May 22, 2009 spike

“Evolution has nothing to do with astronomy”

Am I a liar for applying the word “evolution” to astronomy?

Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer” who blogs for Discover magazine, says so in a recent post about my Solar System video.

Quoting Phil:

“I watched the Jupiter video until all I could hear was a loud buzzing sound punctuated by the word “evolution”. Last I recall, evolution was the change in allele frequency over time… Jupiter has chromosomes? Are creationists that confused?

“Well, certainly many are, but why ascribe to ignorance what can be ascribed to misdirection? The creator of the video obviously uses the word evolution over and over again because it’s a buzzword likely to sway people predisposed against science to agree with the bizarre version of reality he espouses, even though he must know that evolution has nothing to do with astronomy.

“Hmmm. Bear false witness much?”

Phil is calling me a false witness — a liar — for applying the word “evolution” to astronomy.

But as an astronomer, surely Phil knows that the word “evolution” is used constantly in astronomy — not to describe biological change, but to describe the naturalistic formation and development of celestial objects.

Surely Phil knows that countless astrophysics books present models for the “evolution” of stars:

Evolution of Stars and Stellar Populations

(by Maurizio Salaris
and Santi Cassisi)

Physics, Formation and Evolution of Rotating Stars

(by André Maeder)

Stellar Structure and Evolution

(by Rudolf Kippenhahn
and Alfred Weigert)


And galaxies:

The Structure and Evolution of Galaxies

(by Steven Phillipps)

The Chemical Evolution of the Galaxy

(by F. Matteucci )

Nucleosynthesis and Chemical Evolution of Galaxies

(by Bernard E. J. Pagel)


And planets:

Planets and Their Atmospheres, Volume 33: Origins and Evolution

(by John S. Lewis
and Ronald G. Prinn)

A Comparison of the Dynamical Evolution of Planetary Systems

(by R. Dvorak and
S. Ferraz-Mello, Eds.)

Solar System Evolution: A New Perspective


(by Stuart Ross Taylor)

In addition, Phil no doubt keeps up with the scientific literature that is full of this usage too. As I write this, the current (June 2009) issue of the Astronomical Journal alone has three papers using “evolution” or “evolved” in their titles.

In the astronomical literature, the word “evolution” is everywhere.

So, why does Phil say “evolution has nothing to do with astronomy”?

Well, when your gun is out of bullets, you have to shoot blanks.

There’s a debating tactic that’s as old as the ancient Greeks. When your opponent is correct and you can’t refute his arguments, you use an ad hominem attack instead.

You smear his character. Mock and ridicule him personally. Call him a liar, even when you know he’s correct. Anything to cover up the fact that he’s right.

In my video, I document the failure of the standard evolutionary model for our Solar System. Among other things, this model predicts that Jupiter can’t exist (but it does), Saturn can’t exist either (ditto), Uranus and Neptune shouldn’t have formed at all (but there they are), Mercury and Ganymede shouldn’t have magnetic fields (even though they do), Titan should have a global ocean of methane and ethane if it were really billions of years old (but it doesn’t)… the list goes on and on.

But Phil doesn’t address any of that.

Instead, the person who once wrote that “Stellar evolution [is] the process by which a star is born, lives out its life, and dies,” calls me a liar by insisting that “Evolution has nothing to do with astronomy… Bear false witness much?”

Reader, you can decide for yourself if there’s a false witness here — and if so, who it is.



Image credit: Felix Plakolb

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