Friday, May 29, 2009

John Hartnett's Cosmology

Young-earth cosmology is, uh, interesting. They must somehow account for an overwhelming body of data that that the universe appears to be billions of years old, while still maintaining an interpretation that the "days" in Genesis 1 are 24-hours. Their main dilemma can be summarized this way: How do young-earth creationists account for the evidence that strongly suggests light from distant stars has been traveling for billions of years?

Russell Humphreys' cosmology (Starlight and Time) has arguably received the most attention in the last decade (although he has revised his model over the years). It is even highlighted in some of the curricula I have reviewed including, Jeannie Fulbright's Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Apologia, and Sonlight (I think).

More recently, Australian physicist, John Hartnett, has put forth an alternative cosmological model. Hugh Ross and Jeff Zweerink read Hartnett's book (Starlight, Time, and the New Physics) recently and then interviewed him in an effort to try and understand his model (largely because we keep getting questions about it).

"SPECIAL EDITION - Podcast: Interview with physicist John Hartnett"

I listened to the entire interview today. Now, I'm going to warn you, it gets somewhat technical at points and there are some aspects of Hartnett's model that I honestly don't understand. (For example, he makes an appeal to a fifth dimension, but I'm not sure what it is or how it functions.) Be that as it may, I did find listening to this to be a valuable exercise because it really highlights the bind that knowledgeable and honest young-earth creationists are finding themselves in and the rather unusual gymnastics they have to go through to appeal to unconventional, unproven, and possibly even untestable cosmological models.

One of the more telling moments in the interview is when Hugh asked Hartnett about the Oort Cloud.
HR: What about the Oort Cloud? Where do you place that?

JH: The Oort Cloud?

HR: Yes.

JH: Well, it doesn't exist.

HR: So you don't think the Oort Cloud exists?

JH: Well, I-I don't see any need for it.
This is a great example of (what I consider to be) the kind of hand-waving that young-earth creationists engage in on a regular basis. If a body of evidence doesn't fit their model, they just assert that it "doesn't exist" because their model has "no need of it."

I also found it interesting that Hartnett believes Humphreys' model has "problems" and "deficits." Hugh and Jeff attempted several times to try and clarify the ways in which the two models are similar and different, which was very helpful (even if I didn't understand all of it).
HR: One reason we're asking all these questions, John, is the question we get a lot is, how does your model, your cosmological model, differ from the model of Russ Humphreys? So that's why we're trying to ask these...

JH: Well, there's hardly any, hardly any similarity at all.

HR: Right. Right. I think these kinds of questions are going to help our people appreciate where your model is different.

JH: I would point out that Russ Humphreys has abandoned his earlier model completely. He no longer holds to that model at all.

HR: Right, but doesn't he still hold to the idea that gravitational time dilation is responsible for, uh, cosmic clock rates?

JH: Yes. He's got a completely new metric now and a different model completely. But you're right. His model is based on a gravitational well (?) and I pointed out to him a long time ago that it's got all sorts of problems and I think after many discussions with him, probably he won't admit this, but uh, I influenced him a bit...

JZ: Alright.

JH: recognize that it did have some deficits. And he's, and he's worked on alternatives since then.

HR: That would be accurate that a fundamental difference between his model and your model is that. He's sticking with gravitational time dilation as an explanation for why cosmic clocks run at a different rate whereas you're appealing to a fifth dimension.

JH: That's correct.
Toward the end, Hugh and Jeff were really trying to nail Hartnett down on how his model could be tested, verified and/or falsified. If I understood him correctly, I think Hartnett basically admitted that it's a "weakness" of his model that it lacks that sort of observational testability. In my opinion, that's a little like saying, "There's an invisible elephant in the tree, but it can't be proven." This is where I have a really hard time with young-earth cosmology. Do they expect us to believe in their model based on total blind faith? Or is it reasonable to expect some kind of objective confirmation?

My question is, why? This all seems so unnecessary to me. If a reasonable and faithful interpretation of Genesis 1 allows for the "days" to be either 24-hours or long periods of time, why not allow the record of nature decide the matter? A straight-forward reading of the record of nature is that the universe is, indeed, billions of years old. Appeals to exotic models like Humphreys' and Hartnett's are simply unnecessary, in my opinion.

For more, see my book, The Bigger Picture on Creation, where I lay out the biblical case for old-earth creationism.


Virginia Peterson said...

I listened to this last night and pretty much agree with your comments. I was a little shocked to hear him say that Humphreys has abandoned his original model - I haven't heard anyone say that before, but it's still in all those homeschool books and others. Most people won't ever get the news, and will go on thinking that the light travel time problem is solved. I noticed Hartnett also talks about the earth starting as a ball of water like Humphreys (II Peter 3:5 ?). Would a young universe actually have to be explained with such a complicated theory that few could understand it? And they talk about RTB relying on science too much...

Ian Walker said...

I listened to the interview and have read the book and found John's model a breath of much needed fresh air. His model does away with the needless assumptions of dark matter and dark energy with a slash of Occam's razor. These have long been a point of ridicule as they are unobserved. Bringing up the Oort cloud at the beginning of the interview does no credit to the RTB team as it is also unobserved. Full credit to John as he stated he believes the days in Genesis one are 24 hours long hence a true Bible believer. He is, I believe, a truly gracious man of whom the world needs more of.

Anonymous said...


So how do you account for all of the indirect evidence for the existence of dark energy and dark matter, as well as the Oort cloud? Certainly, you don't only believe in things that can be observed. If so, it would seem that you don't believe in atoms or black holes either.

The Optics Guy said...

To ian:

But we can see dark matter - we see its effects, just like we see the gravitational effects of other gravitating bodies like galaxies and galaxy clusters. Just because it is not electromagnetically interacting does not mean we cannot see it.

John Bailey said...

Ian has a valid point - dark matter and even the oort cloud are "fudge factors" introduced to try and explain why the behavior of observed matter and energy does not fit current models. There is no other reason or any other evidence for their existence. It is more plausible that current prevailing models are not sufficient to explain the observed phenomena and the MODELS need revision, not imaginary objects and matter. Dr. Hartnett has proposed a model that is a significant improvement on current cosmology because it accurately matches what is observed without the need for the introduction of unobserved matter.

Theology Mom said...

So... the evidence for the existence of the Oort cloud and dark matter is what? Imaginary? A lie? Invalid? If that latter, how much evidence/data would it take to might those ideas valid?

John Bailey said...

There IS NO evidence for the existence of the Oort cloud or dark matter/dark energy! These items were invented to try and fit prevailing scientific theory to the observations of astronomers. In fact, extra matter has been invoked and discarded before. Sir Issac Newton's formulations do a decent job of describing the motion of planets in our solar system. But some things did not quite fit. The orbit of the planet Mercury, for example, was progressing faster than Newton's physics predicted. Many theorized an unseen extra planet or even an unseen asteroid belt that was influencing Mercury. When Einstein came along with his general theory of relativity, the issue was solved. Now, there are issues with Einstein's theory and dark matter and the Oort cloud are invoked. I would suggest that another advancement in our understanding of cosmology is needed, not more imaginary matter!

Theology Mom said...
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