Rejoinder to Cliff Hanlon’s “Three R’s”
Dave E. Matson
August 3, 1998
Cliff Hanlon, President
The Berea Foundation
Dear Mr. Hanlon,
Your rebuttal of my article relating to the speed of light was forwarded to me via the Internet Infidels, a fine organization which carries a web copy of my book “How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?” Several pages in that book address the claim that light originally traveled much faster. The remainder of the book addresses some 30 young-earth arguments, various claims against radiometric dating, various claims against the geologic column, as well as several devastating arguments for an old Earth. In this latter category fell a portion of my article on the speed of light.
After reading your rebuttal, I can only conclude that you have not grasped the chain of reasoning that makes the article so unique! I owe you an explanation for such a remarkable conclusion, so allow me to step through your material and point out those things that bother me.
Let me begin with a minor point. I am much more than an “anti-creationist.” I am also a chess player, a cat lover (and some dogs too!), a mathematician, etc. “Critic” or “skeptic,” used in a positive or neutral sense, would have been more appropriate.
In a nutshell, my article shows that if light once had a very high velocity, which decayed down to its present level, that would have certain consequences (based on pure geometry) that would be observed today. We don’t see those consequences, meaning that light has always traveled at about the same speed. Given the great distance to supernova SN1987A, that can only mean that the light we see from it has been traveling for 170,000 years.
First, there would be a “slow-motion” effect. In observing light that had once traveled much faster than present, which is now traveling at its normal speed, we will see a false, “slow-motion” effect. Our feeling for time is screwed-up if we observe light rays that once traveled much faster or slower. (Relativity also has a similar but real effect, but it is significant only at cosmological distances or at relativistic speeds.) Due to an effect of the supernova, we could “see” the half-life of two cobalt isotopes, which existed at that time and location. No slow motion-effect was seen as their decay rates matched those of Earth.
Second, equal intervals of time at distant objects would appear to be of different lengths to us. That is, if a perfect clock could be transported to that supernova without being destroyed, it would seem (because of the varying speed of light and our screwed-up sense of time) to be working improperly to us on Earth. A second ticked off 5 years ago at that supernova would not be the same length, as seen from Earth, as a second ticked off 5 years later. Pulsars, in effect, are very excellent clocks in distant space. Do we, in fact, see this illusion of bad time keeping? No, we do not! I calculated how far off we might expect equal time intervals to be that are separated by five years, under typical creationist assumptions. Though the difference is not staggering, it is well within the precision of the pulsar “clock.” We would have easily detected it if it were there.
Third, once we are forced to accept, on the basis of evidence and not rank speculation, that the speed of light has been more or less constant, we find that certain effects of supernova 1987A allow for a straight, mathematical calculation of its distance. The distance, with about a 5% error range, turns out to be 170,000 light-years. Thus, light from that object, which depicts its explosion, took 170,000 years to get here. This is bad news for anyone who wants to believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old!
I was appalled to read in your rebuttal that I cited radiometric decay rates as “the basis” of my argument! The observed half-lives of the two cobalt isotopes merely served as a check on the slow-motion prediction. Though convincing, it is not foolproof. Hence, the need for checking the second prediction listed above.
Your claim that we must recreate SN1987A and observe the actual cobalt decay rates over a period of 170,000 years is totally wrong-headed. To begin with, those cobalt isotopes decayed away over a few months or years, not 170,000 years! Secondly, during certain phases of the supernova, its brightness was almost totally due to, first, one, then the other isotope of cobalt. That is, during those phases, its brightness was directly proportional to the amount of those two cobalt isotopes present. Therefore, by observing how fast the light faded, we had a direct observation of those decay rates! You can’t get better evidence than that! We were actually seeing into the past when those events happened! Your experimental verification “problem” is no problem at all.
To agree with my article, you say, forces one into several unreasonable assumptions. However, your list of “unreasonable” assumptions all relate to radiometric dating My article on the speed of light does not deal with radiometric dating! So, that paragraph is completely wrong-headed. Astronomers “observed” the two cobalt half-lives.
I appreciate your devoting a page and a half to informing me of the finer points of special relativity. However, your conclusion is simply wrong. Relativity (time dilation) does not make it impossible to know the duration of an event. Of course, we must specify the reference frame of interest to us, since time is relative. In the case of SN1987A, it is not moving at anything close to the speed of light, so all these effects of relativity that worry you just don’t apply in practice. We essentially share the same time frame. So, we can forget about all your objections based on relativity. Your whole approach there is wrong-headed.
You accused me of “completely” undermining my own argument. The fact that spinning pulsars mark off time more accurately than a spinning Earth is simply a fact of life. How in the world do you go from there to the claim that I have repudiated the accuracy of time as measured on Earth? The rotation of the Earth varies, and it has not been used as a scientific standard in years! The two statements have no connection whatever! Surely, you are not confusing the various means of measuring time with the nature of time, itself?
Your argument about neutrinos is part of your wrong-headed argument about radiometric dating. The half-lives of the two cobalt isotopes created in SN1987A were MEASURED, not assumed. Furthermore, neutrinos are an extremely poor candidate for interacting with atomic structure! They barely interact with matter at all. That’s why they can reach us from the center of the sun in a few minutes whereas even light has to slowly work its way out. That’s why it’s necessary to build elaborate detectors just to catch a few neutrinos.
Frederick Jueneman talks about the “resetting” of atomic clocks. What does that have to do with the half-life of a radioactive isotope? In 1972 Jueneman wrote a column on “Scientific Speculation,” which produced no evidence that such effects could be significant but says it might happen if Dudley’s dubious “neutrino sea” theory was correct. The last sentence of Jueneman’s piece suggests that he doesn’t really believe it himself, a sentence not quoted by creationists. (Dr. Stephen Brush. 1982. Journal of Geologic Education, “Finding the Age of the Earth by Physics or by Faith?” vol.30, p.50).
L.R. Maxwell, in 1928, tested the hypothesis that cosmic rays might affect radioactive decay rates. No effect was found within the accuracy of his experiment.
Seen in this new light, Matson’s philosophical construct is a whole lot stronger than a house of cards! Only a small part of my argument is based on a radiometric clock, and there is not the slightest evidence that such clocks, as a whole, have ever been “reset.”
Cliff, it appears to me that you have stumbled rather badly here.
Dave Matson, editor
The Oak Hill Free Press
Pasadena, CA 91116