RSA Debate

Round 4, Part 1b (Death Star Firepower)

(Posted Thursday, October 3, 2002)


Robert, as I expected, you created yet another massive "rebuttal" in which you took individual paragraphs, stripped them apart into sentences to attack piecemeal, and quietly ignored, misrepresented, or evaded the main points. Moreover, your increasing use of personal insults (such as having the gall to accuse ME of scientific ignorance despite your own mistakes, or dismissing my criticisms as "BS"), enormous misrepresentations, and brick-wall denials (eg- answering challenges by simply saying that you've already dealt with them even if you haven't, or denying accusations of fallacies by simply saying "incorrect" or "completely false" without further explanation) is steadily making a mockery of this debate.

You can't even admit the most obvious red herrings, and you have adopted the incredibly audacious tactic of claiming that "as the challenged party", you have the right to change the subject as you see fit! Sorry to burst your bubble, but once the subject is declared in the opening of the debate, it's too late to change it. And since you insisted that I open the debate instead of you, you forfeited your right to select the subject. If you want to keep up this charade of being a rational debater, you should be prepared to focus on the main points, avoid logical fallacies, stop trying to change the subject, and be prepared to abandon untenable positions rather than stubbornly holding onto them and then desperately lashing out at your opponent by trying to goad him with thinly veiled insults and blatant misrepresentations.

I see now that answering each and every one of your denials and evasions simply produces a downward spiral, in which more and more of the post is taken up with your quixotic attempts to pretend your argument is completely infallible in every minute detail, while less and less of it actually addresses the point. Therefore, since no one is buying your brick-wall denials anyway, I will summarize the major arguments and challenge you to defend on the MAJOR points, rather than wasting any more time going around in circles with you while you insist that you haven't made a single misstep, no matter how small.

By the way, I challenge you to answer this as a normal debater would, by answering each WHOLE point with a single CONTIGUOUS rebuttal, rather than breaking each paragraph apart into fragments in order to attack them piecemeal, snip quotes out of context, etc. It would not only produce a cleaner (not to mention more honest) debate, but it would also produce one that is much smaller and easier to read. I don't see any reason to torture the audience, and I don't see why you can't resist the temptation to mulch and re-order points into unrecognizable debris rather than dealing with them whole.

Point 1: Parsimony

The principle of parsimony, also known as Occam's Razor in this context, instructs us to avoid redundant terms. Given two theories of equal performance but differing numbers of terms, the one with fewer terms wins. A lesser-known aspect of this principle is that unobservable terms are redundant by definition, since they cannot be evaluated and therefore cannot be used for quantitative prediction. Or as Stephen Hawking put it:

"It seems better to employ the principle known as Occam's razor and cut out all the features of the theory which cannot be observed."

And this is where we come to the single biggest problem with your so-called "theory": it replaces the planetary shield with your MCR, so the number of terms is the same, but planetary shields are KNOWN TO EXIST in SW (ranging from tiny ground theatre shields to huge theatre shields like the one at Hoth which could easily be networked, and even planet-encircling systems such as the one at Endor). Your MCR, on the other hand, is neither seen or mentioned anywhere in the canon. Moreover, your MCR cannot possibly be evaluated in any quantitative manner. You have NO WAY of assigning it any numbers whatsoever. You cannot determine how much energy it produces, other than assuming that the superlaser is weaker than the explosion by some arbitrary figure. You don't even know what the reactants are, or what the reaction rate is!

Your MCR is a textbook example of a redundant, unobservable term. The minute you try to make it "real" by assigning numbers to it such as a reaction rate, it quickly produces predictions which severely contradict observation. So here are my challenges on point 1:

  1. Define the reactants employed by this reaction, as well as the reaction products.

  2. Estimate the reaction rate in the case of Alderaan.

I'm not asking you to explain precisely how it works; I'm only asking you to define what is reacting, and how quickly. If you have anything which remotely resembles a workable theory (which you claim to have), then this should be quite easy to do.

Point 2: Unsolved Mystery Fallacy 1: Fire Rings

As mentioned many times before, you cannot prove that your MCR exists simply by showing that the fire rings are an unsolved mystery. So what if the fire rings are not explained by conventional physics? Have you got a BETTER idea? There's the rub; you can't supplant A with B unless you can prove that B is better. B is NOT automatically assumed to be better if A is not quite perfect!

The fire rings defy the laws of physics in many ways. First, they slow down spontaneously in the vacuum of space. Second, they are not visible from the ground (watch ROTJ; the fire ring follows right behind the MF as it streaks toward the Rebel fleet, which is sitting between the DS and the planet; this obviously means that the ring is headed straight for the sanctuary moon, yet we see Ewoks looking up at the sky and seeing nothing). Third, they cause no effect upon striking the atmosphere of Endor; not even a harmless "aurora borealis"-style lightshow. So what are they? How much energy do they carry? And how does your theory predict their existence? Isn't it entirely possible that they are some wholly exotic hyperspace side-effect which can only be seen by our omnipotent observer, since the phenomenon is heading straight for the Ewoks and they can't see it with the naked eye?

Ultimately, the fire rings crush your argument rather than helping it, because the ring simultaneously appears around the entire circumference of the planet. While the conventional theory has the planet exploding from the inside out (which should produce effects that are centred on the core), your argument has the planet reacting from the outside in, in a slow reaction that crawls along the surface. Why, then, does the fire ring appear all around the planet simultaneously, even emanating from part of the planet where your imaginary "bands of brightness" have not even reached yet? Here is my challenge on point 2: explain how your MCR produces the fire rings. Do not dismiss the challenge by pretending that you have already done so (hint: you can't just say "it creates planar shockwaves" and call that an explanation).

Point 3: Imaginary "Bands of Brightness"

You produced a marked-up picture to show your "bands of brightness". EVERYONE who has seen that picture has come away convinced that you are delusional. You have no plausible explanation for why the planet is white-hot luminescent for thousands of kilometres AHEAD of the imaginary "bands" in the early frames, nor can you explain why this region of luminescence does not stay ahead of the imaginary "band" as it supposedly moves around the planet but rather, waits for it to catch up. And finally, you claim that when the "bands of brightness" close in on themselves at the other end, a huge secondary explosion results. I hate to break the news to you, but that's NOT what happens when a real exothermal chain reaction reaches the end. Try lighting a book of matches at one end. Watch what happens: an exothermal chain reaction shoots along the row of matches (which don't glow until it REACHES them) until it reaches the end, whereupon it closes in upon itself and ... fizzles out.

Point 4: Unsolved Mystery Fallacy 2: Secondary Blast

You claim that the "secondary blast" is explained by your MCR. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case, as I have shown above. Even if we humour your imaginary "bands of brightness", and even if we humour your desire to interpret this as an exothermal chain reaction moving through the planet, the fact is that if the secondary explosion doesn't occur until the "bands" reach the far side of the planet, then it actually DISPROVES your MCR by not fizzling out at that point, the way an exothermal chain reaction should.

Ultimately, your MCR is shattered, not supported, by the secondary blast. There are an infinite number of theories one might concoct to explain what it is (particularly since the delay is really not that large; I suggest people watch the clip at FULL speed to see what I mean). For all we know, the superlaser is so intense that it creates gravitational distortions, and part of the core becomes a short-lived singularity (which spontaneously detonates in a massive burst of gamma rays). But regardless of how we choose to rationalize it, the point is that there is no reason to imagine that any exotic reaction would require LESS energy.

So here is my challenge on point 4: explain why your imaginary "bands of brightness" would create a massive explosion AFTER running out of reactant.

Point 5: Fear of Evidence

Your theory relies upon exclusion of evidence: you must eliminate the entire EU, explain away the opening crawl of ANH, and even dismiss the original versions of the canon films! As a matter of principle, our arguments over canon and continuity exist only because YOUR theory is wholly dependent upon an ultra-strict interpretation. The conventional explanation works equally well with or without the EU. The conventional explanation works equally well with or without the original versions of the canon films. The conventional explanation works equally well with or without the opening crawl of ANH. Your "theory", however, rests upon the flimsy platform of your dogmatic and inflexible brick-wall claims regarding what you call the "Canon Policy" (invariably capitalized for extra Religious Power(TM)).

I do not fear evidence; the conventional explanation works equally well regardless of which policy you choose to use. You, on the other hand, have constructed an argument so flimsy that it absolutely REQUIRES that most of the available evidence be declared inadmissible before trial. You have left yourself no flexibility whatsoever on this matter, hence your policy of denying as much evidence as you can.

So here is my challenge on point 5: how can you claim to be conducting "evidence-based debate" when you expend so much effort trying to SUPPRESS most of the evidence? Even "foggy" pictures of the situation (as per your Cerasi quote) are better than no pictures at all.

Point 6: Inconsistency (ie- hypocrisy)

You flatly deny the existence of the Alderaan planetary shield because there is no explicit statement that it exists. You refuse to even TEST it against the observations of Alderaan because of the lack of PRIOR evidence (even though the test ITSELF would provide the evidence you need). However, if you were to apply this policy in a UNIFORM manner, you would have to disqualify your MCR for the same reason: there is no explicit dialogue or prior observation whatsoever to even remotely hint at the existence of this MCR (indeed, it's much worse; at least we know planetary shields and theatre shields have been mentioned before).

So here is my challenge on point 6: explain why you think we should carefully consider your MCR while disqualifying the planetary shield before we even reach the starting blocks.

Point 7: Alderaan Planetary Shield

You refuse to evaluate the conventional explanation with a shield in place. Rather than see the visible manifestations of a shield as evidence of that shield, you insist that there is NO shield and then challenge us to explain the shield-like manifestations WITHOUT it! This is a truly bizarre line of reasoning, even from you. Do you honestly believe that anybody besides you is buying into this horrendous sophistry?

Here is my challenge on point 7: defend your MCR against the conventional explanation INCLUDING the shield. If the shield is not a workable explanation, then we'll find out if it fails the test. But if you continue to insist on disqualifying it before the test even begins, then I can only conclude that you do not want to face it on a level playing field, with all that this implies.

Point 8: A Candidate for your MCR

Since you refuse to provide a candidate for your MCR, I will. You have claimed that the explosion involved a chain reaction which is not particularly sensitive to the type of matter involved. Luckily enough, I happen to know of one such chain reaction.

It is based on simple thermodynamics, and it is known as mass/heat transfer. Given a solid mass, a large heat input at one spot will excite particles at that spot. These energetic particles will impart their energy to cooler surrounding particles through thermodynamic heat transfer. Those surrounding particles will impart their energy to THEIR cooler surrounding particles in turn, and so on, and so on in a cascade effect. If the heat flux is turned off, the entire mass would eventually reach the same temperature. However, if the heat flux is too great, the object will tend to be disrupted, as the chain reaction cannot move energy away quickly enough.

Voila! A chain reaction which moves through matter at a finite rate and produces an asymmetrical explosion. It's not an EXOTHERMAL chain reaction, which would be highly material-sensitive, but it DOES happens to fit your requirements. So there you have it: since you wouldn't do it, I have helpfully defined your MCR for you. It is (to use your nomenclature) DET. Does that help? No need to thank me; the pleasure is all mine.

Point 9: Energy Level

Ultimately, your argument is not about chain reactions. As I have already pointed out, conventional heating mechanisms are actually a chain reaction! No, your argument is about energy levels. You insist that the Death Star did not need 1E38 J in order to raise Alderaan's energy state by 1E38 J. And after all of your sophistry, evasions, nitpicks, etc., you have produced only a SINGLE piece of evidence for this claim: semantics. You insist that the "artificial sun" comment in the ANH novelization is a precise description of Death Star power generation physics. You base this on your assumption that "sun" means "something which runs on nuclear fusion". Oddly enough, there are many kinds of star which do NOT run on nuclear fusion (as I already pointed out, and to which you predictably replied by extensively nitpicking details of the examples provided, rather than acknowledging the underlying point), and Merriam-Webster says a sun is a celestial body "resembling the Sun (as in warmth or brilliance)". Nothing there about nuclear fusion being part of the definition of "sun", I'm afraid ... it appears to apply to any luminous celestial body.

Moreover, this entire line of reasoning is inherently self-contradictory. I have already pointed out that your theory calls for the Death Star to be able to convert any arbitrary piece of matter into energy with its superlaser, but NOT its power reactor. This is utterly ridiculous; if the Death Star has the ability to convert any matter into energy with its superlaser (as you say), then they should surely have devised a way of using this amazing capability for power generation, instead of relying on primitive nuclear fusion! Is this concept too difficult for you to understand? Are you truly unable to see the logical self-contradiction in your argument? Or did you ignore this point the first time around because you knew you had no defense against it?

Here is my challenge on point 9 (since your semantic "artificial sun" argument is so weak that it convinces no one but yourself): explain how the Empire can possibly have the fantastic technology to convert arbitrary masses into energy from tens of thousands of kilometres away while being unable to employ anything more sophisticated than nuclear fusion for power generation.


In the end, we see 1E38 J on the right-hand side of the equation; this is indisputable. You refuse to acknowledge that we should put 1E38 J on the left-hand side as well, and the only "evidence" you put forward on this point (by far the most crucial point, since everything else you mention can be attributed to conventional physics more easily than your MCR) is a seriously flawed semantic analysis. You have willfully ignored your own debate stipulations about sticking to evidence, conducting rational debate, or keeping it brief. In fact, the audience is already rumbling that your ridiculously long posts are an exhaustion tactic.

You can continue to hurl your rhetoric, sophistry, and thinly veiled insults all you like, but ultimately, I doubt you will be able to answer ANY of these points properly, in essay form, as a whole point rather than a mulched pile of sentence and paragraph fragments. I have made them before, you have evaded and/or ignored them. So this time, I challenge you to face them head-on, instead of writing voluminous treatises on side-issues while quietly glossing over the major points. Just 9 points, 2-3 paragraphs apiece. Can you handle that? It isn't that difficult to stay concise and on-topic if you make an HONEST effort for a change.

See his reply

Return to main RSA page