WorldNetDaily does Light Fantastic

Creationist Barry Setterfield is the subject of a new puff piece in WorldNetDaily by Chris Bennett. Apparently, some physicists have been questioning the constancy of the speed of light, something Setterfield was doing years ago! Of course, if the speed of light can be shown to have slowed down over the years

it raises the distinct possibility that scientific validation exists for a (gasp) literal interpretation of the seminal passages of Genesis. Goodbye Scopes trial.

fter comparing measurements for the speed of light in previous centuries, Setterfield and statistician Trevor Norman concluded:

the speed of light was discernibly higher 100 years ago, and as much as 7 percent higher in the 1700s. Dr. Norman confirmed that the measurements were statistically significant with a confidence of more than 99 percent.

Setterfield and Norman published their results at SRI [Stanford Research Institute] in July 1987 after extensive peer review…Setterfield believes that the speed of light was initially about 10 to the 10th power faster than it is today. After the creation of the universe, light speed declined following a curve approximating the curve of the cosecant squared. He believes that light speed reached a point where it is asymptotic since the mid 1960s.

Now that other scientists are questioning the speed of light, Setterfield has referred to them on his website, and it is through his interpretation of these other scientists that the lazy and/or credulous Bennett comes to them:

Within the last 24 months, Dr. Joao Magueijo, a physicist at Imperial College in London, Dr. John Barrow of Cambridge, Dr. Andy Albrecht of the University of California at Davis and Dr. John Moffat of the University of Toronto have all published work advocating their belief that light speed was much higher – as much as 10 to the 10th power faster – in the early stages of the “Big Bang” than it is today. (It’s important to note that none of these researchers have expressed any bias toward a predetermined answer, biblical or otherwise. If anything, they are antagonistic toward a biblical worldview.)… Dr. William Tifft, now retired from the University of Arizona, measured and recorded red-shift data for over 20 years. Dr. Tifft found that the red-shift data were not random at all, but grouped into quantum bands.

Bennett then goes on to allege an academic conspiracy by the godless to suppress the research:

Dr. Joao Magueijo was forced to wait for over a year between submission of his initial work on varying light speed and publication. Setterfield, Dr. Tifft, Dr. Paul Davis [not mentioned elsewhere in Bennett’s article, and he means “Dr Paul Davies”], Dr. John Barrow and others have been subjected to peer review which borders on ridicule.

Of course, this is typical Creationist strategy: wait for proper scientists to open a debate, announce that this debate shows that the mainstream position is just so much dogma, and offer Creationism as the solution despite the fact that none of the qualified participants in the debate have any use for the pseudo-scientific arguments put forward by the Creationists. Here are some other media reports (not being a scientist, I haven’t attempted to chase down the actual papers) on the topic, by way of contrast. First, CBS:

A team of Australian scientists has proposed that the speed of light may not be a constant, a revolutionary idea that could unseat one of the most cherished laws of modern physics — Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The team, led by theoretical physicist Paul Davies of Sydney’s Macquarie University, say it is possible that the speed of light has slowed over billions of years.

Now, Spacedaily:

In the early 1990s Moffat proposed a radical alternative theory: that the speed of light was faster closer to the time of the big bang. His early calculations suggested that light travelled as much as 1,030 times faster than its present value (186,000 miles per second) just following the explosive beginning of the universe…

Last month theoretical astrophysicist Joao Maguelijo of Imperial College London published Faster than the Speed of Light, a new book describing his theories on a variable speed of light and acknowledging Moffat’s groundbreaking work.

In August 2002 the journal Nature published a paper by Paul Davies from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, a followup on other papers based on Moffat’s theory.

Further, Moffat does not seem to share Bennett’s view that dogmatic scientists have tried to suppress him:

“The physics community is a very conservative community, and so it should be,” says Moffat. “This is not a trivial matter. You don’t just go around changing paradigms in science willy-nilly.”

Finally, the New Scientist (which Bennett does link to, although he shows no evidence of having read):

It was [Victor] Flambaum, along with John Webb and colleagues, who first seriously challenged alpha’s status as a constant in 1998. Then, after exhaustively analysing how the light from distant quasars was absorbed by intervening gas clouds, they claimed in 2001 that alpha had increased by a few parts in 105 in the past 12 billion years…John Barrow, who has pioneered varying-alpha theories at the University of Cambridge, says that the latest Oklo result does not favour any of the current theories. “You would expect alpha to stop [changing] five to six billion years ago,” he says.

In other words, there is absolutely nothing in the recent research to support the idea that it is time to say “Goodbye Scopes trial”, although there is plenty of evidence that Setterfield is a naked opportunist and WorldNetDaily has very low journalistic and intellectual standards.

But who is Setterfield? gives some background:

Barry Setterfield is a young earth creationist who has updated the ‘created with the appearance of age’ argument using something called ‘speed of light decay’. The argument is that all atomic clocks make the earth look ‘old’ because of a slowing down of c since creation. The claim that the speed of light has changed through time allows him to overcome the classic argument against appearance of age. Barry would argue that, yes, the rocks are dated correctly using radiometric dating, but that the decay rates varied with the variance of c (i.e. they would slow down as well). Thus, the young earth does have the appearance of great age, but does not require a deceptive God because he left evidence for the slowing of c. The ‘evidence’ for speed of light decay was contrived by Trevor Norman and Barry Setterfield and ‘published’ in 1987. The ‘publication’ was basically an internal memo of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The memo was put in place by another creationist (then at SRI) in order to then advertise the memo as a ‘real scientific’ publication.  Basically, the initial model used historic measurements of light speed as support for the claim that the speed of light has decayed. This ‘research’ has been debunked by a number of people including a reasonable summary at Talk.Origins. Nevertheless, Barry has continued to make the claim that c-decay is real and is currently trying to publish this in mainstream physics journals.

The Australian Setterfield is not just a scientist, however. He’s also a poet, with a delightful gift for doggerel:

Look at Mankind’s grand achievements,
As this epoch draws its veil.
Radio, aircraft, motor transport;
Yet the violent hordes prevail.
Television brings us pictures;
Satellites beam round the Earth;
Spacecraft probe our Solar System;
Science brought the Bomb to birth.

“World Peace”, cry negotiators;
UN power Saddam erodes;
Wye Agreements carve up Israel;
Hamas terror still explodes…

One Response

  1. Is that SRI the same SRI that the CIA blew millions of dollars of taxpayer money on to study ESP and paranormal remote viewing abilities in the 80s and 90s? (Rhetorical question. It’s them! What are those thiefs doing out of prison?)

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