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Richard Carrier Foster6

Bad Science, Worse Philosophy: the Quackery and Logic-Chopping of David Foster’s The Philosophical Scientists (2000)


6. Why Foster Needs to Take a Basic Physics Course

Richard Carrier


On page 158 Foster demonstrates a very strange confusion. He begins with the seemingly innocent statement that in chemistry “the most economic and efficient processes are catalytic,” which is of course true by definition, but he then adds to my amazement, “the major process in the Sun is catalytic.” At first I was astonished that anyone would say this, considering that the major process in the Sun is not even chemical, much less catalytic. It is a nuclear process. But since I wrote the first run of this review, Philip Blanda pointed out—-after noting, however, that the carbon cycle that Foster describes is not the major process in the sun (the proton-proton chain is far more important)—-that my shock at the word ‘catalytic’ was unjustified, since the comparison has been made by others (see, e.g. 100 Billion Suns by Rudolf Kippenhahn, p.49, 51, 75). I must apologize for my earlier dumbfoundedness.

The mistake thus does not lie in this, but in the conclusions Foster draws from the processes of nuclear fission and fusion: the fusion of Carbon-12 and Hydrogen produces Nitrogen, fission turns Carbon-13 into Nitrogen, and so on. He calls this ‘catalytic’ (as does Kippenhahn), but concludes that this reverses entropy. But how can that be? As Kippenhahn writes in the book cited above (p. 51), “in this process a total of four protons was swallowed up and one helium nucleus produced” (in other words, 4 protons were destroyed, and only 2 created, a net loss of 2 protons). There is nothing entropy-reversing about this. The lost energy is partly lost into space as neutrinos and the “stellar wind.” Hence the sun is slowly disintegrating. Even Foster himself points out that there is ‘energetical radiation,’ which means, as any nuclear physicist will tell you, an increase in entropy, of either variety (see my addendum on Entropy): for as you create photons that begin to leave the system, the sun starts to boil away (as it has been since its birth), and the number of possible states of all the particles considered in the solar system, which would describe the same state, increases dramatically; likewise, the amount of energy unavailable to do work (e.g. to continue lighting up the solar system) is also increased, since this photon energy has been spent and is now lost to space.

But what does Foster say? “If catalytic reactions are ‘intelligent,’ then the Sun would appear to be intelligent.” Well, catalytic reactions are not any more ‘intelligent’ than any other physical process in the universe. So why would someone try to argue from this that the sun is intelligent? There just isn’t any better way to describe it: this is just plain kooky.

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