The Futility of Searching for Extra-Solar Planets

We routinely report on the ever-growing number of extra-solar planets that are being discovered. At the time of our last post on the subject, Extra-Solar Planet Update: May 2020, the number was 4,154. It’s now up to 4,171, and creationists are growing increasingly uncomfortable.

A good example of their discomfort appears at the website of Answers in Genesis (AIG), the creationist ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo) — the ayatollah of Appalachia. He’s the world’s holiest man who knows more about religion and science than everyone else. The title of their new post is Here We Go Again: Two Newly Discovered Planets Orbiting Another Red Dwarf Star.

It was written by ol’ Hambo’s creationist astronomer, Dr. Danny Faulkner. Here’s AIG’s biographical information about Danny. They say he taught physics and astronomy until he joined AIG. His undergraduate degree is from Bob Jones University.

We know you’re eager to see what Danny-boy has for us today, so we’ll get right to it. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

A recent news story reported on the discovery of two planets orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 887 (aka Lacaille 9352). Due to their sizes, both planets were called super-earths.

Danny links to this two-week old article at EurekAlert, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Super-Earths discovered orbiting nearby red dwarf . He says:

While the news account did not claim these planets were similar to earth, it was written in such a way that many readers might think that one or both of these planets were earthlike. [What?] Let’s delve into the details.

We’ve read at least a hundred such articles — maybe twice that many — and none of them engage in that kind of distortion. This one doesn’t either — nor does a report on the same discovery at PhysOrg: Super-Earths discovered orbiting nearby red dwarf. They both play it straight, as they always do, but Danny-boy thinks otherwise. Skipping his personal description of the discovery, he tells us:

The minimum mass of Gliese 887b, the inner of the two planets orbiting Gliese 887, is 4.2 ± 0.6 the earth’s mass. The minimum mass of the other planet, Gliese 887c, is 7.6 ± 1.2 the earth’s mass. Since these are minimal masses, their masses could be far higher. In my estimation [Whoopie!], this places these two planets in the range of gas giant planets such as Uranus and Neptune, so it is misleading to call them super-earths.

*Groan* The article Danny-boy is talking about specifically says: “Super-Earths are planets which have a mass higher than the Earth’s but substantially below those of our local ice giants, Uranus and Neptune.” But Hambo’s creation astronomer doesn’t think these two should be called super-earths. He explains why (in his opinion) the two planets are being improperly characterized:

The reason for calling them super-earths is to hold onto any vestige of these planets being like earth in some way. Without any knowledge of the sizes or densities of these planets, it is impossible to know what kind of planets they are.

Ah, so that’s the explanation — the astronomers are desperate to find earth-like planets. But they can’t fool Danny-boy! He continues:

The gold standard in exoplanet discovery is finding earthlike planets. Besides size, what other requirements are necessary for classifying a planet as earthlike? Very important is orbiting in the habitable zone, the narrow region around a star where a planet with the right conditions could support liquid water on its surface.

We know that. Both news stories we linked to say that these two planets don’t qualify, so how can Danny-boy do anything with that? Let’s read on:

[B]oth these exoplanets orbit too closely to Gliese 887 to be in its habitable zone. The paper made note of that fact, but also mentioned that the outer planet was close to the habitable zone, apparently making a faint attempt to justify the possibility of liquid water on its surface no matter how remote that possibility might be.

Amazing, isn’t it? Another excerpt:

So, why all the excitement about these two newly discovered exoplanets? At only 10.7 light years away, Gliese 887 is one of the closest stars. That places these planets in the neighborhood. Being so close, Gliese 887 is one of the brighter red dwarfs, around which so many other exoplanets have been found. It is hoped that its proximity may help in detecting any atmospheres these planets have, particularly once the James Webb Space Telescope goes into operation. … So, discovery of two planets orbiting around what appears to be a stable red dwarf is welcome news. Except that the planets aren’t in the habitable zone and aren’t inhabitable anyway. The reporting on this comes across as very muddled to me.

Wow — the reporting seems “very muddled” to Danny-boy. But what else would he expect from hell-bound astronomers? Here’s more:

Consequently, there is far less to this story that the hype suggests. As has been the case so often in reports of exoplanets, a discovery is made with much fanfare, but we quickly learn details that cause one to doubt that any of them are inhabitable. All evidence thus far leads to the conclusion is that the earth is unique. [Ooooooooooooh!]

Since the first discovery of an exoplanet 25 years ago, we have cataloged more than 4,000 exoplanets. If most scientists 25 years ago had been asked how many earthlike planets would there be among the 4,000 exoplanets we’d find in the next quarter century, most scientists would have had optimistic counts, perhaps in the hundreds. Very few would have predicted there would be no earthlike planets in the first 4,000 exoplanets discovered.

At the end of Danny-boy’s article we learn why no Earth-like planets have been found:

But anyone who took Isaiah 45:18 seriously knew better, for it speaks of earth’s special status.

For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other.

There you are, dear reader. Now you understand everything.

Copyright © 2020. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “The Futility of Searching for Extra-Solar Planets

  1. “The gold standard in exoplanet discovery is finding earthlike planets.” No it isn’t. Holy Grail maybe, But gold standard just means best way of finding things out.

    Perhaps Danny Faulkner needs to catch up in his science with the court of King Arthur.

    Sorry, but couldn’t resist.

    And while we’re at it, does anyone remember what happened when Churchill persuaded the UK to go back on to the gold standard? Perhaps we should drop those words, as an expression of appreciation

  2. Yeah Danny boy a quote from your favorite holy book purports to have a claim from your favorite god that he/she or it made this planet specially for you. I haven’t checked what other gods claim. I haven’t the time, since there are so many of them. I don’t think my favorite, Ganesha, cares about exoplanets at all.

  3. It seems that Dr. D is a little behind in his profession. Even as an amateur, I think that Jupiter and Saturn are referred to as gas giants; Uranus and Neptune are called ice giants. True, all are giants compared to the rocky, inner planets, but still…

  4. For a creationist, what does it mean for a planet to be in a inhabitable zone?
    Don’t they tell us, don’t they rely on, that, according to their understanding of the laws of nature, it is not possible for life to arise on Earth by natural means- that Earth is not “inhabitable”?
    And, of course, according to the creationists, every planet, and every place, from the vacuum of space to the interior or stars, is open for life by supernatural means.

  5. You see, TomS, God can only create life within a very narrow range of environmental and geological conditions. (He’s not particularly good at his job.) So as long as earth is the only planet with those conditions, we know it’s God’s favourite planet.

  6. @Paul D
    But there are some restrictions which God can bypass, like the 2nd law of thermodynamics and conservation of Irreducibly complex specified information. Other things, such as specified in the fine tuning of the parameters of physics, or the laws of optics, where God has to resort to designing around those constraints in making the eye.
    And I’m not quite sure how miracles fit into this scheme. Why, for example, couldn’t God just resort to miracles in making the eye – or did he (rather than build in evolution when designing life)?

  7. “The reporting on this comes across as very muddled to me.”
    Well, yes, that’s what happens when you read the news through a Biblical lens. Then you spot confusion where there isn’t any.
    Of course Danny-boy never gets confused. Because everything is possible, like TomS already pointed out: YHWH at the same time can bypass laws of nature and is restricted by them. Aren’t miracles fun?

    Another question is why YHWH created that many stars and planets if only one is inhabited. The answer of course is to make Homo Sapiens relish the Glory of YHWH (“The Heavens declare the Glory of God”). So until extraterrestrial life is found creacrappers will predict that it never will be found; afterwards they will have predicted it all the time, because of YHWH’s glory and stuff.
    So I keep on disagreeing with

    “creationists are growing increasingly uncomfortable”.

    Why would they? They aren’t embarrassed with creationist racism from 50 years ago either. Their strategy can’t fail: head they win, tail Darwinists lose.

  8. @FrankB
    “The heavens declare …”
    This, read literally, tells us that there is intelligent life among the stars, life which is capable of speech which is complex enough to make declarations.
    Elsewhere (Job 38:7) we are told that the morning stars sang together.