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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Missing Supernova Remnants as Evidence of a Young Universe?

A Case of Fabrication

by Ken Harding
Copyright © 1999-2000
[Last Update: June 1, 2000]

Other Links:
Supernovae, Supernova Remnants and Young Earth Creationism FAQ
A summary of what we know about supernovas and a debunking of creationists claims about supernova remnants. It documents the use of out-of-date sources and extremely blatant cases of quoting out-of-context.

During an email exchange I had with a creationist layman, he made a claim that the universe was less than 10,000 years old, and he said that there was evidence to back this up. This is what he wrote:

A few years back, with the Hubble telescope there was a study done on "super nova expansion" which was to show a very old age for the universe. The study turned on these scientists and pointed to a very young age for the universe. About 6,900 years was the conclusion. This information was kept secret for an entire year because they want time to debunk themselves. If you were watching this was plastered all over the news. I haven't heard any more about it.

I told him that I thought it was ridiculous, and that such a claim absolutely needs a source. He replied:

The source for the info is Dr. Parice of John Hopkins University. This information was released to the national press in 1994. Dr. Parice said: "This was a disaster for the whole way that astronomers are developing the idea of an old universe."

Back to the "old" drawing board. It would seem scientists reject data that would support a young universe since it doesn't make sense to them. The only reason it has to be old is to give life time to evolve. If you assume there is no God (a false assumption) then you must conclude an old universe. Yet much of the evidence doesn't support this."

Okay, I said, but this is still hearsay. Since my opponent refused to look up the source himself, I took it upon myself to do some research. I started with the obvious: I searched the entire Johns Hopkins University web site. However, I found nothing about a "Dr. Parice". Nor was there any word of him on the Hubble Space Telescope web site. So, still unable to verify anything he said, I asked my opponent again, "Where did you get this information from?". His response:

I remember the whole thing on the news. Was a big deal.

My source is:

This Week in Bible Prophecy,
PO Box 583,
Niagara Falls, NY 14302

All right, now I was getting somewhere. I did a web search and found the web site for This Week in Bible Prophecy. I also located the article to which he was referring. Here is the relevant excerpt:

Let me tell you what the team leader, Dr. Parice of the John Hopkins University said. When he showed the national press, this is in November of 1994, photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, he said this: "We expected the image to be covered wall to wall by faint red stars. There were just a handful there. This was a disaster for the whole way that astronomers are developing the idea of an old universe.

Those red dwarfs just have to be there because the models can't be wrong because the model of a star is so simple. A red dwarf particularly is very easy to model on a computer.

They are very long lived. There should be that large number of red dwarfs there, but they are not there. That is just one evidence for a young universe. There are lots of others from astronomy.

This just didn't sound right. After I had asked some knowledgeable friends for some help tracking down this source, I received another citation from a This Week in Bible Prophecy article quoting creationist Keith Davies:

Todd Lowe of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona said, "Listen. We knew this was a shocking result. That is why we spent over a year trying to debunk it ourselves before we went public". Now I mentioned that the Hubble Space Telescope was filled about the end of 1993. Among the first observations were those connected with the age of the universe and as I said, observations of stars like red dwarfs, and they spent a year before they would even announce to the public the results of their observations. Another astrophysicist from Stanford University, Andre Ling said, "If we really trust the data we are in disaster."

When astronomers say things like that, "we are at out [sic] wits end", "we must be close to a breakthrough", "we're in a disaster situation if we trust the data", and "this is a shocking result", then something is happening. What is happening is that that [sic] the data fits a young universe. Now when I say a young universe, I really mean a young universe. I mean a biblical young universe of the order of 10,000 years or less. Let me tell you what the teamleader, Dr. Parice of the John Hopkins University said. When he showed the national press, this is in November of 1994, photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, he said this: "We expected the image to be covered wall to wall by faint red stars. There were just a handful there. This was a disaster for the whole way that astronomers are developing the idea of an old universe." Those red dwarfs just have to be there because the models can't be wrong because the model of a star is so simple. A red dwarf particularly is very easy to model on a computer. They are very long lived. There should be that large number of red dwarfs there, but they are not there. That is just one evidence for a young universe. There are lots of others from astronomy.

At this point, I wrote an email letter to several Johns Hopkins astrophysicists to see if they were aware that Johns Hopkins University was being used to support claims of a 10,000 year old universe. In the meantime, Timothy Thompson sent me the following information, which began to shed some light on the creationists' shenanigans.

One of the key behavior patterns of the young-Earthers is that they latch onto every perceived hiccup as if it were the death knell of an old universe, vastly overestimating the strength of the adverse content of their argument. Here is the abstract of the Paresce et al. paper.

ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL 440:(1) 216-226, Part 1 FEB 10 1995

Deep WFPC2 images in wide bands centered at 606 and 802 mm were taken with the HST 4.6' from the center of the galactic globular cluster NGC 6397. The images were used to accurately position similar to 2120 stars detected in the field on a color magnitude diagram down to a limiting magnitude m(814) similar or equal to m(1) similar or equal to 26 determined reliably and solely by counting statistics. A white dwarf sequence and a rich, narrow cluster main sequence are detected for the first time, the latter stretching from m(814) = 18.5 to m(814) = 24.0 where it becomes indistinguishable from the field population. Two changes of slope of the main sequence at m(814) similar or equal to 20 and m(814) similar or equal to 22.5 are evident. The corresponding luminosity function increases slowly from M(814) similar or equal to 6.5 to 8.5 as expected from ground-based observations but then drops sharply from there down to the measurement limit. The corresponding mass function obtained by using the only presently available mass-luminosity function for the cluster's metallicity rises to a plateau between similar to 0.25 and similar to 0.15 M., but drops toward the expected mass limit of the normal hydrogen burning main sequence at similar to 0.1 M.. This result is in clear contrast to that obtained from the ground and implies either a substantial modification of the cluster's initial mass function due to dynamical evolution in its lifetime, or that very low mass stars are not produced in any dynamically significant amount by clusters of this type. The white dwarf sequence is in reasonable agreement with a cooling sequence of models of mass 0.5 M. at the canonical distance of NGC 6397 with a scatter that is most likely due to photometric errors, but may also reflect real differences in mass or chemical composition. Contamination from unresolved galaxies, which cannot be reliably identified with our filters, makes it difficult to meaningfully compare the observed white dwarf luminosity function with its theoretical counterpart.

Simply put, red dwarf stars hang around for as long as 100,000,000,000,000 years. So naturally, if you are a creationist, you say that in an old universe red dwarfs should dominate.

So along comes regular astronomer Paresce, and he finds that the red dwarf abundance in this globular cluster is lower than expected. "Huzzah!" cry the creationists, an old universe disproved by an old universe astronomer because there aren't enough red dwarfs, and obviously that can't be true in an old universe.

But of course it's just plain stupid. For one thing, our friendly creationists appear not even to have read the abstract I posted here, where the authors tell us ...

This result is in clear contrast to that obtained from the ground and implies either a substantial modification of the cluster's initial mass function due to dynamical evolution in its lifetime, or that very low mass stars are not produced in any dynamically significant amount by clusters of this type.

Naturally the young-universer does not even acknowledge that an explanation was offered, and they certainly make no attempt to criticize the explanation offered. It is well known in astronomy that globular clusters, open clusters, and "field stars" (non cluster stars in the galactic disk) are distinctly different populations; globular cluster stars are older and yellower, open cluster stars are younger and bluer, but all stars in the same cluster are about the same age, but field stars span a large range of ages. There are all kinds of problems with low mass stars in a globular cluster, not the least of which being that low mass stars can be dynamically flung out of a cluster by close approaches to the clustered massive stars, or on the other hand (as implied by the authors here) they just don't form as readily in a dense cluster environment.

Of course the other objection is that the stellar population is not static since the big bang; stars are created and destroyed. Many creationists argue hotly that stellar evolution has "never been observed", the same manner of argument used against biological evolution. But the counter argument is that the Hertzprung-Russell diagram is about as clear an indication of stellar evolution as you can get (see ). As the high mass stars die off they are replaced by new ones. So we do not expect them to be "gone".

As for the supernova remnants, Keith Davies (self taught astronomer; his degree is in education) assumes that supernova remnants (SNR) should be visible for millions of years (wrong), that we see all or most of the ones it is possible to see (wrong again), and so derives from these very bad assumptions a very large number of SNRs in various states that we "should see" but don't.

Obviously, Davies never went SNR hunting in a galactic environment, but I have. For one thing, an SNR becomes essentially invisible, even in a non-crowded environment, within 1,000,000 year tops, maybe less, depending on the specifics of the supernova and environment. But in practice they become essentially invisible long before.

The galaxy is full of distracting clutter, and full of stuff that looks just like a SNR but isn't. We don't know exactly what a SNR looks like, and we never know were the SNR are a-priori. So when you go looking for SNR you will in practice see only a fraction (maybe a small fraction) of those that can possibly be seen, because you are in essence doing a blind search in a cluttered and confused environment. So Davies' ideas of how many SNR there should be, and how many of them we should see are both vast overestimates of reality.

Feel free to repost, spread around, whatever.

Tim Thompson
NASA/JPL Terrestrial Science Research element
Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer.
Atmospheric Corrections Team - Scientific Programmer.

By this time I received a reply to the letter I sent to the Johns Hopkins Space Department:

Hi Ken,

Needless to say, I am distressed that the Johns Hopkins APL Space Department is identified with the claims of creationists. We have had nothing to do with the quotes. The sources cited can be traced to a press release by the STScI, and their response is found below. Bob Brown of STScI forwarded your message to Carol Christian, who traced it to the press release. Many thanks for looking out for the interest of the science community.

Best regards,


Dr. Stamatios M. "Tom" Krimigis
Head, Space Department
Applied Physics Laboratory
Johns Hopkins University
11100 Johns Hopkins Road
Laurel, MD 20723-6099
FAX: (240)228-5969 / (443)778-5969
Web Site:

From: Carol Christian
Sent: Wednesday, May 5, 1999 4:54 PM
Subject: Re: FW: A favor requested (fwd)

Bob and Tom

The press release being referred to is available through the HST web site, and I would have expected that after searching JHU, Ken Harding would have searched choosing the press releases page. They are numbered chronologically. The scientist was Dr. F. Paresce and the quote is totally out of context and inaccurate in the stated conclusion. Also, if the dark matter research is suggesting a younger universe, it would be a small percent younger- not changing the age of the universe from several billion years to several thousand!

I direct you to the actual press release in November 1994 below.

- C. A. Christian


By coincidence, Paresce pursued the search for faint red dwarfs after his curiosity was piqued by an HST image taken near the core of the globular cluster NGC 6397. He was surprised to see that the inner region was so devoid of stars, he could see right through the cluster to far more distant background galaxies. Computer simulations based on models of stellar population predicted the field should be saturated with dim stars -- but it wasn't.

HST's sensitivity and resolution allowed Paresce, and co-investigators Guido De Marchi (ST ScI, and the University of Firenze, Italy), and Martino Romaniello (University of Pisa, Italy) to conduct the most complete study to date of the population of the cluster (globular clusters are ancient, pristine laboratories for studying stellar evolution). To Paresce's surprise, he found that stars 1/5 the mass of our Sun are very abundant (there are about 100 stars this size for every single star the mass of our Sun) but that stars below that range are rare. "The very small stars simply don't exist, " he said.

A star is born as a result of the gravitational collapse of a cloud of interstellar gas and dust. This contraction stops when the infalling gas is hot and dense enough to trigger nuclear fusion, causing the star to glow and radiate energy.

"There must be a mass limit below which the material is unstable and cannot make stars," Paresce emphasizes." Apparently, nature breaks things off below this threshold."

Paresce has considered the possibility that very low-mass stars formed long ago but were thrown out of the cluster due to interactions with more massive stars within the cluster, or during passage through the plane of our Galaxy. This process would presumably be common among the approximately 150 globular clusters that orbit the Milky Way. However, the cast-off stars would be expected to be found in the Milky Way's halo, and Bahcall's HST results don't support this explanation.

As you can see, the reason I had trouble tracking down the Parice quotation was that the creationist quote-miners misspelled his name and incorrectly stated his affiliation. The astronomer described by the creationists was not Dr. Parice of Johns Hopkins University, but Dr. Francesco Paresce of the Space Telescope Science Institute and the European Space Agency. These errors certainly made it harder to check the validity of the creationists' claims.

To inform Dr. Paresce that creationists were misusing his comments to support the notion of a young universe, I contacted him via email. Here is his reply:

Dear Mr.Harding:

Many thanks for your message concerning the use of my name and results to buttress the claim that the universe is younger than 10,000 years. They must be desperate indeed and I need to be particularly charitable to believe that they simply misunderstood me rather than simply fabricate the whole thing to suit their purpose. Of course, I never said or wrote the things attributed to me in this regard. In fact,try as I might I still cannot figure out how or where the age of the universe ever comes into the results I was describing.

I don't think I need to repeat what you and Carol Christian wrote already to put things in the proper astrophysical context since it is right on the money. All I can say is that, again bending way over backwards to try to understand where this misconception may have come up, I can only think that they may have gotten a whiff of the dark matter issue and mixed things up probably on purpose but just possibly naively. John Bahcall and I at a NASA press conference in Washington both made the point that any dark matter explanations that were then fashionable based on the existence of faint red dwarfs had to be wrong because we could not see them in the required numbers. I am sure we also used expressions like the "embarrassment for astronomers of not knowing where 90% of the matter of the universe was" and even things like "skeletons in the closet" to describe where we put things we did not understand etc etc. But all of this had and still does not have absolutely anything to do with the age of the universe which is still to be sure quite a controversial issue but certainly not at the level of 10,000 years. I don't think there is any reason known to man presently that allows one to believe the universe is younger than 10 billion years or so. The argument is whether its 10 billion or 15 or 20 billion as you well know I'm sure.

I hope this helps. Don't hesitate to contact me should you require more info. By the way, they are probably referring to Tod Lauer rather than Todd Lowe.

All the best
Francesco Paresce

Sparked by Dr. Paresce's comment about Tod Lauer, I tracked him down as well. And, as I suspected, his statement was taken out of context as well. What follows is the response from Tod Lauer of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona.

My work has had absolutely nothing to do with suggesting such a ridiculously short age of the universe.

Now as it happens, I actually may have said something like the above quote in a popular article about work I did with Marc Postman (STScI). Marc and I found evidence for large streaming motions of galaxies superimposed on the over all expansion of the universe. Our result was surprising because the coherent flow was very large in amplitude and spatial scale, and as such was not predicted by theory. If our result is true, and sadly there have been plenty of other observational work that suggests that it is not, then there would be an interesting problem for understanding the formation of structure in the universe since the big bang. Because we knew our result was controversial, we worked very hard to check it in all possible ways over a full year before going public. Our result has nothing at all to say about the big bang itself or the age of the universe - indeed one of the ironic results was that our observations separately showed the hubble expansion itself to be highly linear with distance (as expected) to an accuracy that had not been done previously. In short our work has been completely misrepresented by people who clearly have no regard for the truth.

I also note that since I have seen some of these pages I have tried to contact the authors with regards to what I've stated above. Some have been responsible and removed the pages. Some have not.

For more information (at a technical level) see:

Our major work was published in early 1994, and the "Lowe" quote may have been in a Time or Discover magazine article from about that time. Again, though I may have said something like it, it does not refer to anything in the context in which it is used.

Tod Lauer

I also suspect the quotation of "Andre Ling of Stanford" to be fraudulent. (Perhaps they mean Andrei Linde?) I'm looking into it.

Finally, I sent the following email to the producers of "This Week in Bible Prophecy" to inform them of this web page.

To Whom it may Concern,

This message is in regards to and, which claim to have statements from a 'Dr. Parice' from Johns Hopkins University that support a young universe.

This claim is false. I have contacted both Johns Hopkins and Dr. Paresce. Both have denied any connection to the claims you have made for them. Documentation is located at:

In light of this new, correct information, will you remove the inaccurate passages? This information will be widely distributed over the internet.

I await your reply.

Creationists aren't exactly well known for exposing errors in their own work, nor are they well known for correcting or retracting errors exposed by non-creationists. This time, however, perhaps because of my efforts, the original article has been removed from the web site. Whether it has popped up elsewhere, I do not know. But like most creationist claims that later turn out to be false, this one will probably be encountered long after being removed from the shelves. As recently as April 2000, I was confronted by a creationist layman who insisted that the lack of supernova remnants was evidence for a young universe.

In any case, this web page will serve as a reminder not to take creationist claims at face value, especially when they are quoting scientists. You must always track down the source. Time and time again, creationists have shown that it is not beyond them to forge quotes or take them completely out of context.


Since I first wrote this article and posted it to my personal web page, This Week in Bible Prophecy has disappeared. Its creators, Peter and Paul LaLonde, have switched from producing the religious television show to producing religious motion pictures.

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