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For discussion of the talk page fiascos on this topic, see here.

The sysops at Conservapedia are concerned about a link between scientific relativity (special and general relativity) and moral relativism, even though the concepts are utterly unrelated and have nothing in common other than the word "relativity".

Based on this comically misguided premise, and perhaps a mistrust of science in general (derived from their opposition to the scientific theories of evolution and global warming), they attempt to denigrate the science of relativity as part of an agenda against moral relativism. As a result, the relativity-related articles at Conservapedia are riddled with incorrect interpretations, distortions of fact, out-of-context quotes from scientists and scientific journals, and elementary errors.

Some of the mistakes may be due to basic misunderstanding of the physics involved, but attempts to correct them have been met with admonishments, reversions and blockings from the administrators, suggesting wilful ignorance in their misrepresentation of relativity.

It is important to note here that Andrew Schlafly, founder of Conservapedia and author of most of these articles, has a degree in electrical engineering and worked as an engineer for several years before becoming a lawyer. He would have learnt relativity in first-year physics and used concepts from the theory in his professional work.

Quotations from the Conservapedia Theory of Relativity article are from the article as it appeared on August 19, 2007img unless stated otherwise.


Introductory remarks

File:Albert Einstein 1979 USSR Stamp.jpg
So why do COMMUNISTS celebrate relativity so much? Huh? Huh?
  • Abbreviations used in this article:
    • CP = Conservapedia
    • SR = Special Relativity
    • GR = General Relativity
  • Special and General Relativity, the two scientific theories that are generally referred to simply as "relativity" for short, have nothing to say about moral relativism.
Moral relativism is a philosophical position that did not become popular until well after scientific relativity was established. Even if moral relativists pointed to scientific relativity as a justification for their philosophical ideas, as alleged by an editorial cited by CP's article,[1] there is no basis for rejecting or accepting scientific relativity based upon one's feelings about moral relativism. The CP administrators use the following "logic":
  1. Moral relativists accept relativity.
  2. Moral relativism is wrong.
  3. Therefore, relativity is wrong.
Most Satanists probably accept the cell theory. Because I reject Satanism, must I also reject the cell theory? Of course not (this fallacy is just another version of Reductio ad Hitlerum). The only real similarity between moral relativism and scientific relativism is word choice. If you don't like the word "relativism," you may call scientific relativity whatever you like--"MoonCheese Theory" if you want.
  • Special Relativity describes the geometry of space and time, absent the effects of gravitation and acceleration. In essence, it asserts that space and time can be modeled as a simple 4-dimensional manifold, and that frame of reference shifts are Lorentz transformations rather than Gallileian transformations.
    • The effect of this is that observers moving with respect to one another will "disagree" on how to label space-time coordinates, with the end result that if observer A sees an object moving at the speed of light, observer B will also see it moving at the speed of light.
    • Special relativity is essential in making sense of electromagnetism. Without it, you get different results for the magnetic field of a moving charge, depending on your own motion. With it, observers moving relative to one another will agree on what the electromagnetic field of a moving charge is, although they each understand that they see this 4-dimensional field from their own point of view. Magnetism is simply electrical attraction and repulsion under a lorentz transformation (more or less).
  • General Relativity is the best descriptor of gravitation that we currently have, but it is known to be incompatible with quantum mechanics under extreme conditions. Quantum mechanics has been successfully incorporated into all of the fundamental forces of nature except for gravity; consequently, most physicists expect that an improvement to GR involving quantum mechanics exists. One of the major efforts in contemporary physics is the search for ways to unite the two theories. Part of that search involves testing GR to its limits. Such testing does not mean that experts on gravitation consider GR to be a failure; it's part of the scientific endeavor. As descriptors of nature, quantum mechanics and relativity have surpassed Newtonian mechanics, yet Newtonian mechanics are still used every day. The same relationship will likely be true of GR and whatever eventually replaces it as the dominant theory of gravitation.
  • Relativity has been subject to denigration to some degree ever since its formulation.[2] It introduced a drastic shift from the established Newtonian paradigm of absolute space and time, and not everyone was ready to accept such a change. Relativity, and Einstein himself, occupy a unique place in the popular imagination; Einstein is a prototypical genius, and relativity is a prototypical genius' pursuit. That status can lead someone with ambition and a little bit of knowledge (always a dangerous thing) to embark on a "debunk relativity" quest. After all, anyone who takes on Einstein and wins becomes the next Einstein, right? The sensationalist tendency of the popular press can also contribute to the frenzy; every few years, there's a newspaper story about the latest "proof" against relativity. The headlines sell papers, but the substance usually amounts to a misreading or misquoting of a scientist or scientific paper by a reporter who doesn't grasp the science in enough detail.
  • Newtonian and Copernican mechanics was greeted in some circles with similar disquiet for much the same case: it denies that there is a privileged point of view from which to view the universe: any direction is (physically) the same as any other direction. Newtonian mechanics denied God His position in the sky by doing away with the notion of an absolute "up" and "down".

Arthur Eddington

Those at CP emphasize the controversy about Eddington's 1919 observations as "proof" that relativity is a myth. This particular excerpt appears in the introduction, but other references to Eddington appear in CP's article.

A dramatic but later discredited claim by Sir Arthur Eddington of experimental proof of General Relativity in 1919 made Einstein a household name. This statement is presumably included to inform the reader that relativity can be discounted because an experiment performed in 1919 was "discredited." While there were problems with Eddington's original conclusions, to say he was "discredited" - implying that he made the whole thing up - is something of an overstatement. Eddington encountered several technical problems involving error estimation, and his methods of analyzing data came under scrutiny. Later analysis showed that the experimental uncertainty in his measurements was probably larger than what he reported;[3] nevertheless, the most recent investigation of the 1919 experiment indicates that Eddington and his colleagues did definitively rule out the Newtonian prediction for the deflection of light. While Eddington and others were overzealous in claiming that the eclipse observations supported general relativity without doubt, the stories that "the error bars were as big as the data" or that Eddington faked the results are myths fostered by poor communication — legends which grew in the telling.[4] Similar experiments performed later confirmed relativistic predictions, and many, many other observations over the last 80-plus years have done the same.[4] An older revision from the article goes on a tangent to suggest that Eddington had reasons to deliberately lie about his observations.[5]

Evidence for Relativity

Perhaps this section should be titled "Attempts to Spin Evidence against Relativity," since this part of the CP article appears to be designed that way. Edit warring and disagreement over this section has resulted in a nearly incomprehensible soup of statements and counter-statements. The following excerpts are the basics of the CP position.

The Nobel Prize

There has been little recognition by the Nobel Prize committee of either theory of relativity, and particularly scant recognition of the Theory of General Relativity.[CP 1] The CP article later notes that the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics was for relativity-related advances (see above cite). Einstein published on SR in 1905 and GR in 1916; neither was instantly elevated to Nobel Prize status. Relativity was controversial for a number of years, in part because of the difficulty in using the technology available at the time to devise an experiment capable of decisive confirmation of relativity, and also because many people were reluctant to move away from Newtonian physics (which, after all, had worked for centuries). Sadly, because Einstein was Jewish, anti-Semitism played a role as well. Relativity was derided as "Jewish science," and a 1920 demonstration in Berlin accused Einstein of "scientific dadaism" and of being a publicity hound.[6] Einstein didn't win a Nobel Prize until 1921, and it wasn't for relativity.[7] In any case, there are many, many discoveries in physics worth recognizing, and only one Nobel Prize is given per year. The validity of a scientific discovery does not depend on the number of prizes dedicated to it. It is generally accepted that any Nobel prize winning physicist understands the subject and winners of the Nobel prize in physics are respected when they talk or write about physics.

Also, there have been many Nobel Prizes for Quantum Field Theory - the union of Special Relativity and Quantum mechanics.

Global Positioning System

CP's management insists that the Global Positioning System (GPS) has nothing to do with relativity.[8]

Tom Van Flandern, an astronomer hired to work on GPS in the late 1990s, concluded that "[t]he GPS programmers don't need relativity." He was quoted as saying that the GPS programmers "have basically blown off Einstein."[CP 2] Asynchronization can be easily addressed through communications between the satellites and ground stations, so it is unclear why any theory would be needed for GPS. But other obscure physicists having no connection with GPS design claim that Van Flandern is wrong about GPS, and insist that relativity provides the best explanation for its timing adjustments.[CP 3] The inclusion of this excerpt from the cited source is perhaps the most outrageous misinterpretation of a source by CP's article. Note that the source cited is the same one referenced earlier on this page from, which discusses the various attempts to defraud relativity. Here is what the article goes on to say about Tom Van Flandern:
I asked Neil Ashby, a professor of physics who works at the University of Colorado and specializes in theoretical general relativity with practical applications. "I am acquainted with Tom Van Flandern and his view," he told me. "It is incorrect to claim that no relativistic corrections are used after launch. Actually because GPS satellites are in eccentric orbits, they suffer frequency variations due to their varying speeds and varying heights above the Earth's surface. Information is transmitted down to the receivers from each satellite, which enables receivers to make a relativistic correction which accounts for these effects."

He added: "Einstein has not been 'blown off.' On the contrary, a great deal of thought has gone into the problem and all of the known special and general relativistic effects have been accounted for if they are predicted to be big enough to be important."

Other gravitation specialists, such as Charles Misner at the University of Maryland, Lawrence Mead of the University of Southern Mississippi, Clifford Will of the University of Washington in St. Louis and Steve Carlip of the University of California at Davis, confirm that special and general relativity are built into the software for GPS.

CP would have everyone who disagrees with its untenable position labeled as "obscure," but those gravitation specialists are very well-known in the field (Prof. Misner is an author of a widely-used text on gravitation).[9] Instead, according to CP's own cite, it is Mr. Van Flandern who appears to be on the fringes of the scientific community. Several sources confirm that relativistic corrections are used in GPS.[10]

Newtonian mechanics and time dilation

CP's article implies that Newtonian mechanics can predict time dilation or otherwise affect the operation of clocks in different frames, a view expressed on the article's talk page as well.[11]

the articles claiming that the slower GPS satellite clocks confirm relativity do not address the effect, if any, of the weaker gravitational force under Newton's theory on the GPS satellite clocks. The reason that the scientific papers do not address Newtonian effects on clocks is that time in Newtonian mechanics is universal and absolute.[12] In other words, Newtonian mechanics does not predict any differences in the rate at which clocks in different reference frames tick. This concept is an elementary aspect of mechanics, but it appears that those at CP have not yet mastered it. Furthermore, the effects of gravity are indeed accounted for; in fact, the difference in gravitational force due to distance from earth's center accounts for considerably more of the observed time dilation than the difference in relative motion.

Newtonian mechanics and the bending of starlight

CP's article notes that Newtonian mechanics can also predict deflection of light, as though gravitational lensing can be explained without GR. There are a number of problems with relying on classical mechanics to predict such deflection.

Note, however, that Newtonian mechanics also predicts deflection of light by gravity, and in the initial theory of relativity it predicted the same amount of deflection.[CP 4] Adjustments to the theory of relativity resulted in a prediction of a greater deflection of light than that predicated by Newtonian mechanics, though it is debatable how much deflection Newtonian mechanics should predict. The citation provided by CP does indeed discuss how one might predict light deflection from a classical standpoint. However, it also addresses the problems inherent with such a position--something the CP editor has once again conveniently ignored. As the source discusses, Newtonian predictions require that light can be accelerated like all other matter, and that it is composed of particles that have a non-zero rest mass (actually, in Newtonian theory, one is free to assume whether light is or is not deflected by gravity). However, this assumption is based on a corpuscular light theory, which states that light is made of discrete particles called "corpuscles", hence can be affected by gravity using only classical mechanics. By the early 19th century, deflection of light by gravity appeared to be impossible after Fresnel's work that established wave optics and that light had wavelike character, as a wave cannot be deflected by gravity. Einstein's theory, however, predicted that light must be deflected by gravity because gravity is a curvature of the universe itself - and light is constrained to travel along this curvature. GR, therefore, provides a good explanation for the deflection of light that has been seen and measured, such as gravitational lensing, which can be observed in some spectacular astronomical images.[13]

CP's reference to "the initial theory of relativity" probably refers not to special relativity, but to Einstein's original 1911 prediction of the degree to which starlight would be deflected by the sun. Einstein later discovered that he had made an error in his calculations, and issued a correction before reliable measurements were made.

Ostensible Paradoxes

This section appears in the CP article in an attempt to cast doubt on the postulates of relativity; in fact, the material included here, which includes interesting physics, has no conflicts with relativity whatsoever, and probably would not even be addressed in most encyclopedic articles on relativity.

The Theory of Relativity implies that physical constants like the speed of light have remained constant. But at least one study suggests that physical constants, and possibly even the speed of light, have changed as the universe has aged.[CP 5] The theory of relativity implies no such thing. One postulate of relativity states that all observers get the same answer when they measure the speed of light in vacuum, not that the speed of light in vacuum has been constant for all time. In other words, the speed of light is "universally constant" across all observers, not across all time. As such, relativity would not be altered even if it were conclusively shown that the speed of light has changed over time. Incidentally, it is meaningless to speak of "changes" in the value of a dimensionful quantity such as c; what is physically measurable is the relationship of such quantities to others when composed as dimensionless quantities, such as the fine structure constant. Furthermore, the structure of atoms depends on the value of the fine structure constant very tightly, and even a small deviance from its presently observed value would be sufficient for atoms not to exist. Although some creation scientists attempted to explain the starlight problem by proposing huge changes in c, not even the creationists at Answers in Genesis subscribe to that idea any longer. Instead, ironically for the Conservapedians who use AiG as a scientific source,[14] they prefer a relativistic explanation.[15]

"For the first time, scientists have experimentally demonstrated that sound pulses can travel at velocities faster than the speed of light, c. William Robertson's team from Middle Tennessee State University also showed that the group velocity of sound waves can become infinite, and even negative. ... Although such results may at first appear to violate special relativity (Einstein's law that no material object can exceed the speed of light), the actual significance of these experiments is a little different. These types of superluminal phenomena, Robertson et al. explain, violate neither causality nor special relativity, nor do they enable information to travel faster than c. In fact, theoretical work had predicted that the superluminal speed of the group velocity of sound waves should exist. 'The key to understanding this seeming paradox is that no wave energy exceeded the speed of light,' said Robertson."[CP 6] Some readers may be misled by this paragraph, which might be interpreted as casting doubt on relativity because the sound velocities measured are greater than the speed of light. In fact, as explained further on in the paragraph, no violation of relativity exists. There are several different methods of measuring the velocity of waves; a few of the most common are group velocity and phase velocity. In some instances, due to the nature of wave behavior and measurement techniques, measurements of both group and phase velocity can exceed c. As fascinating as that behavior is, however, no energy or information is transferred faster than c, in accordance with special relativity.

"A team of researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has successfully demonstrated, for the first time, that it is possible to control the speed of light – both slowing it down and speeding it up – in an optical fiber, using off-the-shelf instrumentation in normal environmental conditions. Their results, to be published in the August 22 issue of Applied Physics Letters, could have implications that range from optical computing to the fiber-optic telecommunications industry."[CP 7] Again, readers of this passage may be duped into believing that c is not a universal constant, which would violate one of the relativity postulates. However, it is important to remember one important thing that the article deliberately hides; c is the speed of light in a vacuum. In any other medium, whether that medium is air, water, optical fiber, or anything else, the speed of light can differ from c - indeed, this is why it is denoted c and not "the speed of light", it just so happens that light (as it is composed of massless photons) travels at c when it isn't hindered by interactions with matter. The fact that researchers have found ways to take advantage of that type of behavior, and the fact that in Bose-Einstein condensate light can slow to a walking pace or even stop, is very interesting but it doesn't have any direct bearing on relativistic predictions.

"A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light - an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time. ... Dr Nimtz told New Scientist magazine: 'For the time being, this is the only violation of special relativity that I know of.'"[CP 8] CP quotes the Telegraph, a popular newspaper, despite prohibitions on using popular press articles as scientific sources.[16][17] The paper in question deals with quantum tunneling of virtual photons--unobservable particles that represent transitions between quantum states. Interpretation of the result is again subject to the question of what velocity is being measured, as well as the question of whether information or energy was transmitted faster than c, as in the above case with sound pulses. Another source quotes a different scientist:
However, Dr. Aephraim Steinberg, from the University of Toronto, disagrees with the findings. He says its all just a matter of interpretation. The "wave packet" of the virtual photon exceeded the speed of light, but no actual information was transmitted that fast. Therefore, according to Steinberg, Einstein's cosmic speed limit remains safe.[18]

The paper itself[19] includes the following in its conclusion:

All three properties - the violation of the Einstein energy relation, the zero time spreading, and the lack of observable evanescent modes - can be explained by identifying evanescent modes with virtual photons as predicted by several authors, see for instance references 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

The authors aren't exactly clamoring for scrapping relativity; they confirmed a result predicted by quantum mechanics.

The "Counterexamples" Page

In addition to the pervasive denigration that takes place throughout the main relativity article, there is another complete article "Counterexamples to Relativity". This is part of their series of pages of counterexamples to modern thinking, which also includes Counterexamples to Evolution, Counterexamples to an Old Earth, and Counterexamples to the Bible.

The article as of 2 August 2010[20] listed 22 such counterexamples, along with prefatory material stating that:

  • "[Relativity] allows no exceptions" (as though it is more rigid in its claims than any other theory, and hence more vulnerable to the slightest attack.)
  • That relativity is "heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism." (There is a lack of citations for this assertion.)
  • Since Barack Obama once wrote an article in the Harvard Law Review making a non-serious reference to relativity, relativity therefore has a "tendency to mislead people in how they view the world."
  • "Virtually no one who is taught and believes relativity continues to read the Bible." (This statement also lacks citations.)

The article claims that any one of these counterexamples disproves relativity. But, just for good measure, it lists all 22. Here they are:

1. The Pioneer anomaly. Yes? What about it? Is the Pioneer anomaly so fascinating that it caused you not to complete that sentence?

The Pioneer anomaly is the discrepancy between the observed trajectories of the two Pioneer spacecraft, at the outer reaches of the Solar system, from the predicted trajectories. Our ability to calculate and predict various orbits and trajectories, and to observe them, is exquisitely accurate with current technology. These two spacecraft, along with some other ones in inner-planet "flybys", show slight unexplained discrepancies. Scientists are truly puzzled by this. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

But the difference between the expected Newtonian and Einsteinian behaviors is one thousandth of the observed anomaly, so that cannot be the issue. It may be that there is some unknown interaction between Einsteinian gravity and the cosmic expansion. But that doesn't mean that relativity is not a correct refinement of Newtonian gravity.

2. Anomalies in the locations of spacecraft that have flown by Earth ("flybys"). See above.

3. Increasingly precise measurements of the advance of the perihelion of Mercury show a shift greater than predicted by relativity, well beyond the margin of error. Schlafly was thoroughly refuted on this issue on Conservapedia by user KSorenson, hereimg, for his carelessness in reading the literature. The perihelion shift was the first really compelling evidence for the correctness of general relativity, and it is still correct.

4. The discontinuity in momentum as velocity approaches "c" for infinitesimal mass, compared to the momentum of light. Note that this "discontinuity" exists for both the momentum formula in relativity and the momentum formula in classical physics. The behavior of massless and massful particles, and the formulas describing same, are well known, and have been studied by undergraduate science students for many decades, one of whom would have been Andrew Schlafly.

5. The logical problem of a force which is applied at a right angle to the velocity of a relativistic mass - does this act on the rest mass or the relativistic mass? The formulas describing forces and accelerations are well known, and have been studied by undergraduate science students for many decades. Andrew Schlafly has a degree in electrical engineering and worked as an engineer before becoming a lawyer, and so the level of math required would be well within his experience.

6. The observed lack of curvature in overall space. Whether the universe is "flat", that is, has an overall curvature of zero, is an interesting cosmological question that has been debated for decades. Whether it is zero or not, locally it has places where it is significantly nonzero. Such as the vicinity of the Sun. That's what makes the planets go around.

7. The universe shortly after its creation, when quantum effects dominate. The "big bang" had not been theorized when general relativity was explaining the Mercury perihelion shift. It has been known for quite some time that quantum mechanics and general relativity don't fit together perfectly. (Though they fit together a lot better than he gives them credit for.) This has been an ongoing subject of research for decades. Deciding that relativity must be wrong is not one of the options being considered.

8. The action-at-a-distance of quantum entanglement. This is one of many "spooky" aspects of quantum mechanics. If quantum entanglement were able to transmit information faster than the speed of light, it would presumably violate some principles of causality that are generally taken to be required by relativity. But this has not been observed, and the CP article does say that in a footnote.

9. The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54. Schlafly here claims that the Bible does not just say that Jesus healed the official's son at the moment he said he had done so, but that the Bible says the healing took effect faster than it would have taken light to travel across town between Jesus and the official's son. However, the wording does not appear to speak to this level of precision. This issue is discussed in more detail below.

10. The failure to discover gravitons, despite wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayer money in searching. Gravitons are an aspect of the attempts to create a Grand Unified Theory, uniting relativity and quantum mechanics. They were postulated long after relativity was formulated, and have nothing to do with relativity itself. Whether government research grant money is well spent has no bearing on whether relativity is correct.

Gravitons are generally believed not to be directly observable with anything remotely resembling current technology. Some physicists are interested in using the Large Hadron Collider to improve our understanding of fundamental physics in ways that may help with the understanding of gravitons. But no one expects to observe one, and the questions relating to gravitons did not motivate the Large Hadron Collider.

Perhaps he is confusing gravitons with gravity waves, and hoping we don't notice. Detection of gravity waves is the subject of some research (the LIGO, VIRGO, and LISA detectors), funded by various governments. And, of course, gravity waves have been inferred from the Hulse-Taylor experiment described in item 17.

11. The inability of the theory to produce anything of value, contrary to every other theory of physics. We are left practically speechless by this. This claim does not reasonably admit of any coherent answer.

12. The change in mass over time of standard kilograms preserved under ideal conditions. This seems to be a reference to the Conservapedia article "Mystery:Why Is the Kilogram Losing Weight?img" It was even mentioned on Conservapedia's front page "news" section, in the context of "We just can't trust those scientists to do anything right." It is entirely unclear how this is linked to relativity.

13. The uniformity in temperature throughout the universe. Local uniformity? Global uniformity? What is he saying? As before, an adjective would have helped. Issues of temperature in the "inflationary phase" of the universe are matters of considerable interest among cosmologists. But these questions have nothing to do with relativity.

Schlafly provides a footnote referring to an article in The New Scientist about changes to the speed of light, or the fine-structure constant, over cosmic time, and the possible connection with temperature uniformity in the early universe. None of this makes relativity wrong; it resembles grasping at straws.

14. "The snag is that in quantum mechanics, time retains its Newtonian aloofness, providing the stage against which matter dances but never being affected by its presence. These two [QM and Relativity] conceptions of time don't gel." An interesting quote from an interesting Scientific American article about one of the difficulties of unifying quantum mechanics and relativity. These problems are a lively topic of discussion these days. The article doesn't say that relativity is wrong, and no one outside of Conservapedia believes that rejecting relativity is the solution to these problems.

15. The theory predicts wormholes just as it predicts black holes, but wormholes violated causality and permit absurd time travel. Wormholes are indeed on the frontier of speculation about counterintuitive effects in modern physics. But relativity doesn't predict or deny their existence. The fact that people speculate on wormholes doesn't make relativity wrong.

16. The theory predicts natural formation of highly ordered (and thus low entropy) black holes despite the increase in entropy required by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The thermodynamics of black holes is an interesting subject and has been studied by physicists (notably, Stephen Hawking). Black holes appear to be consistent with the second law of thermodynamics.

17. Data from the PSR B1913+16 increasingly diverge from predictions of the General Theory of Relativity such that, despite a Nobel Prize in Physics being awarded for early work on this pulsar, no data at all have been released about it for over five years. This research was conducted some time ago, and deservedly received a Nobel. It showed the loss of energy due to gravitational radiation. This required finding extremely powerful gravitational fields, since gravity waves are so weak. The specified pulsar pair provided those fields, and showed the loss of energy from gravitational waves. People are no longer conducting this research; it ended. No one is still dropping cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa either. Does that mean that Galilean/Newtonian mechanics is wrong?

18. The lack of a single useful device developed based on any insights provided by the theory; no lives have been saved or helped, and the theory has not led to other useful theories and may have interfered with scientific progress. This stands in stark contrast with every verified theory of science. This seems to be a duplicate of number 11. Once again, we are practically speechless. The "interfered with scientific progress" remark is puzzling.

19. Relativity requires different values for the inertia of a moving object: in its direction of motion, and perpendicular to that direction. This contradicts the logical principle that the laws of physics are the same in all directions. This seems to be a duplicate of number 5, and is totally ignorant. It is hard to believe that someone with a degree from Princeton, in a scientific/technical field, could actually believe such a thing. Perhaps he doesn't believe it but is simply hoping to confuse others about it. In any case, he should read some books. A good starting point would be to borrow his daughter's textbooks; she is also attending Princeton, in a scientific/technical field, and seems to have a reasonable understanding of relativity.

20. Relativity requires that anything traveling at the speed of light must have mass zero, so it must have momentum zero. But the laws of electrodynamics require that light have nonzero momentum. This is mind-bogglingly ignorant. The statement that anything with zero mass "must have momentum zero" is wrong. In special relativity, the relationship between energy (E), rest mass (m) and momentum (p) is: E2 = (pc)2 + (mc2)2, where c is the speed of light. Thus, if a particle has a zero mass then E = pc. The energy of a photon is directly proportional to its frequency and is nonzero. By this, then the momentum of a photon is nonzero. This seems to be largely a duplicate of number 4.

21. Unlike most well-tested fundamental physical theories, the theory of relativity violates conditions of a conservative field. Path independence, for example, is lacking under the theory of relativity, as in the "twin paradox" whereby the age of each twin under the theory is dependent on the path he traveled. We do not know what the term "conditions of a conservative field" means. Schlafly added this only hours after having added "conservative field" as a "best new conservative word", suggesting that he was quite pleased with the phrase — even though Conservapedia's own article on conservative vector fields expressly points out that it is not related to political conservatism[21]. Perhaps his use of the phrase "conditions of a conservative field" was intended to suggest that he wants to convince us that the gravitational field is not conservative under relativity, and hence that energy isn't conserved. No such luck.

Then he added the second of the two sentences shown (not present in the initial version), indicating that the problem is that, in the twin paradox, the clock readings were different after taking their different paths through world space. This would suggest that the "vector field" that those clock readings are the line integral (path integral, contour integral) of is not a conservative field. But clock readings are not the result of integrating any vector field. In the ensuing discussion on the talk page, he seemed to be saying that he wants anything that anyone measures to be independent of their path through world space. However, physics, and the accompanying mathematics, strongly suggests that the world doesn't work that way. For example, the distance traveled by two objects does depend very much on the path taken.

Schlafly got soundly beaten up on the talk pageimg over this, including his peculiar definition of something he calls a "conservative theory of motion", involving "scalar values of a particle".

22. The Ehrenfest Paradox: Consider a spinning hoop, where the tangential velocity is near the speed of light. In this case, the circumference (2?R) is length-contracted. However, since R is always perpendicular to the motion, it is not contracted. This leads to a paradox: does the radius of the accelerating hoop equal R, or is it less than R? This is indeed an interesting issue, one of many that have come up relating to the physics of rigid bodies. This paradox leads to lively discussions even in very recent years. The problem only manifests, however, because there is no such thing as a rigid body; the concept is a convenient approximation of reality for some calculations. The "paradox" is an artifact of mathematics and shows that we do not yet have a comprehensive theory of what a "rigid body" is at relativistic speeds.

Additions and amendments

On 8 Aug, 2010, one day after this section was written[22], Schlafly made several edits to the article.

Chief among these are an expansion to #7:

The universe shortly after its creation, when quantum effects dominated and contradicted Relativity [our emphasis]. They contradicted relativity? Do you know what was going on in the first 10-50 seconds after the big bang? Something that the world's leading cosmologists don't? Do tell us, please.

And the addition of two new ones:

23. The Twin Paradox: Consider twins who are separated with one traveling at a very high speed such that his "clock" (age) slows down, so that when he returns he has a younger age than the twin; this violates Relativity because both twins should expect the other to be younger, if motion is relative. Einstein himself admitted that this contradicts Relativity. [Schlafly provides a footnote: Einstein attempted to explain the paradox based on the acceleration that one twin uniquely undergoes, but the length of travel can simply be extended to the point where any effect from acceleration would be de minimis.] Schlafly digs himself in further. "Einstein himself admitted that this contradicts Relativity?" Really?

The footnote is wrong, because during acceleration, the frame of reference for the accelerating twin necessarily becomes non-inertial. The effect of this does not diminish over long distances as Schlafly implies.

24. Relativity predicted that clocks at the Earth's equator would be slower than clocks at the North Pole, due to different velocities; in fact, all clocks at sea level measure time at the same rate, and Relativitists made new assumptions about the Earth's shape to justify this contradiction of the theory. What? We know that the Earth is not exactly spherical, but we were not aware that this is due to "new assumptions" made to cover up the shortcomings of relativity. Do tell us about these new assumptions.

See here and here for discussions of the various effects. Briefly: yes, ideal clocks would run at different rates at various latitudes, altitudes, and speeds, for various (relativistic) reasons. There is no practical difference—society simply agrees on "official time" from various atomic clocks. There is one exception—the clocks in GPS satellites need to be extremely accurate, and their GR effects (due to the gravity difference) are compensated for.

Additional examples as of August 22, 2011:

25.Relativity requires different values for the inertia of a moving object: in its direction of motion, and perpendicular to that direction. This contradicts the logical principle that the laws of physics are the same in all directions.

26.Relativity requires that anything traveling at the speed of light must have mass zero, so it must have momentum zero. But the laws of electrodynamics require that light have nonzero momentum. So does the quantum hypothesis, which Einstein used to prove the photoelectric effect. Basically, you obtain momentum by derivating the energy in regard to the velocity along an axis. Since the energy of light is given by E=hc/λ , it follows that the momentum is p=h/λ. This is consistent with relativity, since the speed of light is the same for all reference frames.

27.Unlike most well-tested fundamental physical theories, the theory of relativity violates conditions of a conservative field. Path independence, for example, is lacking under the theory of relativity, as in the "twin paradox" whereby the age of each twin under the theory is dependent on the path he traveled.

28.The Ehrenfest Paradox: Consider a spinning hoop, where the tangential velocity is near the speed of light. In this case, the circumference (2πR) is length-contracted. However, since R is always perpendicular to the motion, it is not contracted. This leads to an apparent paradox: does the radius of the accelerating hoop equal R, or is it less than R?

29.The Twin Paradox: Consider twins who are separated with one traveling at a very high speed such that his "clock" (age) slows down, so that when he returns he has a younger age than the twin; this violates Relativity because both twins should expect the other to be younger, if motion is relative. Einstein himself admitted that this contradicts Relativity.A footnote at CP for this example reads: "Einstein attempted to explain the paradox based on the acceleration that one twin uniquely undergoes, but the length of travel can simply be extended such that any effect from acceleration would be de minimis." This is of course bullshit. The problem of the twin paradox is specifically because one twin accelerates while the other remains at constant speed. For an extended explanation of the win paradox, refer to wikipedia.

30.Based on Relativity, Einstein predicted in 1905 that clocks at the Earth's equator would be slower than clocks at the North Pole, due to different velocities; in fact, all clocks at sea level measure time at the same rate, and Relativists made new assumptions about the Earth's shape to justify this contradiction of the theory; they also make the implausible claim that relativistic effects from gravitation precisely offset the effects from differences in velocity.So what? This is science. Science can make mistakes and makes new discoveries, correcting previous models and assumptions when it finds errors. This is simply how science works

31.Based on Relativity, Einstein claimed in 1909 that the aether does not exist, but in order to make subatomic physics work right, theorists had to introduce the aether-like concept of the Higgs field, which fills all of space and breaks symmetries.Conservapedia is now a proponent of the AEther theory?

32.Minkowski space is predicated on the idea of four-dimensional vectors of which one component is time. However, one of the properties of a vector space is that every vector have an inverse. Time cannot be a vector because it has no inverse.

33.It is impossible to perform an experiment to determine whether Einstein's theory of relativity is correct, or the older Lorentz aether theory is correct. Believing one over the other is a matter of faith.In science, it is impossible to perform experiments to prove something correct. Only to prove something incorrect. However, experimentation can reaffirm current models to work properly. This has been done for relativity innumerable times, but not for Lorentz's aether.

34.In Genesis 1:6-8, we are told that one of God's first creations was a firmament in the heavens. This likely refers to the creation of the luminiferous aether.Yup, Conservapedia IS a proponent of the AEther hypothesis

35.Despite a century of wasting billions of dollars in work on the theory, "No one knows how to solve completely the equations of general relativity that describe gravity; they are simply beyond current understanding."The quotation refers to a text commemorating Terence Tao being awarded the Fields Medal in 2006. Of course, the spin CP is putting on it is completely unwarranted, because the text goes on demonstrating how at least partial understanding has been achieved, and of course not being able to understand a concept completely doesn't mean that the concept is false or discredited. Otherwise it would be impossible for gravity to have had any effect at all before Newton published his understanding of it (which turns out wasn't complete either).

36.Experiments in electromagnetic induction contradict Relativity: "Einstein’s Relativity ... can not explain the experiment in graph 2, in which moving magnetic field has not produced electric field."This counter-example was originally based off of a forum post by a student asking what would happen if an electromagnet was moved at the speed of light, because to him that would not allow for electromagnetic induction and thus disprove relativity. Right in the responses to said question the contradiction that lies at the heart of this: That relativity prescribes that an object that has mass, e.g. an electromagnet, can not be moved at the speed of light, and that such a contradiction must necessarily lead to the contradiction of relativity by simple logic. The post has since been amended, removing the original reference to to two papers. One link refers to a paper from Cornell University which doesn't appear to note any contradiction between electromagnetism and relativity. The quote in the example is from the other paper, supposedly published by a Journal called "General Science Journal", though spelling and grammatical mistakes make this doubtful. Discussions of these papers are forthcoming

Pending research

The CP editors include this conspiratorial section in an attempt to portray ongoing research on relativity as somehow detrimental to the theory.

Relativity continues to be tested and some physics professors remain skeptical of the theory, such as University of Maryland physics professor Carroll Alley, who served as the principle physicist on the Apollo lunar project.[15] The physicist referenced is indeed involved in researching alternatives to general relativity. He appears to support Yilmaz theory, a controversial position among gravitation experts.[23] Even if this theory turned out to be an improvement on GR, it would still predict time dilation and other phenomena associated with relativity, so it is unclear what the CP sysops would gain by denying all of GR but then embracing Yilmaz theory. Physicists who research alternative theories of gravitation teach classes on relativity, and emphasize its success; they aren't skeptics who want to throw relativity in the trash. Improvements on GR are likely to include GR as an approximation, as Newtonian mechanics is an approximation to GR. Declaring that Professor Alley is "skeptical," especially about SR, is questionable, since he authored a demonstration of special relativity.[24]

Government Support for Relativistic research

CP's next section tries to extend the perceived relativity conspiracy outside the scientific domain and into the political arena.

The Theory of Relativity enjoys a disproportionate share of federal funding of physics research today,[CP 9]. In at least one case that research has been unsuccessful. The $365 million dollar LIGO project has failed to detect the gravity waves predicted by relativity.[CP 10] These statements are unsubstantiated opinions. The first citation has nothing to do with the broad generalization that relativity is disproportionately funded compared to other research areas; it is an anti-LIGO piece written in 1993, before LIGO was even constructed. There's no mention of the large number of scientists who DID support the funding of LIGO (otherwise, how did it get funded at all?). The second citation is to a 2002 article written after LIGO's first run of data-taking. In that article, physicists are reportedly "confident" of observing such waves, so the negative treatment by CP seems to run contrary to the spirit of the article. Furthermore, LIGO is a large, complicated project; such projects are first tested at rough degrees of precision to make sure things work correctly at those levels, and are then progressively "tuned" to higher and higher precision. LIGO has still not achieved its designed level of sensitivity.[25]

As for the price tag: good science can occasionally become expensive. The total cost of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a large particle physics effort located near Geneva, Switzerland, will be several billion dollars.[26] LIGO is expected to be far more scientifically valuable than the Mars manned space program, whose cost will be astronomically higher.[27]

Philosophical Impact of Relativity

Another section designed to tie relativity to politics and cast relativity denialists as victims of a pro-relativity censorship drive. In addition to the example below, the section hints that Robert Dicke has not won a Nobel prize because of his support of an alternative to GR, even though CP's own article cites a TIME piece illustrating how Dicke's theory is not a significant improvement on GR [28]. To imply that the Nobel Prize Committee is part of an anti-Dicke conspiracy is absurd: only one Nobel Prize in physics is given every year; many respectable scientists do not win.

There is a correlation between enthusiasm for the theory of relativity and political views,[CP 11] and there is an unmistakable effort to censor or ostracize criticism of relativity.[CP 12] This sentence is unsubstantiated. The first cite is to an opinion article decrying the use of relativity to justify moral relativism; it says nothing about a correlation between relativity and politics. While most people would probably assume that the majority of self-identified moral relativists are left-wing, such statistics would not mean that everyone who accepts relativity is a moral relativist (see above). The source for the idea that criticism of relativity is censored is an Economist article (another non-scientific source) that highlights the current efforts to test general relativity, a hot topic in physics right now; there's no mention of systematic censorship. The footnote also includes the complaint that Wikipedia's entry "omits one word of criticism" (presumably the CP author meant to say "includes not one word of criticism"). It is true that there are not many well-regarded alternatives to relativity, but that reflects the success of relativity in predicting and explaining observations. The reason that Wikipedia does not discuss "criticism of relativity" in its article is that there is no legitimate alternative at the moment. Note that Wikipedia's article on cell theory does not include criticism either.

For an amusing sample of delusion, read this from an older revision:

Just as “social Darwinism” arose from Darwinism, many seized upon the theory of relativity to apply it in a vague way to morality and social issues. “All things are relative” became popular as atheists and others used relativity to attack Christian values.[29]

Are black holes a liberal conspiracy?

On the talk page of the Conservapedia article on black holes, Schlafly asked someone defending the concept:

Why the big push for black holes by liberals, and big protests against any objection to them? If it turned out empirically that promoting black holes tends to cause people to read the Bible less, would you still push this so much?[30]

PZ Myers mocked him over this[31].

The healing power of Jesus disproves relativity

See also: Conservapedia:Andrew_Schlafly's_greatest_insights#Jesus_disproves_Einstein

Schlafly brought up the following as a counterexample to relativity:

The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54.[32]

John 4:53 (KJV) reads:

So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.

Schlafly claims that the passage in question has Jesus healing someone instantaneously, thus violating relativity. Even by Conservapedia standards, this is ridiculous. The obvious objections were brought up: (1) The healing could have occurred very quickly, but still slower than the speed of light (2) A miracle such as this can be considered a violation of natural laws. He responded:

When the woman cured herself of bleeding and Jesus felt power leaving him, that sounds more like heat than light. And for heat to travel virtually instantaneously (or at the speed of light) WOULD violate the theory of relativity.[33]
Frank, perhaps what you mean is that you don't want the logic of the Bible to be used to evaluate claims by scientists. If so, I completely disagree. And so would Isaac Newton and most great scientists. As our Conservative Bible Translation project is revealing, Jesus said his works were not miracles, but signs. So any definition of miracle by Hume (who, by the way, leaned toward atheistic rather than Christianity) is not terribly helpful.[34]

In reality, heat is transfered by three different methods

  1. Conduction, where a hot area of an object transfers some of its heat to the neighbouring area by direct contact.
  2. Convection, where heat transfer occurs between an object and a surrounding, circulating fluid.
  3. Radiation, where a hot object emits infra-red radiation (slightly less energetic that light).

Response to Conservapedia's "Counterexamples"

In Aug. of 2010 many blogs and media outlets reported on Conservapedia's 'Counterexamples to Relativity' page. Some scientists even weighed in.

  • Physicist Brian Cox posted on his Twitter account on the 9th of Aug.: "It takes comic genius to compile a list of shit as long as this one - very amusing indeed !"
  • Talking Points Memo, 9th Aug. Headline: "Conservapedia: E=mc2 Is A Liberal Conspiracy".
  • Reddit, 9th Aug.
  • Skulls in the Stars, 9th Aug. An associate professor of physics thoroughly debunks the alleged counterexamples: "everything we’ve seen has been deceptive, incorrect — or just plain crazy."
  • Pharyngula, 10th Aug. Biologist and prominent "New Atheist" PZ Myers: "Andy Schlafly is a real boon to us Gnu Atheists who argue that religion rots your brain."
  • New York Times , on Paul Krugman's blog. 10th Aug.
  • The Rachel Maddow Show, 10th Aug. Was featured in a segment about 'The War on Brains'.
  • New Scientist, 11th Aug.
  • Swans on Tea, 12 Aug. A physicist working at the US Naval Observatory debunks CP's claims that GPS doesn't use relativity: "This intellectual dishonesty is, unfortunately, par for the course for this strain of crackpot."
  • The Young Turks, 13 Aug.
  • Discover Magazine, 18th Aug.
  • "Get Cynical", 9th Aug.
  • Climate Progress, 10th Aug.
  • DC Skeptics, 12th Aug.

Andy mentioned on Conservapedia that the site was the "Number 1 Most Popular, On Talking Points Memo Tonight", but failed to provide a link or indicate that they were being mocked (TK later corrected this). [35][36]

See also

External links


Conservapedia footnotes

  2. See also [1], where Van Flandern discusses how relativistic corrections might improve GPS accuracy.
  3. Ibid.
  5. James Glanz and Dennis Overbye, "Cosmic Laws Like Speed of Light Might Be Changing, a Study Finds," August 15, 2001.[2]
  9. The Democratic Congress insisted on the $250 million LIGO project despite substantial criticism by scientists that it was wasting scarce research dollars. John Travis, "LIGO: a $ 250 million gamble; Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory; includes related article," Science p. 612 (Apr. 30, 1993). "Adding to the acrimony is LIGO's $ 250 million price tag, which some hold responsible for NSF's recent funding woes." Id.
  11. "Mistakenly, in the minds of many, the theory of relativity became relativism."[3]
  12. Although the liberally biased Wikipedia contains lengthy criticisms of the subjects of many entries, and even though publications like The Economist recognize the lack of scientific satisfaction in the theory (see, e.g., "Weighing the Universe," The Economist (Jan. 25, 2007)), Wikipedia's entry on Theory of Relativity omits one word of criticism.

RationalWiki footnotes

  1. This WorldNetDaily column against moral relativism is cited by CP near the end of its relativity article.
  2. has an interesting article about skepticism of relativity.
  3. See this paper, p. 17, for a discussion of Eddington's results
  4. 4.0 4.1 Daniel Kennefick, Not Only Because of Theory: Dyson, Eddington and the Competing Myths of the 1919 Eclipse Expedition. Proceedings of the 7th Conference on the History of General Relativity, Tenerife, 2005. See also Philip Ball, Arthur Eddington was innocent!, Nature News 7 September 2007.
  5. "Eddington liked publicity and probably dreamed of winning a Nobel Prize, and upon his return to England declared that his observations proven the theory of relativity." 09:56, 22 February 2007 revision
  6. has an interesting article about skepticism of relativity.
  7. See the Nobel Prize website
  8. Page diff on CP's Talk:Theory of Relativity page, on which this type of statement appears several times.
  9. See Amazon's page on this book
  10. For example, here are three resources on the web: [5] [6] [7]
  11. Here, the founder of CP states that Newtonian mechanics affects clock rates.
  12. The relativity timeline at the Nobel Prize website states as much under the Isaac Newton entry.
  13. Some examples of gravitational lensing: [8] [9] [10]
  14. Note the number of references to Answers in Genesis on CP's Theory of Evolution article.
  15. Answers in Genesis' discussion of the starlight problem.
  16. Relativity talk page: "Our rules are very clear not to cite journalists as authorities beyond their expertise." - Andrew Schlafly
  17. Conservapedia:Differences with Wikipedia#Requires authoritative support
  18. DailyTech Article
  19. Abstract of Nimitz and Stahlhofen; PDF version of their paper.
  22. So much for CP sysops' claims that they never read this site.
  23. Wikipedia's article on Yilmaz theory isn't optimistic, and these two papers [11] [12] are critical.
  24. Tabletop relativity demonstration on which Professor Alley appears as a co-author
  25. This abstract indicates that in 2002, when the article cited by CP was written, more sensitive upgrades to LIGO were still to come.
  26. This estimate is £2.1 billion, the equivalent of several billion US dollars.
  27. This document compares two different measures of cost for Mars missions; for the first mission, one estimate is over $26 billion, and the other is over $39 billion (2002 dollars).
  28. Time article on Dicke and GR cited by Conservapedia's article.
  29. 09:56, 22 February 2007 revision
  30. [4]img
  31. Reality is a liberal conspiracy
  35. [13]
  36. [14]
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