Intelligent Design

Loser Laplace

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Nebular HypothesisCornelius Hunter just posted a wonderful blog about the “debate” between Newton and Laplace about the origin of the solar system. Newton remained a committed Deist theist to his dying day, believing that God created the planets in their orbits, but had to fix them occasionally to keep them in line. Laplace, on the other hand, “had no need for that hypothesis” and in the original “god-of-the-gaps” argument, reduced God’s job requirements by one.

No, make that two, because Laplace (1796) also formulated a “Nebular Hypothesis” explanation of the creation of the solar system, so God didn’t actually have to create the planets either. Immanuel Kant really liked that nebular hypothesis, and wrote quite a long treatise on it early in his career in 1755. No, it certainly wasn’t as famous as his later work, but you can see how this god-of-the-gaps thing converted people into atheists and rationalists.

Well the Nebular Hypothesis made it into physics books very early, and Newton got booted out of astronomy, though his theory of  forces was de-deified and makes a big part of the introductory physics curriculum where it has been used to promote a materialist philosophy that we are nothing but atoms bouncing in the void. Clearly Laplace won that debate.  But curiously, there haven’t been any experimental proofs of the Nebular Hypothesis.

Oh sure, we can set up a simulation of five million particles in a cloud and follow Newton’s laws of motion for a hundred thousand timesteps to watch this simulation crank out planets. And yes, it takes a very special condition to get the simulation to make planets. And yes, the arrangement of our solar system is an even stranger one than most, making it one of those “Anthropic Proofs”. But this isn’t science! It’s a  simulation!  (I know, I know, I’ve offended all those “computational physics” people out there, but look, would you believe a scientist who said “I can explain human behavior using a computer running millions of copies of “The Sims”?)

Where’s the experimental proof?

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9 Replies to “Loser Laplace

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Very interesting Dr. Sheldon, thanks for your contribution to instrumentation. ,,, the finding reminds me of this paper by Dr. Ross;

    Elemental Evidence of Earth’s Divine Design – Hugh Ross PhD. – April 2010
    Table: Earth’s Anomalous Abundances – Page 8
    The twenty-five elements listed below must exist on Earth in specific abundances for advanced life and/or support of civilization to be possible. For each listed element the number indicates how much more or less abundant it is, by mass, in Earth’s crust, relative to magnesium’s abundance, as compared to its average abundance in the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy, also relative to the element magnesium. Asterisks denote “vital poisons,” essential elements that if too abundant would be toxic to advanced life, but if too scarce would fail to provide the quantities of nutrients essential for advanced life. The water measure compares the amount of water in and on Earth relative to the minimum amount the best planet formation models would predict for a planet the mass of Earth orbiting a star identical to the Sun at the same distance from the Sun.

    carbon* 1,200 times less
    nitrogen* 2,400 times less
    fluorine* 50 times more
    sodium* 20 times more
    aluminum 40 times more
    phosphorus* 4 times more
    sulfur* 60 times less
    potassium* 90 times more
    calcium 20 times more
    titanium 65 times more
    vanadium* 9 times more
    chromium* 5 times less
    nickel* 20 times less
    cobalt* 5 times less
    selenium* 30 times less
    yttrium 50 times more
    zirconium 130 times more
    niobium 170 times more
    molybdenum* 5 times more
    tin* 3 times more
    iodine* 3 times more
    gold 5 times less
    lead 170 times more
    uranium 16,000 times more
    thorium 23,000 times more
    water 250 times less

    further notes:

    Compositions of Extrasolar Planets – July 2010
    Excerpt: ,,,the presumption that extrasolar terrestrial planets will consistently manifest Earth-like chemical compositions is incorrect. Instead, the simulations revealed “a wide variety of resulting planetary compositions.

    Chances of Exoplanet Life ‘Impossible’? Or ’100 percent’? – February 2011
    Excerpt: Howard Smith, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, made the headlines earlier this year when he announced, rather pessimistically, that aliens will unlikely exist on the extrasolar planets we are currently detecting. “We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own. They are very hostile to life as we know it,” “Extrasolar systems are far more diverse than we expected, and that means very few are likely to support life,” he said.

    The stunning long term balance of the necessary chemicals for life, on the face of the earth, is a wonder in and of itself:

    Chemical Cycles:
    Long term chemical balance is essential for life on earth. Complex symbiotic chemical cycles keep the amount of elements on the earth surface in relatively perfect balance and thus in steady supply to the higher life forms that depend on them to remain stable. This is absolutely essential for the higher life forms to exist on Earth for any extended period of time.

  2. 2
    Rude says:

    Interesting blog, but may I take issue with one word in this: “Newton remained a committed Deist to his dying day, believing that God created the planets in their orbits, but had to fix them occasionally to keep them in line.”

    I always wonder why Newton is so often designated a Deist when he was anything but. Here (for lack of time to go elsewhere) is a snippet from the Wikipedia definition:

    Further the term often implies that this supreme being does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending to assert that a god (or “the Supreme Architect”) has a plan for the universe that this god does not alter by (regularly or ever) intervening in the affairs of human life.

    Newton may have been the greatest scientist of all, but he wrote more on Bible prophecy than on science. Some of his volumnious notes on the subject are now being made available at the Hebrew University. Though there was no sense of this by Dr. Sheldon, I have wondered if there isn’t out there a bit of subconscious disparagement of Newton’s theism perhaps due to his rejection of Christian orthodoxy. Be that as it may I would say that Newton, with his obsession with biblical prophecy, was less a deist than the orthodox.

    And whereas Laplace wished to put the deity out of a job cosmically, Darwin in the same spirit tried for it biologically. Happily there have been no experimental proofs that either man’s attempt at firing the deity worked.

  3. 3

    Okay, you win Rude, Newton was a Unitarian monotheist.

    But this is a distinction only important historically, because all those Unitarians rapidly became Deists over the next century as the unstable theology found a semi-stable point, e.g., Anthony Flew. One might object that Judaism and Islam are both monotheistic religions that don’t devolve into Deism, but I would argue that these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Judaism has a very peculiar relationship to Torah which amounts to a pragmatic tritheism (Reason cannot undermine Torah, God cannot contradict Torah, etc.), whereas Islam has a fatalism that is very much Deist with a 7th century face.

    But I appreciate the correction.

  4. 4
    SCheesman says:

    In the article, near the end, it says:

    The O18 was more numerous than O16 on Earth.

    Did you intend to say that the ratio of O18 to O16 was greater on earth?

  5. 5
    NickMatzke_UD says:

    Interesting. So your position is God set up these tiny differences in the isotope ratios to, what, stymie scientists? Clearly the following scientific hypothesis for the isotope ratios is just a demonic anti-God conspiracy to undermine Christianity:
    While scientists don’t yet know for sure how this happened, they have some ideas. The leading contender, McKeegan said, may be a process called “isotopic self-shielding.”

    About 4.6 billion years ago, the planets had not yet coalesced out of the solar nebula, a thick cloud of dust and gas. Much of the oxygen in this cloud was probably bound up in gaseous carbon monoxide (CO) molecules.

    But the oxygen didn’t stay bound up forever. High-energy ultraviolet light from the newly formed sun (or nearby stars) blasted into the cloud, breaking apart the CO. The liberated oxygen quickly glommed onto other atoms, forming molecules that eventually became the rocky building blocks of planets.

    Photons of slightly different energy were required to chop up the CO molecules, depending on which oxygen isotope they contained. Oxygen-16 is far more common than either of the other two, so there would have been much more of this substance throughout the solar nebula, researchers said.

    The result, the self-shielding theory goes, is that many of the photons needed to break up the oxygen-16 CO were “used up,” or absorbed, on the edges of the solar nebula, leaving much of the stuff in the cloud’s interior intact.

    By contrast, relatively more of the photons that could strip out oxygen-17 and oxygen-18 got through to the inner parts of the cloud, freeing these isotopes, which were eventually incorporated into the rocky planets. And that, according to the theory, is why the sun and Earth’s oxygen isotope abundances are so different.

    “The result that we’re publishing this week gives support to the self-shielding idea,” McKeegan said. “But we don’t know the answer yet.”

  6. 6
    SCheesman says:

    Nick Matzke is quite right in his post; there are any number of processes that could have affected the O18/O16 ratio during the formation of the earth. This is hardly a death knell for the nebular hypothesis.

  7. 7
    SCheesman says:

    (Correct apart from the tongue-in-cheek demonic plot assertion, that is!)

  8. 8
    SCheesman says:

    On the contrary, I think God created a universe full of “discrepancies” such as these that has, and continues to allow us to discover its wonders — this is the privileged planet hypothesis — a universe primed for discovery.

    Whether you are talking about the big bang, or dark matter or the nebular hypothesis, things are rarely as simple as first proposed, and evidence that doesn’t seem to fit the original model is often an important clue to the fact that modification to theory is required. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean Laplace was wrong in this case.

  9. 9
    SCheesman says:

    I highly recommend the following recent journal issue as an extensive introduction to the current state of knowledge on the origin of the solar system:

    Elements: An International Magazine of Mineralogy, Geochemistry, and Petrology,

    February 2011,
    Volume 7, Number 1

    The issue is entitled “Cosmochemistry”, and includes the following articles:

    A Cosmochemical View of the Solar System

    Presolar History Recorded in Extraterrestrial Materials

    Stable Isotope Cosmochemistry

    The Asteroid-Comet Continuum

    Organic Chemistry of Meteorites

    Formation of the Earth and Moon

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