The only thing left was the big planetarium show. I managed to hook up with my posse on line, and together we went inside. Alas, we ended up sitting in the front row. This meant that even when we took advantage of the tilt back feature of the chairs, it was difficult to see some of what was going on.
Having visited the Hayden Planetarium in New York, this one looked a bit cheesy. The domed ceiling was a bit lower than you would normally expect for a show of this kind. On the other hand, the presentation itself certainly had a professional feel to it.
The show was called “The Created Cosmos.” Let’s have a look.
The show opened with some familiar sentiments:
As we learn more about the universe, we are continually amazed at the astonishing diversity and intricacy we find. Though marred by the curse, the universe still exhibits the handiwork of the Lord. By learning more about the intricacies of its celestial realm, we gain an infinitesimal glimpse at the infinite mind of God.
One of the themes of the show was a consideration of different scales that are found in pondering the universe. For example, the Moon orbits the Earth at an average distance of 240,000 miles, but the distance of the Earth to the Sun is 400 times greater. All of our satellites and manned space flights barely penetrate at all into space. Neptune orbits 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth does. You get the idea. Lot’s of “Gee whiz!” stuff here.
Next up was a long discourse on different stars (they’re even farther from the Sun than the furthest planets in our Solar System.) We got a pleasant reading of facts about Alpha Centauri, Sirius and the like. Some talk about constellations. The first interesting thing arose just near the seven minute mark:
The center star of Orion’s belt is called Alnilam. It is a blue, super-giant. Twenty-five Suns could be lined-up across its disk. Blue stars like Alnilam are very luminous. They expend their fuel quickly, and can not last billions of years. So blue stars remind us that the universe is much younger than is generally claimed. Secular astronomers are forced to assume that stars like Alnilam have spontaneously formed in the recent past. However, star formation is riddled with theoretical problems, and has never been observed.
This was a throwaway line. The narrator was quickly on to the next star.
This is rather like arguing that since you saw a two year old at the mall, all of the other people you saw who looked really old actually are not old. The process of star formation is believed to take very long periods of time, on the order of millions of years. That notwithstanding, astronomers have some very well-developed theories about how stars form. These theories predict that stars should go through several distinct stages during their formation. When astronomers subsequently observe stars in every one of the predicted stages, they gain confidence in the correctness of their theories.
I see an anlogy here with creationist views on the evolution of complex strucutres. An evolutionist will discover many plausible precursor structures to a given complex system and conclude that that, coupled with all of the other evidence for evolution by natural selection, makes it reasonable to infer that complex systems evolve gradually. But a creationist wil say, “Fie! You have a bunch of individual functional systems. The evolutionary trajectory linking them is only in your head!”
Likewise here. Of course no one has witnessed the entire process of star formation. But seeing stars in various stages of development coupled with a decent understanding of the principles of the relevant physics make it reasonable to infer that stars form naturally and are continuing to do so. Unfounded extrapolation, cry the creationists. So much easier to assume all stars were created at once, presumably on day four of creation week.
Okay, back to the show. Betelgeuse, Rigel, the Plaedes star cluster, Orion’s belt. Looking back at our solar system from this vantage point some four hundred light years away, the Sun is not visible to the naked eye. A humbling thought. A rare point of agreement between me and the narrator.
Stars give way to planets. The narrator manages to give a reasonable discussion of detecting extra-solar planets by noting wobbles in their host stars.
After several minutes of raw facts about various oddities in the universe, it was time to get back to business. The narrator says:
In some rare cases, the planet passes directly in front of its star, as seen from Earth. The star V376 Pegasi has a planet that crosses its disc precisely every 3.52 days. Astronomers can measure the drop of the star’s brightness and determine the size of the planet. Of course, this techinique is only possible for the handful of star systems that are nearly edge-on relative to us. This planet is larger than Jupiter, but it is extremely close to the star. It orbits twenty times closer to its star than Earth orbits the Sun. This so-called “hot Jupiter” is a serious problem for secular models of planet formation. These scenarios have predicted that gas giants can only form far away from their parent star. Yet the vast majority of extra-solar planets so far detected are hot Jupiters. It’s a difficult problem for secular notions, but not for Biblical creation. Such diversity is what we would expect from the Biblical God.
Since the creationists are fond of pointing out that scientists base many of their conclusions on assumptions, allow me to point out that our friend the narrator is simply assuming that these planets formed in their current orbit. If they formed further away from their star and then migrated to their present location then the problem vanishes. Indeed, planetary migration is a well-developed idea in astronomy, and is the commonly accepted explanation for hot Jupters.
As for such diversity being what we expect from the Biblical God, I fail to see where the Bible says this. It looks to me like the Bible puts the emphasis on God’s creation of humanity and the planet we inhabit. All of that empty astronomical vastness sure looks like a waste of space from that perspective.
There followed some more talk about extra solar planets. I got a kick out of this:
Since current technology is not able to observe these worlds directly, we can only speculate what they look like. But we can be certain that their richness declares the majesty of their maker.
The narrator now launched into a discussion of basic facts about nebulae, globular clusters, pulsars, the Milky Way and galaxies. I smelled another challenge to “secular science” coming. Actually, though, it never came.
Instead the narrator fell into a rut of pointing to some impressive feature of the universe, and saying something about how its beauty testifies to God’s greatness. After five minutes of this, the narrator says:
Critics of the Bible have suggested that it is impossible for the light from these galaxies to reach Earth in only six thousand years. They claim that these galaxies prove the universe is billions of years old. But, in fact, there are several different ways to get light to travel these distances in a short period of time. These include, gravitational time dilation, altered synchrony conventions and others. In fact, spiral galaxies are a serious problem for the notion of billions of years. Their spiral arms contain vast numbers of blue stars which can not last billions of years. Also, spiral galaxies rotate differentially, meaning the inner portions rotate faster than the outer portions. So the spiral arms can not last billions of years. They would be twisted beyond recognition! But it’s not a problem for the Biblical timescale.
Gravitational time dilation? Altered synchrony conventions? Of course! That explains everything.
They seem to be really fond of that argument about the blue stars. Too bad it’s nonsense, as we’ve already discussed.
As for the bit about the spiral arms twisting themselves up, the basic problem here is that the narrator assumes the differential rotation of different parts of the spiral arms is the only fact of physical significance about them. Actually, the physics of these structures is very complicated. One thing the narrator ignores is the gravitational force exerted by the other stars and gas in the galaxy. This force tends to mitigate the twisting effect of the differential rotation. Go here for a farily detailed discussion of this issue. As that discussion makes clear, there is much that is mysterious about the formation and maintenence of these spiral arms, but what we know is enough to say that no fundamental challenge to basic physics is being presented.
After some more gushing about the awesomeness of the one who created all this, we began the long trip back to our Solar System. The narrator closes with:
The Earth may seem an insignificant speck compared to all that God created. Yet this tiny world is where God placed the crowining jewels of His creation. Of all that the Lord created, human beings alone have the privelege of being made in God’s holy image. And though we have reblled against our creator, he’s paid the penalty for our treason. It was on this small planet where the creator of the universe became a man and died our death. He then rose again, and has offered forgiveness for all who call upon his name. It is fitting that we should honor God for who He is, and for what he has done.
Very inspiring. In a post for the fundamentalist web site OneNewsNow, we find this news brief about the planetarium:
Dr. Jason Lisle is a speaker and researcher with Answers in Genesis (AIG) who designed the planetarium. He says the Stargazer’s Room makes the case for a young universe.
“We start from the Bible, and that’s what makes it a little bit different than so many other planetarium shows that you’ve seen before,” Lisle explains. “And we’re going to deal with age indicators, things like blue stars, which even my secular colleagues say can’t last billions of years,” he says.
Man, they’re really crazy about those blue stars. As for the show being “a little bit different” from other planetarium shows, I’d say that’s an understatement.
Coming Up: The Big Finale