point of contention in the months to come. The range in dates in the table supplied by S (as I shall call him) are from 1675 (by Romer) to 1976 (by Bay, Luther and White). At this point, it is already difficult not to feel a twinge of suspicion since 40 is a strikingly low number of observations and one gets the feeling that S certainly has the ability to be selective in his choice of observations. At this point, S's case rests almost entirely on convincing the reader that he has the one and only reasonable curve to fit his data, a curve with rather remarkable properties. In determining this curve, S states that "Exponential curves could not reproduce the observed rate of changes ... Power curves, polynomials, logarithmic and hyperbolic functions were all tried with lack of success. There was only one curve tried that fitted the data points exactly and reproduced all of the observed features." (Note very carefully this last statement, "the ONLY curve tried that fitted ... the OBSERVED features." We will be coming back to this in a later follow-up posting. It should also be noted that S's contention that polynomials were inadequate is incorrect as Lagrange interpolation is capable of exactly fitting n points with a polynomial of degree at most n-1. This is already not inspiring a great deal of confidence in S's mathematical ability but, as we shall see, this will be the least of his problems.) And just what is the magic curve? S explains, "Its general form is a log sine curve, with a logarithmic vertical axis, typical of most energy functions. The general equation is Log c = A + B (Log sine (T)) where A and B are constants that have the respective values 5.47.. and -1.94.. [just the sort of thing one would expect, no? :-) -RD]" And just where do these magic values come from?, Again, we have S, "The time function T expresses the years (t) of time elapsed since Creation in a scale of degrees. For example, if we take 6000 years as being the complete range of the curve, these 6000 years take up 90 degrees of the Log sine scale so the transformation to obtain (T) in degrees is T = t x 90/6000, that is, T = .015 t." At this point, the knowledgeable reader can be forgiven for groaning in dismay at such a thoroughly contrived and artificial curve, a curve whose value at the instant of Creation is conveniently infinity and whose subsequent date for levelling off is, amazingly enough, one of the parameters of the formula (6000 years after Creation)! Based on questionable selection of observations in the first place and aided and abetted by a hideously contrived curve to fit the data, we have S concluding that "The best date of origin for the curve as determined by the observational evidence is 4040 B.C. +- 20 years." But Setterfield is not yet done fudging his curve, for reasons that will become obvious later. Having somehow magically produced this earth-shattering curve, the first thing S does is modify it by lopping off the head, stating that "The origin of the curve is virtually asymptotic, but a very good estimate of the actual initial value is given by the curve at one to 1 1/2 days from the origin. The speed of light was then about 1.5 x 10^17 km/sec. or roughly 5 x 10^11 faster than it is now. I will assume [for reasons that completely escape your humble moderator -RD] that this value held from the time of creation until the time of the fall, as in my opinion the Creator would not have permitted it to decay during his initial work." Sit back and ponder with me now the final behavior of the value of c as supplied by S. Beginning with a perfectly natural(?) value of 1.5 x 10^17 km/sec at the time of Creation, the value of c remains constant, crossing the curve supplied by S some one and a half days after initial Creation and remaining constant until the end of the Creation week, at which point it suddenly drops to 6.2 x 10^15 km/sec to match S's curve, following the curve until it plateaus around 1960. The mind reels at the rationalization that must have been taking place. But the best is yet to come. In defending the fit of his curve, S makes the astonishing statement, "... the predicted curve stands up well to four types of error analysis. The value of r^2 is 1 to nine figures indicating a perfect fit to the data," a rather stunning claim since S supplies, for each observation used, its corresponding predicted value, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF WHICH MATCHES EXACTLY, demonstrating quite clearly S's inability to comprehend even introductory undergraduate statistical analysis. A subsequent letter to the editor questioning S's statistical analysis and asking about X^2 (chi-squared) analysis produced the following unbelievable response: "X^2 is the same as r^2 in the article. This r^2 is the 'Co-efficient of Determination' which tells how accurately the proposed curve fits the data. If the fit is perfect the value of r^2 is 1.000000000. The DEC-10 computer at Flinders University decided that the published curve had an r^2 value of 1.000 to nine significant figures." Incredibly, S obviously understands the significance of an r^2 value of 1 while not being able to comprehend how his data could not possibly have produced such a value. S is also completely at a loss as to the difference between X^2 and r^2, further demonstrating his appalling mathematical illiteracy. S's rather odd act of decapitating his curve for the first week of Creation suddenly becomes clear when one reads part 2 of his article, which appeared in the creationist journal Ex Nihilo, vol. 4, no. 3, 1981, section 4, "Binding Energy and Mesons", where we find another earth-shaking discovery by S, namely "In the above sections we have shown mathematically that the half-lives of the radioactive elements are proportional to 1/c for all forms of decay." Apparently, S has now solved the problem of radiometric dating by stating that half-lives early in history were much shorter than they are now, implying that all radiometric dates will give an inflated apparent age. According to S, "... it means that given a very high value of c at the time of Creation (as outlined in Part I), and the consequent very short half-lives of the radioactive elements from ((66)) etc., whenever radioactive materials in rocks throughout the entire universe are interpreted using the assumption of constant decay rates, they will give results which are erroneously and enormously too high. This is a necessary consequence of a decreasing value of c." And just exactly how inflated will these values be? Given a value of c during Creation week that was 5 x 10^11 times faster than the current value, each day of Creation would correspond to 5 x 10^11 days of radiometric age, with the entire week representing 9.6 x 10^9 years. To tabulate the effect of time following Creation week, one need only integrate over the decay curve to get the final cumulative value of 11.5 x 10^9 years, a value allegedly in good agreement with conventional ideas about the age of the elements. And it is here that one suddenly sees S's rationale for the decapitation of his curve -- that is, the selection of the apparently arbitrary value of 1.5 x 10^11 km/sec for c during Creation week; simply so that the integral will give the correct final answer. Selecting a higher or lower value for c before having it plummet to catch up with the curve would allow one to justify any of a wide range of desired final ages for the elements, and there is no reason to believe S's value is any better than a host of others. Rather than strengthening his model, S has simply made it appear even MORE contrived (if this is even possible). Having cast some doubt on S's competence, it is not a great leap to cast the same doubt on his integrity, based on testimonials contained in Ex Nihilo, vol. 6, no. 4, from several individuals whose academic credentials are somewhat (shall we say?) suspect. Hyping S's implications for modern science, we find individuals such as Dr. Gerardus Bouw (a hard-core creationist from Berea, Ohio), Dr. Thomas Barnes (familiar to most critics of creationist pseudo-science as the purveyor of the Barnes theory of magnetic field decay) and Dr. Walter Brown. But it is two other testimonials that draw the eye, from Drs. Barry Tapp and Peter Cadusch, the authors of previous letters to the journal severely critiquing S's work. Cadusch is quoted as saying: "Despite extensive reworking and analysis, these determinations (of c prior to 1940) cannot be harmonised with today's values," while Tapp is quoted as, "The values of c determined between 1870 and 1940 do show a definite decay patterning." Dealing with Tapp first, we find in the original letter the statement, "The values for 'c' determined between 1870 and 1940 do however appear to show a definite 'decay' patterning." Note that the quote is already slightly modified, but what S fails to note is the critical tone of Tapp's letter and Tapp's subsequent qualification "there does appear to be a decay, given that the data is accurate," followed immediately by the statement, "the function given by [S] does appear to be contrived, although this does not necessarily negate the equation." Cadusch gets even more outrageous treatment, as his original statement says, "... despite extensive reworking and re-analysis, pre-war determinations are now mainly of historical interest," which does not have even remotely the same meaning as S's quote. After having observed creationist Barry Setterfield's penchant for playing fast and loose with other people's statements, we come to one of the most enlightening episodes in the saga; that involving S's attempts at damage control once his talent for this sort of behaviour started becoming evident. In vol. 5, no. 3 of the journal Ex Nihilo, S found himself having to justify how his statistical analysis could have possibly produced a coefficient of determination value r^2 of 1, particularly when not a single observation point actually fell on the curve. S dismissed this objection by stating that "It was subsequently noticed that it [the value of 1] had been obtained at an incorrect point in the computer programme, and a check gave the value as r^2 = 0.99+ ...", a value that also turned out to be incorrect and was subsequently corrected to 0.986. In all, five different values for r^2 made their way into publication. The fact that S and colleague Trevor Norman were incapable of writing a computer program to determine a value of r^2 for a set of observations certainly does not inspire confidence in their analytical abilities, but even more frightening is the observation that neither realized the significance of r^2 = 1, an absolutely unforgivable oversight. Keep in mind that the basis of S's claim is that the curve in question (which was eventually rewritten as a cosec^2 formula) is the best (and only) reasonable fit to the data. Given this, it was of course only a matter of time until S was supplied with an alternative fit that was just as good if not better; a curve which, according to S's own criteria from his early article, "fitted the data points exactly and reproduced the all of the observed features." Ignoring the fact that the points fit S's original curve not at all, S rejected the alternative fit by claiming that it now did not produce the correct value for the integral of the decay curve, thereby violating his own initial criteria for matching "observed" features by adding another requirement for the fit which his curve possesses only because of an arbitrary selection for his "initial" value of c. The best is yet to come, however. S's case seems to rest heavily on the 1675 observation of Romer, whose source S explains as follows: "The recent critical look at Roemer's data and dates [allowing a precise value to be placed on the orbit diameter] concluded that the best possible result was still 0.5% above the current value ..." The reference given is first of all to nothing more than a summary in "Sky and Telescope" [1] of a full article in "The Astronomical Journal," [2] leading one to wonder why S did not simply refer directly to the original article. And the summary? It reported the findings of the Virginia scientists who wrote the original article as, "We conclude that the velocity of light did not differ by 0.5% in 1668 to 1678 from the current value." It is obvious that S's description of the article is hideously inaccurate. This point was brought up by one E. D. Fackerell in EN Tech. J., vol. 1, pp. 87-94, to which S responded that there were two errors in the original article by Goldstein et al, completely avoiding the accusation of deliberate misquotation. S goes on to show his lack of understanding of confidence intervals by stating that, "The decay in c is very liberally covered by this error margin," while elsewhere stating, "this finally brings us to the Bradley value which [Vivian E.] Bounds gives as 303,000 +- 6000 km/sec ... this is still well above the current value of 299,792 km/sec and consequently the determination is not at variance with the changing c suggestion," ignoring the fact that the current value of c falls WELL within the error bounds given. S seems quite at home trying to have his cake and masticate it as well. There is more, but I feel that this is a sufficient coverage of the topic to expose most of the fallacies and deliberate fabrications in Setterfield's work. I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Dr. Ken Smith, senior lecturer in math at the University of Queensland, Aust., for most of the material and for having followed Setterfield so tenaciously for the past several years. [1] Sky and Telescope, June 1973, p. 353. [2] "On the velocity of light three centuries ago," Goldstein, Trasco and Ogburn, The Astronomical Journal, vol. 78, no. 1, Feb 1973, p. 122. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- The Institute for Creation Research puts out a monthly monograph called "Impact" with its "Acts & Facts" newsletter. The latest (May 1988) "Impact" is titled "Has the Speed of Light Decayed?" by Gerald Aardsma. The answer to that question appears to be "no, and Barry Setterfield is a lousy researcher." While the article claims only to "caution creationists against a wholesale, uncritical acceptance of the Norman and Setterfield hypothesis," it's actually a pretty good debunking. Among the problems Aardsma notes are that: 1. Uncertainty ranges are not given for most of the pre-1850 data points. Most of those after 1850 have error bars which are too small to be seen on the scale of the graph, while several between 1850 and 1900 are very large (resulting from indirect methods of measuring c). Aardsma says, "For a data set consisting of measurements having error bars of varying lengths, it is not appropriate to give every data point equal weight as Norman and Setterfield have done. It is standard practice to weight the data points in inverse proportion to the size of their error bars." When Aardsma did his own weighted linear least squares analysis, he calculated the "decay of c" to be 0.0000140 +/- 0.0000596 km/s/year. 2. Norman and Setterfield's data contains a data point from 1693 which is far higher than any of the others, attributed to "uncorrected observations of the Roemer type, by Cassini." Aardsma quotes Norman and Setterfield: "Observations by Cassini (1693 and 1736) gave the orbit radius delay as 7 minutes 5 seconds. Roemer in 1675 gave it as 11 minutes from selected observations. Halley in 1694 noted that Roemer's 1675 figure for the time delay was too large while Cassini's was too small." (p. 11 in _The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time_. In Aardsma's words, Norman and Setterfield are using a "reworked or 'corrected' value for Roemer's c determination ... and an uncorrected value for Cassini. It is peculiar that Norman and Setterfield were content to use an uncorrected value for Cassini, given the comments by the eminent and talented Halley, above. It is also unfortunate, since this single, anomalous point is responsible for most of the apparent 38 km/s/year decay which they report. Furthermore, Roemer's uncorrected c determination would graph below the line at -24%, more than offsetting the uncorrected Cassini value." ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Firstly, given the recent skepticism with which the ICR views the Setterfield-Norman work, it seems that their previous glowing reviews may prove to be skeletons in the closet for the folks at ICR. The previously referenced creationist journal, Ex Nihilo, which contained most of the original Setterfield work also contained, in vol. 6, no. 4, a page of testimonials for S's work, including the two rather controversial ones by Cadusch and Tapp discussed in previous issues. In addition, there were statements from both Thomas G. Barnes, formerly of ICR, and Dr. Walter Brown, now director of the Center for Scientific Creation in Napierville, Illinois. >From Barnes, "I agree with all that has been presented: I positively support it." And from Brown, "The theoretical derivation of the same cosec^2 decay function as the computer curve, but this time from electromagnetic theory alone, makes the whole proposition of c decay virtually unassailable." [Ex Nihilo, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 46] The statement by Barnes is actually not overly damaging -- it can be interpreted as simply that Barnes views the theory as reasonably scientific and feels that it is worth pursuing, no big deal. Brown, however, has left himself much further out on a limb by agreeing explicitly with the techniques used which have been shown many times to be mathematically unsound. It would seem that the credibility of both individuals may be on shaky ground because of this but Brown, if asked, may fall back on a rather novel technique that he has employed in the past -- denying having ever supported the idea. Article 4607 of talk.origins: Path: aplcen!uakari.primate.wisc.edu!uwm.edu!cs.utexas.edu!ut-emx!bill From: bill@ut-emx.UUCP (Bill Jefferys) Newsgroups: talk.origins Subject: Re: lying (again) Bales Message-ID: <19076@ut-emx.UUCP> Date: 2 Oct 89 22:11:44 GMT References: <8909181630.AA23269@krypton.jhuapl.edu> <3444@tekfdi.FDI.TEK.COM> <10814@dasys1.UUCP> Reply-To: bill@emx.UUCP (Bill Jefferys) Organization: UTexas Computation Center, Austin, Texas Lines: 41 Posted: Mon Oct 2 17:11:44 1989 In article <10814@dasys1.UUCP> aj-mberg@dasys1.UUCP (Micha Berger) writes: # #Let me hedge. Lets not say that the speed of light had to have decreased #logarithmicly (altho Occam would disagree). Lets try to device an experiment #to prove whether or not it had. The constancy of the universal constants IS so #often assumed to be constant, I don't think it has ever been provern that they #are. There is an extensive literature on the testing of universal constants for true constancy in time. I recently posted a list of references. Here it is again. Ref [3] is probably the most complete. [1] Barrow, J. and Tipler, F., _The Anthropic Cosmological Principle_, Oxford, 1986. pp. 326-327. [2] Shlyakhter, A.I., "Direct test of the constancy of fundamental nuclear constants," _Nature_ v. 264, p. 340 (1976). [3] McCrea, W.H. _et. al._, "The Constants of Physics," in _Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. London_, Series A, Vol. 310, pp. 209-363 (1983). [4] Teller, E., "On the Change of Physical Constants," _Phys. Rev._ Vol. 73, p. 801 (1948). [5] Dyson, F., "Time variation of the charge of the proton," _Phys. Rev. Lett._ Vol. 19, 1291 (1967). [6] Davies, P.C.W., "Time variation of the coupling constants," _J. Phys._, Series A, Vol. 5, p. 1296 (1972). [7] Wolfe, A.M. _et. al._, "A comprehensive radio study of the z=0.524 absorption system in AO 0235+164," _Astrophys. J._ Vol. 222, p. 752 (1978). [8] Tubbs, A.D. and Wolfe, A.M., "Evidence for large-scale uniformity of physical laws," _Astrophys. J._ Vol. 236, p. L105 (1980). [9] Kolb, E.W. _et. al._, "Time variation of fundamental constants, primordial nucleosynthesis, and the size of extra dimensions," _Phys. Rev. D_, Series 3, Vol. 33, p. 869 (1986). Bill Jefferys

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank