American Scientific Affiliation
The Legend of the Shrinking Sun-
A Case Study Comparing Professional Science
and "Creation Science" in Action
HOWARD J. VAN TILL
Professor of Physics and Astronorny
Calvin College Grand Rapids, Michigan
From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 38.3:164-174 (9/1986)
In recent years, advocates of the young earth hypothesis have assembled numerous lists of "scientific evidences" for their recent creation scenario. In this paper we critically evaluate the scientific adequacy of one such evidential claim of "creation-science," viz., that the sun's diameter has been shrinking in such a manner as to preclude the credibility of the standard multibillion-year chronology for terrestrial history. Within the professional scientific community, a preliminary report which suggested a long-term and rapid shrinkage of the sun presented a puzzle for solar astronomers. Consequently, additional studies were made and the credibility of the original data was re-evaluated. The result is that secular shrinkage has not been substantiated, but an 80-year oscillatory behavior was discovered. Within the "creation-science" community, however, the response to the original report has been remarkably different. The suggestion of rapid long-term shrinkage was uncritically accepted, the evidence and conclusions drawn from subsequent studies were generally dismissed, and extrapolations of the presumed rapid solar shrinkage have been performed without restraint. Isolated from the corrective of continuing professional investigation and evaluation, the "creation-science" community continues to employ this unwarranted extrapolation of a discredited report as a scientific evidence" for a young earth. The credibility of the Christian witness to a scientifically knowledgeable world is thereby clouded.
Lists and Letters
Advocates of the young earth hypothesis frequently publish extensive lists of "scientific evidences" which, they claim, provide observational support for their recent creation scenario.1 A typical entry on such a list presents the results of some empirical investigation, often drawn from the professional scientific literature, and interprets the data in such a way as to reach the conclusion that the universe cannot be billions of years Old. And if, as the "evidence" purports to demonstrate, cosmic history does not span the lengthy time period incorporated into the standard evolutionary scenario, then, according to the young earth proponents, the universe must have been recently created in a mature and fully functioning form by divine fiat.
Although those of us who are trained in the natural sciences may scoff at these lists as having little scientific rnerit, we must be aware of their persuasive impact on the Christian community and of their negative effect on the Christian witness to a scientifically knowledgeable world. Christians who are not specialists in one of the sciences can easily be misled by claims presented as "scientific evidences" for a recent creation. Numerous intelligent Christians have already been persuaded by these lists that a recent creation scenario is supported by a wealth of empirical evidence. However, if the Chris- tian message of redemption becomes associated with a picture of cosmic history that is convincingly contra- dicted by the results of honest and competent scientific investigation, the Christian witness may be seriously weakened. It is imperative, therefore, that we carefully evaluate the scientific adequacy of the youthful universe "evidences," and that we communicate this evaluation to the Christian community of which we are members.
In this paper we focus on a typical example of an appeal to empirical support for the young universe hypothesis. I have chosen an example from astronomy-the phenomenon of variations in the diameter of the sun. My choice is not entirely arbitrary. This example is the first item on a brief list which was recently published as a letter to the editor of the The Banner, the weekly publication of the Christian Reformed Church (the denomination of which I am a member). The writer of this letter introduced himself as "an engineer from MIT and a student of the scientific creation account given in Genesis 1 who wished to inform the editor of "recent findings that point to a very young earth."2 The first of these "findings" con- cerns the shrinking sun phenomenon: "The sun has been observed to shrink in size at the rate of five feet per hour. At this rate the sun would have been so large 20 million years ago that it would have touched the earth. "
Reports concerning the possibility of a rapidly shrinking sun have had an interesting history. The initial report of evidence for rapid shrinkage can be found in the professional scientific literature. However, as the ensuing discussion will demonstrate, that report failed to survive the critical evaluation of the scientific community. Subsequent investigations have revealed a history of variations in solar diameter quite different from the steady five feet per hour shrinkage cited above. The literature of professional solar astronomy documents this corrective evaluation with characteristic thoroughness. In the literature of the young earth advocates, however, the shrinking sun report has had a remarkably different history. While professional science continued to plod laboriously along the path of information gathering, data analysis, and theory evalu- atio.n, the "creation-science" community accepted the initial report with little critical review and employed extrapolations of solar shrinkage to argue against the conventional multibillion-year solar chronology. What began as an interesting puzzle in the arena of solar astronomy has been transformed into a "proof" for recent creation. The story of the shrinking sun has become one of the legends that comprise the folk - science of recent creationism.
Solar Shrinkage: The Investigation of a Puzzle
In June, 1979, a paper entitled "Secular Decrease in the Solar Diameter, 1836-1953" was presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.3 In this report, John Eddy, a respected solar astronomer, and his colleague Aram Boornazian presented an analysis of solar meridian transit data from the Royal Greenwich Observatory which suggested that during the specified time period the sun's angular diameter had been contracting at a rate of more than two are seconds per century, equivalent to a linear shrinkage rate of five feet per hour. Figure I shows how the Greenwich data encourage such a conclusion. Furthermore, the case for solar shrinkage over an extended time period appeared to be strengthened by an appeal to a 1567 report of a solar eclipse which suggested that the eclipse was annular rather than total4 If the sun had been the same size then as now, a total eclipse should have been observed.
Eddy and Boornazian's report generated considerable interest because it presented the astronomical community with a puzzle: if the sun has behaved in the manner suggested by that report, then the sun has been far more variable than paleoclimatic evidence and conventional solar models have led us to believe. It was the combination of extended duration and high rate of variation in the sun's diameter that was puzzling. Rapid changes of short duration can be understood in terms of numerous transient and oscillatory phenomena. Relatively slow change, either contraction or expansion, extending over a period of hundreds or even thousands of years could also be the consequence of oscillatory or temporary changes in the behavior of the solar interior.5 But a truly secular shrinkage, that is, a steady decrease in size over an indefinitely long period of time, would be at odds with contemporary models of solar behavior and inconsistent with geological evidence.
Prior to the discovery of the process of thermonuclear fusion, gradual gravitational contraction (commonly called "Helmholtz contraction") appeared to be the most likely candidate for the energy generating process in stars, including the sun. Since the 1930's, however, astrophysicists have become convinced that the thermonuclear fusion process is responsible for maintaining stellar luminosity. According to contemporary stellar models, the physical conditions that prevail within the core of a star make the fusion process unavoidable. As a consequence of changes brought about by thermonuclear fusion, a slow secular increase in stellar size is predicted-far too slow to observe with present instrumentation, but a secular increase non-the-less.
In the context of this prediction, Eddy and Boornaian's suggestion of a rapid secular decrease in solar diameter was especially intriguing. Even the rate of decrease was difficult to understand. Because a shrink- age rate of five feet per hour is hundreds of times greater than Helmholtz contraction could sustain, Eddy proposed that only the outermost, low density portion of the sun was involved in contraction. In this way the rate of gravitational energy conversion into heat could still he lower than the sun's luminosity value. Even with this interpretation, however, Eddy and Boornazian's report was provocative and it stimulated a heightened interest in both the rate and duration of variations in the sun's size.
The rate of solar shrinkage suggested by Eddy and Boornazian was disputed from the outset. In the same month that Eddy and Boornazian's preliminary report was presented, S. Sofia, J. O'Keefe, J. R. Lesh and A. S. Endal published an article in Science which expressed the judgment that, on the basis of available data (mostly from meridian transit observations), the sun's angular diameter did not diminish by more than 0.5 are second 6 between 1850 and 1937.6 This value was less than one-fourth the rate proposed by Eddy and Boornazian.
In addition to the timing of solar meridian transits, other observations can be employed to determine the sun's diameter. In 1980, Irwin Shapiro published his analysis of the transits of Mercury in front of the sun from 1736 to 1973.7 Shapiro concluded that no significant change in the sun's diameter could be detected, and that the maximum shrinkage rate allowed by the data was 0.3 are second per century, about one-seventh of the Eddy and Boornazian value. Figure 2 illustrates how the Mercury transit data contradict the Eddy and Boornazian proposal. Similarly, D. W. Dunham et alia analyzed solar eclipse data and concluded that between 1715 and 1979 the sun's diameter may have decreased, but only by 0.7 are second, equivalent to a rate of about 0.25 are second per century.8
The discrepancy between these results and the report by Eddy and Boornazian called for a second look at the solar meridian transit data. John H. Parkinson, Leslie V. Morrison and F. Richard Stephenson performed such a re-evaluation and concluded that the trends in the Greenwich data reported by Eddy and Boornazian "are the result of instrumental and observational defects rather than real changes.9 In their judgment, based on the combined data sets of the Mercury transit and total solar eclipse observations, no secular change over the past 250 years was detectable, but a cyclic change with an 80-year periodicity was indicated. In an extensive article published in the Astrophysical journal, R. L. Gilliland confirmed the presence of a 76-year periodic variation in the sun's diameter, but suggested that the data do allow for a very small long term shrinkage at the rate of 0.1 are second per century during the past 265 years.10
During the past two years, additional papers have been published which reinforce the conclusion that secular changes in solar diameter cannot be confirmed by available data, but numerous oscillatory phenomena have been verified. Parkinson, for example, in a 1983 paper, states that solar eclipse and Mercury transit measurements "confirm that there is no evidence for any secular changes in the solar diameter, with a reduced upper limit. However, there is increased sup- port for an (approximately) 80-year cyclic variation."11 And, according to Sofia et alia, "Solar radius changes are not secular (monotonic and uniform)."12 In 1984, Claus Frohlich and John Eddy reported the results of recent measurements of solar diameter.13 Of particular What began as an interesting puzzle in the arena of solar astronomy has been transformed into a "proof 'for recent creation. relevance to the present discussion is the result that during the period from 1967-80 the sun exhibited an increase in diameter at the mean rate of 0.03 are second per year, equivalent to a linear rate of eight feet per hour. Since 1980 the solar diameter has remained nearly constant, with a weak suggestion of decreasing. This behavior is remarkably consistent with the 76-year periodic behavior found by Parkinson and Gilliland, for which a broad maximum would be expected in the mid-1980's.
Where did Eddy and Boornazian go wrong? It appears that the Greenwich data contain some system- atic errors which limit their reliability. As noted by Parkinson et alia (see ref. 9), there were significant changes in both the methodology and the instrumentation employed in obtaining the Greenwich data. A number of discontinuities in the data can be correlated with these changes. Such phenomena, along with significant variations in both the skill of observers and the quality of observing conditions, place severe limitations on the reliability of some of the Greenwich data and on the credibility of the Eddy and Boornazian proposal concerning rapid solar shrinkage. The data on which Eddy and Boornazian based their conclusions are plagued with subtle flaws.
Reflections on the Professional Approach
This brief sketch of the past six years of investigation regarding solar size variations has concentrated on observational matters; we have not dealt extensively with theories concerning the physical processes which might generate these variations, Furthermore, we have been most concerned with secular or long term variations, and have chosen not to discuss a number of short term oscillations and fluctuations. In spite of these limitations, however, what we have considered here does provide us with an illustrative case study of the way in which professional natural science is performed. Let us highlight some of the characteristic features of this episode.
The question of solar size variations is interesting mostly for its relevance to other phenomena. The temporal development of the sun's radius is an integral part of any theoretical model for solar behavior. Episodes of gravitational contraction, for instance, might be relevant to the resolution of the neutrino puzzle. And scientists who are interested in the history of the terrestrial climate are concerned to investigate the relationship of variations in solar radius to variations in the rate at which earth receives solar energy.
Eddy and Boornazian chose to look for variations in solar diameter by investigating historical records of solar meridian transits. Their preliminary results suggested a long term contraction at a surprisingly high rate. Though they did not consider their results ready for formal publication, Eddy and Boornazian decided to present their puzzle in a brief talk at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. In this way the professional scientific community could join them in a critical evaluation of the data and their interpretation.
Where did Eddy and Boornazian go
It appears that the Greenwich data contain some
systematic errors which limit their reliability.
The response of the scientific community was precisely as one should expect. Various investigators began to consider other relevant phenomena which might shed light on the puzzle. Data from solar eclipse observations and transits of Mercury, for example, were employed to generate independent computations of variations in solar diameter. The reliability of the meridian transit data was carefully scrutinized. And the results of these several investigations were published for further community evaluation.
By now the puzzle has largely been solved. The Possibility Of long term rapid shrinkage is not supported by the data. On the question of secular contraction or expansion at a very slow rate, the data are inconclusive. The limited precision of the data and the limited duration of the historical record preclude the employment of these data as the basis for any conjecture concerning the sun's size before about 1700. Any extrapolation of transit or eclipse data beyond three or four centuries is entirely unwarranted. Geological evidence for terrestrial climate variations provides a far more reliable indicator of solar dimensions prior to 1700. All of the variation in solar diameter that is revealed by the transit and eclipse data can be identi- fied with oscillatory and transient effects. The 80-year oscillation confirmed by this data had been anticipated on the basis of clues drawn from sunspot cycles. While the investigations discussed in this paper have not resolved the neutrino puzzle, neither do they offer any substantial encouragement for doubting that thermonuclear fusion is responsible for energy production in the sun. In fact, paleoclimatic evidence clearly discourages such a conjecture. And because of the strong influence of solar history on terrestrial history, conjectures concerning the history of solar behavior should never be made in isolation from a consideration of the physical record of terrestrial history.
From Puzzle to Proof: The Creation of a Legend
The puzzling report that there was evidence to suggest a rapid shrinkage of the sun over several centuries was quickly adapted by the "creation- science" community for use as a "scientific evidence," or .. proof," for a very young earth. Without the extended duration of cosmic history, the concept of cosmic evolution would appear to be untenable. And, according to the proponents of "creation science," if evolution over a multibillion-year period did not take place, then creation (restricted to acts of inception) must have occurred during a very busy week about 10,000 years ago. Let us explore for a time how the shrinking sun report has been employed to function as an "evidence" in support of the young earth hypothesis.
The basic framework is set in place by Russell Akridge. The Institute for Creation Research publishes a monthly series of brief, popular level "vital articles on science/creation" under the heading of Impact. The April 1980 issue entitled "The Sun is Shrinking" is written by Akridge, a physicist at Oral Roberts University. Two element characterize his approach (1) an unquestioning acceptance of the solar shrinkage rate proposed by Eddy and Boornazian in 1979, and (2) an unrestrained extrapolation of that behavior into the indefinite past. Employing this approach, Akridge calculates that 100,000 years ago the sun would have been twice its present size, and that 20 million years ago it would have been as large as earth's orbit, thereby precluding a multibillion-year duration for cosmic history and discrediting all concepts of evolution.
To speak of the Eddy and Boornazian result
(published only as an abstract)
as if it had convincingly established the occurrence of long term solar shrinkage
constitutes a failure to exercise appropriate restraint in employing the results
of a single investigation.
According to Akridge, not only does the shrinking sun phenomenon cast doubt on the standard chronology for terrestrial history, but it also has the potential for destroying the credibility of conventional astrophysical models for stellar behavior, ultimately dismantling the very concept of stellar evolution. By assuming that gravitational contraction has now been amply demonstrated, Akridge concludes that the identification of thermonuclear fusion as the solar energy source is seriously threatened. In his words:
The discovery that the sun is shrinking may prove to be the downfall of the accepted theory of solar evolution.... The entire theoretical description of the evolution of the uni,es, may be at stake.... The changes detected in the sun call into question the accepted thermonuclear fusion energy source for the sun. This, in turn, questions the entire theoretical structure upon which the evolutionary theory of astrophysics is built.14
These are bold claims, asserting the imminent collapse of a major portion of the contemporary paradigm of astrophysics. The credibility of a scientific claim, however, is established not by its boldness, but by its adequacy to account for physical phenomena in an accurate, coherent and fruitful manner. How well do Akridge's claims hold up under the ordinary tests for scientific adequacy?
In order to support his assertions, Akridge must establish at least these two points: (1) that solar contraction over a period of a century or more is convincingly demonstrated by the empirical evidence; (2) that a contraction in the sun's diameter, if observed during a period of a few centuries, may be extrapolated indefinitely into the past. On the first point, Akridge is already on shaky ground. Recall that the 1979 paper published by Sofia et alia placed a much lower limit on the rate of
In their judgment, . . . no secular change
over the past 250 years
was detectable, but a cyclic change with an
80-year periodicity was indicated.
any possible shrinkage. Furthermore, the results of investigation concerning related phenomena, such as Mercury transits or solar eclipse observations, had not yet been published. Thus, to speak of the Eddy and Boornazian result (published only as an abstract) as if it had convincingly established the occurrence of long-term solar shrinkage constitutes a failure to exer- cise appropriate restraint in employing the results of a single investigation. Though it may not have been apparent to his untrained readers, Akridge's uncritical acceptance of a single report-a report greeted with skepticism by the relevant professional community, a preliminary report not yet tested by comparison with other relevant studies-represents a serious failure to perform with integrity the critical evaluation expected of professional scientists.
The second failure is considerably more obvious. Not only does Akridge unquestioningly accept the Eddy and Boornazian preliminary result as if it had firmly established solar shrinkage, he extrapolates that behavior indefinitely into the remote past. Assuming, without sufficient warrant, a constant shrinkage rate, Akridge leads the reader to believe that, had the sun existed 20 million years ago, it would necessarily have been as large as earth's orbit. In performing such an extended extrapolation, Akridge has chosen to ignore the possibility of numerous transient and oscillatory phenomena with characteristic time periods as long as thousands of years. As we indicated earlier in this discussion, any extrapolation of solar diameter variations beyond a few centuries would be entirely unwarranted, thereby rep- resenting unacceptable scientific practice. To base, as does Akridge, a bold and substantial claim on such an unwarranted extrapolation represents a serious failure to follow the fundamental principles for competent scientific investigation. And not only does Akridge presume the validity of this extrapolation, he even argues that to assume a constant shrinkage rate over extended time periods is a conservative assumption.
In spite of these and other shortcomings, however, the shrinking sun report, presented in the manner established by Akridge, continues to be employed as a scientific evidence" for a young earth. In a 1982 article in Christianity Today, Thomas Barnes, then Dean of the Graduate School at the Institute for Creation Research, presents a list of six "evidences" for a recent creation.15 Barnes concludes his list with an appeal to the shrinking sun report. Though this was written three years after the Eddy and Boornazian report, Barnes gives no evidence of having taken into account the several professional publications which had cast serious doubt on the reality of secular solar shrink- age. Instead, Barnes simply repeats the Akridge analysis. In a handbook written to accompany the Origins film series, distributed by Films For Christ, we also find the shrinking sun cited as evidence for a young earth.16 The brief discussion follows the Akridge approach very closely; it even borrows from the Impact article a diagram which shows the earth skimming the surface of a bloated sun, presumably 20 million years ago.
Having lost contact with the results of continuing investigation and evaluation by the professional scientific community, the employment of the shrinking sun as an "evidence" for recent creation ceased to be authentically scientific. Instead, it took on the status of a legendary tale, recited to provide its hearers with the comforting reassurance that their recent creation scenario was supported by empirical evidence.
Functioning to provide young earth advocates with reassurance for their particular picture of Cod's creative activity, lists of "scientific evidences" serve as specimens of a creationist folk-science." 17 One of the most lengthy of these lists can be found in the June, July, and August, 1984, issues of the Bible-Science Newsletter. Under the heading of "The Scientific Case for Creation," we find a list of 116 categories of evidence prepared by Dr. Walter T. Brown, Jr., a mechanical engineer. Number 85 on this list is the shrinking sun phenomenon. Brown's analysis is essentially the same as Akridge's. He treats secular contraction as if convincingly established and extrapolates that behavior indefinitely, on which basis he concludes that "had the sun existed a million years ago, it would have been so large that it would have heated the earth so much that life could not have survived. "18
Henry Morris, President of the Institute for Creation Research, does no better than Akridge, Barnes or Brown. In his 1984 treatise on The Biblical Basis for Modem Science, Morris presents his vision of biblical insights into a broad spectrum of natural sciences. In a brief discussion on solar energy generation, Morris wishes to argue that gravitational collapse, not thermo-nuclear fusion, is responsible for solar luminosity. The shrinking sun report is employed to bolster that argument:
As a matter of fact, careful measurements in recent years have supported the collapse theory by showing that the sun's diameter does, indeed, appear to be shrinking. But this in turn would mean that the sun could not possibly be billions of years old.!19
This statement, made five years after Eddy and Boornazian's preliminary report, demonstrates no attempt to incorporate the results of the numerous, relevant investigations performed and reported during that five year interval. Instead, Henry Morris, clearly the most influential person in the "creation-science" movement, propagates the same misrepresentation of solar behavior initiated by Akridge's 1980 Impact article.
The Shrinking Sun in the Creation Research Society Quarterly
Thus far, the "creation-science" literature cited has been popular-level material intended for a general audience. Is it possible that the more technical literature of the recent creationist community does a better job of displaying a respect for the professional standards of competence and integrity held by the scientific community? As a general rule it does not, though there are exceptions.
As representative of literature that we might expect to demonstrate a higher level of methodological competence and professional integrity, the Creation Research Society Quarterly provides us with several papers on the topic of the shrinking sun report. In a series of two articles, published in June and December of 1980, Hilton Hinderliter presents his analysis of this phenomenon. 20 21Although these articles are anecdotal in style, very different from professional journal literature, we will assume that they were intended to be read as authentic specimens of "creation-science," that is, informative analytical reports written by scientifically trained persons. (Dr. Hinderliter is an Assistant Professor of Physics at the New Kensington campus of Pennsylvania State University.) The scientific adequacy of the analysis, however, differs little from the popular material reviewed above.
Like Akridge, Hinderliter uncritically accepts the rapid shrinkage rate first reported by Eddy and Boornazian; he even praises the reliability of the historical data used by Eddy and the thoroughness of his data analysis. On the other hand, the judgment expressed by Eddy and many others22 that the suspected variation was most likely a cyclic phenomenon was summarily dismissed as no more than the product of an unwarranted belief in what Hinderliter calls the "billion year
myth." We find in this discussion no evidence of the merits of several suggested mechanisms that could introduce periodic variations in the solar size.23 Instead, the suggestion of periodic behavior is rejected as merely a product of evolutionistic bias. Sinilarly, Hinderliter's ready acceptance of the conclusions drawn from one analysis of meridian transit data fails to recognize the relevance of data drawn from other phenomena, such as solar eclipse records, Mercury transit observations, and the paleoclimatic record. None of these data are critically evaluated by Hinderliter; they are simply ignored or rejected as unworthy of consideration.
Hanson's incandescence model with its
is in contradiction not only to "evolutionary astrophysics;"
it also stands in contradiction to a basic thermodynamic principle
taught in most first-year general physics courses! Heat does not flow
through an ordinary medium unless there is a temperature gradient.
In his discussion of gravitational contraction as a Possible source of solar energy, Hinderliter claims that this mechanism bad been rejected by the scientific community "solely on the basis of a supposed age of the earth in billions of years;"24 and that, furthermore, "the compelling force for the acceptance of vast ages was merely a faith in evolutionism, which itself has no evidential leg to stand on."25 In summary, he concludes that ". . . evolutionism demanded a vast age for the sun, which in turn caused gravitational contraction to be ruled out as a major source of the sun's energy."26
A careful review of the relevant history, however, yields a significantly different conclusion. Because both geological and radiometric evidence indicated a terrestrial age of billions of years, the gravitational collapse lifetime for the sun-a few tens of millions of years- presented a real puzzle. When the process of thermonuclear fusion first became known, it was indeed greeted as a candidate for solar energy generation. But the transformation from candidate to accepted phenomenon could take place only with the development of a model for the sun which complied with all of the known patterns for material behavior, and which would make fusion inevitable. Such has been the case. 27
Nonetheless, by assuming that the meridian transit data has convincingly established a secular gravitational contraction of the sun, and appealing to the lower than expected solar neutrino flux as supporting evidence, Hinderliter concludes that the thermonuclear fusion model for solar energy production has been thoroughly discredited. In a manner very much like that of Russell Akridge, Hinderliter asserts that from his analysis of the shrinking sun report, "it is clear that we have witnessed a major scientific defeat for evolutionism."28
While the papers by Hinderliter may fail to display the appropriate level of critical evaluation of the relevant phenomena, data and theoretical models, another paper, "The Sun's Luminosity and Age," written by James Hanson, suffers from even greater shortcomings. Hanson strongly favors a shrinking sun, such as was reported by Eddy and Boornazian. The first reason cited by Hanson for this opinion is the following: "It is anti-evolutionary and compatible with the creationist view of a recently created, not evolved, sun."29 He cites papers by Shapiro, Sofia, and others,30 but fails to deal substantively with their content. Their objections to Eddy and Boornazian's conclusions are dismissed as the product of evolutionistic bias.
In advising his readers to suspend judgment on his earlier conclusions,
Steidt is displaying the kind of professional integrity
that is expected within the scientific community.
But the most bewildering component of Hanson's paper is his proposal of an "incandescence theory" for solar luminosity. He proposes that the sun was created 6000 years ago with a uniform temperature, and that it has been uniformly cooling off since that time. Solar luminosity, according to Hanson's model, derives simply from the thermal energy stored in the recently created sun. After performing some calculations which purport to show that the decrease in solar temperature during the past 6000 years would be acceptably small, Hanson says:
Note that by this analysis we may infer that if the sun or a star were created isothermal it would stay nearly that way, which is, also, in direct contradiction to evolutionary astrophysics.31
Within the statement just quoted, we encounter at least three serious problems with Hanson's approach. First, the idea that the sun would, if created isothermal, remain isothermal cannot be inferred from Hanson's model; rather, it is no more than the unwarranted assumption on which the model is built. Second, Han- son offers no demonstration that an isothermal solar model which complies with all relevant physical laws (concerning gravity, hydrostatic equilibrium, equation of state, etc.) can be constructed. In fact, the necessity of such a demonstration is not even recognized. Third, and especially devastating, Hanson's incandescence model with its isothermal sun is in contradiction not only to "evolutionary astrophysics;" it also stands in contradiction to a basic thermodynamic principle taught in most first-year general physics courses! Heat does notflow through an ordinary medium unless there is a temperature gradient. Hanson's isothermal sun would demand an infinite thermal conductivity (or some other means of unimpeded heat transfer) in order to remain at a uniform temperature while radiating energy from its surface. Contemporary models for the solar interior, on the other hand, indicate that a central temperature of greater than 10,000,000 K is required to maintain an adequate heat flow from the core to the solar surface. The incandescence model proposed in Hanson's paper is wholly unrealistic.
Elsewhere in the paper, Hanson expresses a certain fondness for reviving theories from the past. In his closing statements Hanson favorably associates his incandescence model with pre-Copernican astronomy.
The incandescence theory would probably have been the explanation in pre-Copernican times. This is another example of the frequent superiority of pre-Copernican astronomy over the present Copernican-evolutionary views.32
Enough said. Let the reader judge the merits of that sentiment.
article of considerably higher quality, "Solar Neutrinos and a Young
Sun," by Paul Steidi, can be found in the June 1980 issue of the Quarterly.
Compared with the material written by Akridge, Hinderliter, or Hanson,
Steidl's paper demonstrates a far greater knowledge of astrophysics and a
creditable awareness of relevant data and phenomena. The chief topic of the
paper is the solar neutrino puzzle. Contemporary solar models predict the types
and rates of thermonuclear fusion reactions that would occur in the sun,
provided that our understanding of the relevant physical
conditions and processes is adequate. During the past several years, measurements have been performed to deter- mine the rate at which neutrinos, a byproduct of these fusion reactions, are being received on earth. The puzzling result is that the measured rate is only one-third of the expected rate.
Steidl's solution puzzle is to propose that no fusion whatsoever is occurring in the sun and that solar luminosity is derived solely from gravitational contraction, thereby discrediting any multibillion-year chronology for solar system history. In Steidi's words, "Thus the near absence of solar neutrinos alone is enough to indicate that the sun is considerably younger than usually assumed .... The sun is surely younger than its accepted (uniformitarian) age.33
In my judgment, however, Steidl paid far too little attention to a vast array of empirical and theoretical considerations which have led the professional scientific community to the well founded conclusion (not assumption) that the solar system formed about 4.6 billion years ago. I suspect that it was Steidi's commitment to a recent creation scenario, rather than a critical evaluation of the data, which played the decisive role in leading him to his conclusion. Yet Steidi himself accuses the entire professional scientific community of a bias in favor of an ancient, evolved sun. "it [fusion] has become accepted dogma simply because it is the only conceivable process which could provide energy for the billions of years which stars are believed to have existed." 34
Steidl offers a brief discussion of the solar shrinkage phenomenon as reported by Eddy and Boornazian. For Steidl this report is taken as confirmation that fusion is not occurring in the sun and that solar luminosity is powered by Helmholtz contraction. Regarding Eddy and Boornazian's own judgment that the solar shrinkage they reported was part of a cyclic phenomenon, Steidl says, "Of course they do not allow the possibility that it has been going on for more than a few hundred years, since this would totally dethrone stellar evolution."35 By suppressing arguments based on the coherence of numerous empirical and theoretical considerations which have led scientists to their conclusions concerning an old and fusion powered sun, claiming instead that these concepts are based solely on some form of evolutionistic bias, Steidl is joining in the approach followed by Akridge, Hinderliter and Hanson.
But our review of Steidi's work can end on a much more positive note. In a brief letter published in the March 1981 Quarterly, Steidi alerts his readers to two significant developments.36 First, the possibility of a non-zero rest mass for the neutrino would reduce the expected neutrino detection rate by a factor of three, consonant with the observed value. Steidl aptly concludes: "Perhaps the sun is burning hydrogen after all." (Note: In this context, "burning hydrogen" refers to the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium.) Second, Steidi calls attention to several recently published papers which contest the reality of secular solar shrinkage. In advising his readers suspend judgment of his earlier conclusions, Steidl is displaying the kind of professional integrity that is expected within the scientific community.
The world to which we direct the Christian
has every right to expect our scholarship, including our natural science,
to be characterized by the highest standards of competence and integrity.
Paul Steidl is to be commended for his attempt to alert the readers of the Quarterly to the fact that the credibility of earlier reports regarding solar contraction had been greatly diminished by further investigation. Unfortunately, his warnings went unheeded. Long after Steidl's letter appeared in the Quarterly, and long after the professional journals had published extensive papers discrediting the initial claim, references to the shrinking sun as a "scientific evidence" for a young earth continued to appear in the creationist literature. The Impact article by Akridge, in spite of its grievous shortcomings, had far more influence than Steidi's more critical appraisal.
Does It Really Matter?
As our case study has illustrated, what began as a puzzling report within the professional scientific com- munity was transformed by the "creation-science" community into "scientific evidence" purporting to substantiate the recent creation scenario. We have seen how the shrinking sun report, as propagated through the recent creationist literature, lost contact with the critical evaluation and continuing investigation performed by the community of professional scientists. And, having lost this vital connection, the solar shrinkage report became the "legend of the shrinking sun"- the vehicle of misinformation and unwarranted conclusions.
It is unfortunate that many readers of .. creation-science" literature have been misinformed concerning such matters as the sun's history. To be misinformed, even by well meaning fellow Christians, is a regrettable experience.
Of far greater concern to me, however, is the negative effect that these episodes of misinformation may have on the Christian witness to a scientifically knowledgeable world. The world to which we direct the Christian message has every right to expect our scholarship, including our natural science, to be characterized by the highest standards of competence and integrity. If we publicly fail to maintain those standards, how can that world gain confidence in the message we pro- claim? If we disseminate misinformation in the name of Christian scholarship, who will listen to our preaching of the gospel? More than fifteen centuries ago St. Augustine expressed this same concern in his commentary on Genesis:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size ... and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrasing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.... If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, bow are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven ... ?37
May we be any less concerned than Augustine?
1. See, for example, the following:
a) Thomas C. Barnes,
"Evidence Points to a Recent Creation," Christianity Today, October
8,1982, pp. 34-36.
b) Henry M. Morris and Gary E. Parker, What Is Creation Science?, (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1982), pp. 254-257.
c) Walter T. Brown, Jr., "The Scientific Case for Creation: 116 Categories of Evidence," Bible-Science Newsletter, June, July, August, 1984.
2. The Banner, January 28, 1985, p. 4.
3. J. A. Eddy and A. A. Boornazian, "Secular Decrease in the Solar Diameter, 1836-1953," Bull. Am. Astron. Soc. 11, 437 (1979). Note: This is only an abstract. The full text was never published.
4. G. B. Lubkin, "Analyses of Historical Data Suggest Sun Is Shrinking," Physics Today 32 (No. 9), 17 (1979). The reference to the 1567 solar eclipse does not appear in the abstract (ref. 3), but can be found in this news report regarding Eddy and Boomazian's presentation.
5. See the comments by Martin Schwarzschild reported in ref. 4. For an extensive review article which discusses these matters, see Gordon Newkirk, Jr., "Variations in Solar Luminosity," Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vol. 21, 198a, pp. 429-67.
6. S. Sofia, J. O'Keefe, J. B. Lesh, and A. S. Endal, "Solar Constant: Constraints on Possible Variations Derived from Solar Diameter Measurements," Science 204, 1306 (1979).
7. Irwin 1. Shapiro, "Is the Sun Shrinking?", Science 208,51 (1980).
8. D. W. Dunham, S. Sofia, A. D. Fiala, D. Herald, and P. M. Muller, "Observations of a Probable Change in the Solar Radius Between 1715 and 1979," Science 210, 1243 (1980).
9. J. H. Parkinson, L. V. Morrison, and F. R. Stephenson, "The Constancy of the Solar Diameter over the Past 250 Years," Nature 288, 548 (1980).
10. R. L. Gilliland, "Solar Radius Variations over the Past 264 Years," Astrophysics J.. 248, 1144 (1981).
11. J. H. Parkinson, "New Measurements of the Solar Diameter," Nature 304,518 (1983).
12. S. Sofia, D. W. Dunham, J. B. Dunham, and A. D. Fiala, "Solar Radius Change between 1925 and 1979, " Nature 304, 522 (1983).
13. C. Frohlich and J. A. Eddy, "Observed Relation between Solar Luminosity and Radius," (Paper presented at an international conference sponsored by the Committee on Space Research, July, 1984, in Graz, Austria).
14. Russell Akridge, "The Sun is Shrinking," Impact No. 82, Institute for Creation Research, April, 1980, pp. iii, iv.
15. See Thomas G. Barnes, "Evidence Points to a Recent Creation," Christianity Today, October 8, 1982, pp. 34--36.
16. See ORIGINS Film Series Handbook (Phoenix, AZ: Films for Christ Association, 1983), pp. 11-12.
17. We are using the term 'folk-science' in a manner similar to that of Jerome R. Ravetz in Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems (New York: 174
18. Walter T. Brown, Jr., "The Scientific Case for Creation," Bible-Science Newsletter, July, 1984, p. 14.
19. Henry M. Morris, The Bibical Basis of Modem Science (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 164.
20. Hilton Hinderliter, "The Shrinking Sun: A Creationist's Prediction, Its Verification, and the Resulting Implications for Theories of Origins," Creation Research Society Quarterly 17,57 (1980).
21. Hilton Hinderliter, "The Inconsistent Sun: How Has It Been Behaving, and What Might It Do Next?" Creation Research Society Quarterly 17, 143 (1980).
22. See ref. 4.
23. See ref. 5.
24. Hinderliter, ref. 20, p. 57.
25. Hinderliter, ref. 20, p. 59.
26. Hinderliter, ref. 20, p. 59.
27. See Chapter IV, "Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis," in A Source Book in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 19W-1975, edited by Kenneth R. Lang and Owen Gingerich (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979). This collection of original papers and editorial commentary provides an excellent overview of this important episode in the history of astrophysics.
28. Hinderliter, ref. 20, p. 59.
29. James Hanson, "The Sun's Luminosity and Age," Creation Research Society Quarterly 18, 27 (1981).
30. See ref. 6, 7.
31. Hanson, p. 29.
32. Hanson, p. 29.
33. Paul M. Steidi, "Solar Neutrinos and a Young Sun," Creation Research Society Quarterly 17,63 (1980).
34. Steidl, p. 60.
35. Steidl, p. 64.
36. W. Paul M. Steidl, "Recent Developments About Solar Neutrinos" (Letter), Creation Research Society Quarterly 17, 233 (1981).
37. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S. I., 2 vols. (Ancient Christian Writers, Nos. 41, 42), (New York: Newman Press, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 42-43.