Monday, November 22, 2010

What do you think about this?

I just wanted to get people's reaction to something I came across called The Kolob Theorem (links to a pdf). You may have heard about this before, or maybe not. I think the first time I saw this I was at my wife's grandparents' house and I was rather surprised (and a little upset) when I saw the book. It is an absolute hatchet job of astronomy and the worst part is that no one except professional astronomers would even realize how bad a job the author has done with the astronomy.

So take a look at it and give me your thoughts on it (and try not to let my negative comments affect your perception of it). Let me know what you think of the astronomy and whether or not he got any of it right (my personal opinion is very, very no), but don't let my opinion bias your assessment. I have also written a little more of my thoughts on the matter at my personal blog. In my own comments I did not mention anything about the religious aspect, I confined myself to the (bad) astronomy, and I think that we should do the same with our comments. So I propose sticking to the astronomy, and the usefulness (or danger) of someone writing something like this, and what would be the best way to respond to things like this.

Again I don't want to debate the religious aspect, just the sagacity of mixing armchair astronomy with religion.

Also, if someone were to approach you with a manuscript like this, how would you respond (it's a little late for us, since the book was published back in 2005. You can actually buy a copy at Deseret Book.)?

(OK, going back at looking at the comments I wrote on my personal blog, I think I was a little harsh. It's just that I get a little touchy when people mix pseudo-science with my religion.)


  1. I just skimmed the book. It looks to me that if you leave religion out of the discussion, there's not much to talk about. Any actual astronomy only serves as a springboard to launch into assertions based on scripture, General Authority statements, or imagination.

    But what do I know? Dr. Boushka of Texas says it's great stuff.

  2. Okay, I have a few thoughts:

    1. The first thing that needs to be said is this is not a science book and it puts a lot of subjective spin on science. It's essentially trying to force science to fit someone's personal theory.

    2. That said, the one bone I will throw the author is I am happy to see this person has at least thought allot about and learned some real aspects of science. (For example he knows Derbi was part of COBE and I bet most people don't.) It's better to learn some science and make mistakes then to not learn any science at all which is the situation most people find themselves. So kudos for that!

    3. But the biggest issus that this author needs to address is: what are his experimental predictions? What experiment can scientists do to verify or falsify his claims? Theories that are not falsifiable are not scientific theories so if the author wants to believe science supports his ideas he needs to be a scientist and come up with some legitimate ways of testing his theories experimentally.

    *To all people who have a belief science supports your pet theory*: be a real scientist and come up with an experimental test to either verify or falsify your claims. (Otherwise don't suppose pretend supports your cause.)

    Although again, better to learn science and make mistakes than to not try to learn science at all. Now lets see some experimental predictions!

  3. Kolob and astronomy? Don't they go together like Genesis and evolution? =:)

  4. I'd say it also puts a lot of spin on the Book of Abraham. For example, he equates Kolob with God's celestial planet. But that is not what Abraham states. He explains that Kolob is near God's throne.

    Abr 3:3 states: "And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest."

    And what does "same order" mean? The earth is in a telestial state. Does that mean Kolob reigns over telestial planets?

    As for science, astronomy shows us that the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and most other galaxies is a black hole. There is dust around it (Hilton's veil), because the stars that are being consumed by the black hole are trailing or expelling lots of dust in their death throes.

    Personally, I do not see that as fitting a star that is to govern other planets/stars.

    Personally, he should have named it the "Kolob Hypothesis" as it does not meet the criteria for being a theorem.

  5. Re Quantumleap42
    I don't think you're being too harsh here. In our society we have got to stop treating religion as a scientific theory. It is NOT that hard to separate science and religion - they fulfill different purposes in our lives. The mixing of the two has been problematic for millenia. I applaud all efforts to call out nonsense wherever it is found.

    Having said that, I do think with a title change, and some wording changes it could be a very inspiring book. I personally have no problem with imagining the possibilities. And I have no problem with mythology/cosmology (which is really what this book is about). But when it is presented as factual truth, then I get my knickers in a twist!

    I confess to only having an 8th grade understanding of astronomy (aside from understanding 2-body, 3-body, and N-body motion from my spacecraft dynamics and controls class) so I have no idea whether the author is right or wrong. I'll have to take your word for it.

  6. Hmm, my thoughts on what I've skimmed so far (and I don't expect to go much further than page 25 or so).

    1. As noted above, this is not science. He's just applying his religious ideas to a twisted view of astronomy. He's welcome to do that, but I don't buy it.

    Comment on his Correlary 1: the center of the MW isn't the center of the Universe. In fact, we're about to collide (ok, in >5 Gyrs) with the Andromeda galaxy -- that doesn't sound so celestial to me, and it raises the question of who's center becomes the dominant one?

    Correlary 2: If the veil is dust, then obviously IR and XR radiation is more holy than visible light.

    Correlary 3:If he's claiming that man can't count how many stars are in the MW, I'd say he just doesn't have a large enough computer and some patience.

    Correlary 4: What about galaxies that aren't spirals? Or spirals with no bulges, or spirals that don't have young stars?

    Correlary 5: There almost certainly are stars beyond the edge of the MW, and there definitely is most of the gas in the Universe out side of galaxies. It will also be bathed in light, at all wavelengths. There isn't 'nothing' outside the galaxies.

    Correlary 8: The speed of thought can be measured as the speed of electrons moving in your brain, and it is slower than light.

    Anyways, I'm not going to bother reading the rest, as this type of religion doesn't really interest me, even as an astronomer. And, pay attention to the dates of the cited astronomers -- the ones I saw were all at least 20 years old. A TON has changed in astronomy in the last decade, with Hubble, WMAP, Spitzer, Chandra and more observatories working overtime. Just his description of the stellar populations in the Milky Way are almost 50 years old, and rather out of date.

  7. Thanks Andrew for your comments. Those were some of the things I noticed, especially his use of sources. They were all undergraduate, introductory text books (and one Scientific American article) the most recent being published in 1982. These kinds of books are ok for basic information but for the level of technical discourse that he is trying to do he needs to use more technical sources.

    The other thing is he takes an extremely simplified view of galaxies and galactic structure, which in this case is fatal to his argument. For example the motion of stars inside a galaxy is very complex (think gas dynamics with no collisions, or a collisionless fluid). His theory requires stars to move out of the "celestial" regions at the center of the galaxy to the outer, or telestial, regions and then return to the "celestial" (center) regions. This view of stellar orbits is theologically motivated, but while this does happen the same stars after returning to the center of the galaxy (i.e. returning to the "celestial kingdom" as he would say) then keep moving out of the center and into the "telestial" regions again. While this is not a problem scientifically this presents a severe and intractable problem theologically, because this would require "celestial" beings (or stars or planets) to cease being celestial.

    Another minor item I wanted to point out is that in one part he mentions the "speed of rotation" in the center of the galaxy to be 400 km/s. The problem is that this number is not a "speed" but is a velocity dispersion, which is slightly different. This becomes important because he tries to compare rotational velocities (tangential velocity) in the outer regions to the velocity dispersion in the center, which you can't do because they are two separate things (despite both having "velocity" in the names).

    These things he misses are all things you would typically not find in an undergrad text book and are things that most people would not think about.

    And finally there is one thing that could kill his theory if he happened to get everything else correct: Mergers.

  8. One final comment. I was just thinking about this and I think I have a good way of conveying what is wrong with The Kolob Theorem.

    We all know how bad Hollywood science is. Some movies are worse than others, but some at least give lip service to scientific problems (Star Trek). Others, while doing a bad job with real science, are at least internally consistent with their science.

    So to frame it like this, the science in The Kolob Theorem is not as bad as the science in a movie like Armageddon or (shudder) [quietly] The Core. It's more like the science found in X-Men. That science is at least internally consistent even if it would present some serious problems in the real world. That is to say, the science of X-Men works inside the X-Men universe, but certain things would be very problematic in reality. For example Magneto's powers would present a problem in the real world, other than the fact that he is making magnetic fields with his mind. One problem with that is a little thing called Faraday's Law of Induction, which would mean that in the real world every time Magneto tried to use his powers, the extreme change in magnetic flux would cause massive electric fields causing large and rapid flows of charged particles (translation every time he did something lightning would strike). Most people realize that something like Magneto's powers is not possible but few people would be able to point out or understand exactly why they are problematic. The same holds true for The Kolob Theorem. There is so much there that is internally consistent, but it suffers from the same type of problems that makes X-Men unscientific.

  9. Do I understand correctly that he believes Heaven is the black hole at the center of the galaxy? :P


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