Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXVb: A Thermonuclear Load of Creationist Nonsense

In our last edition, we saw Christianists trying desperately to sneak God into matter and energy. Today, the creationist nonsense gets positively explosive. Hold tight, kiddos.

The SPC folks explain that nuclear fission can be used to blow things up as well as power stuff. They’re quite blasé about the effects of an atomic bomb explosion. They’re all about describing the heat and light of the chain reaction; not so much about telling us what it does to living things like, oh, y’know, innocent human beings. They’re also quick to handwave away the problem of nuclear waste. But considering how enamored the American Right is of fossil fuels, this amuses me greatly:

The small amount of nuclear waste materials that are produced may remain toxic for thousands of years, but the ash produced by coal-fired plants (the most common type of power plant in the United States) contains tons of arsenic, cadmium, and other highly poisonous substances that remain toxic forever.

This is followed by two columns of text explaining that since America doesn’t suck as bad as Soviet Russia, we won’t have to worry about a Chernobyl-level disaster at our own reactors. No, they never do mention Three-Mile Island. I can’t imagine why.

After this loving endorsement of atomic energy, they go on to discuss nuclear fusion, where we get this very odd line:

Scientists believe that the sun is powered by nuclear fusion.

Believe? Believe? What a strange way of putting it. I mean, we pretty much know that’s how the sun works. We’ve got it figured out. It’s not a belief, it’s knowledge. And I wouldn’t be harping on that one word so much, only you know how creationists get up to shenanigans with the sun. So I’m wondering if that word choice was deliberate.

Image shows a praying person on the left, and the Large Hadron Collider on the right. Caption says, "Questions about the nature of the Universe? Religion prays for answers... Science builds a 17 mile long, $5bn machine and gets them."

Other than that, there’s no more nonsense about fusion. But they can’t just let science be science without sprinkling religious crap all over it, so this section on atoms ends with a text box on Matter as a Form of Energy. They start it by severely truncating Colossians 1:17. They take a word from Col. 1:16 without telling us, so we end up with “For… by him all things consist.” Okay, whatevs, your god supposedly made everything – who actually cares when you can present no proof. They babble about Einstein and E = mc2 and Trinity and kind of disjointedly talk about how matter and energy are “two forms of the same thing.”

Large amounts of energy can also be converted into small amounts of mass. When a high-energy electromagnetic wave (perhaps the closest thing in the universe to pure energy) passes through a thin sheet of heavy material such as lead, the ray may suddenly vanish and two particles of matter appear from nowhere. One is an electron; the other is a particle called a positron, a “mirror image” of the electron. Both of these particles are just as real as the particles in your body – brought into existence out of pure energy. Scientists are baffled as to how or why this occurs; they only know that it does.

Now, I don’t know physics that well, but that sounded like a load of creationist claptrap to me. I mean, I couldn’t . Plus, I’d thought . So I put out a call for folks with physics knowledge on Facebook and G+ to see if any of them could decipher this inanity. Claire Clarke did a marvelous job debunking their claims:

They may be referencing the photoelectric effect, in which a beam of light falling on a conductor can induce a current. This is well understood. In fact, it was first explained by Einstein. Alternatively, the ‘high-energy electromagnetic wave’ may refer to a gamma ray in which case it doesn’t need to pass through lead to produce a particle – antiparticle pair. This happens spontaneously all the time (this is well explained by QED). A gamma ray falling onto a material substance is more likely to knock an electron out (this is why we call it ionising radiation) rather than produce an electron and a positron.

In other words: creationists understand physics less than I do. Quelle surprise.

And then they conclude with this paragraph that totally belongs in a science textbook:

As Christians, we know that God spoke both matter and energy into existence; “For He spake, and it was done” (Ps. 33:9). God did not just convert energy into matter; He brought both into existence by His voice. Although we do not understand how matter and energy can be two forms of the same thing, our Creator knows all things.

Horseshit. I’m calling pure-H horseshit on this. Until you creationists can give me the peer-reviewed experimental evidence showing that God spoke all of this stuff into existence, I’m calling you fuckers full of crap. Go on. This should be easy. Pray to your god to provide you the appropriate experiment to show he actually did what his book claims. Or, y’know, have him come down and do a demonstration.

I’d say I’ll wait right here, but I’ve got shit to do. So, y’know, just let me know when you’ve got that all lined up, m’kay? Meanwhile, we’ll just be over here discovering how the universe actually works.

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Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXVb: A Thermonuclear Load of Creationist Nonsense

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education XXVb: A Thermonuclear Load of Creationist Nonsense

  1. 1

    To clarify Claire Clarke’s explanation, an isolated photon won’t turn into an electron-positron pair. It has to hit another photon to do so. The photon can be a virtual one, however, like the electromagnetic field made by an electron or a nucleus. So that’s how a gamma ray hitting lead can do pair production. A gamma ray hitting anything else can also do pair production, though it’s easiest for heavy elements like lead and gold and uranium.

    To see why, let’s consider chasing some elementary particles. If one chases an electron, one can catch up to it. It will move at zero speed relative to you. Likewise, one can catch up to an electron-positron pair. One adjusts one’s motion until one sees the electron and the positron moving at the same speed but in opposite directions. Their total momentum is thus zero. So their combined mass-energy is the sum of their mass-energies (rest mass + kinetic energy; remember E = m*c^2). That’s their “center-of-mass energy” or CM energy. Likewise, an electron’s CM energy is its rest mass.

    But if one tries chasing a photon, it will keep on moving at c, though it will get more and more redshifted. A gamma ray that gets redshifted enough will get redshifted through X-rays, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves. If one succeeded, one would find that it has zero mass-energy along with its zero momentum. A photon thus has zero CM energy.

    If an isolated photon did pair production, it would go from zero to nonzero CM energy, thus violating conservation of energy.

  2. 2

    Scientists believe that the sun is powered by nuclear fusion.

    Stellar nucleosynthesis – how does it work? Very well indeed thanks and that’s why we’re all here.

    Oh & it ain’t just our daytime star but all the countless trillions times trillions of them in our observable cosmos and we are made of stardust and we know this becoz science. (Plus Carl Sagan who phrased it perfectly.)

    All those stars and galaxies and we’re special – why? Perspective.

    We’re special to each other because we say so, are empathic ethical evolved living individuals beings and we make our fates for ourselves and our meanings and our happinesses for ourselves thanks. We make the world better or generally try to do so because its the right thing to do and has nothing to do with nuclear fusion but what we choose to make of it.

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