Friday, July 04, 2003

Creation and Science -- Part 2

Yesterday, I briefly sketched the sloppiness that tends to inhabit the domains of creation science. If you are interested in a more fully explained example of the problem, click here. The linked article, The Legend of the Shrinking Sun, explains a transient scientific problem and how the creation science community ran off with it. It contains an appeal similar to mine for common sense, integrity, and attention to details. It is far better to hold a young earth view and acknowledge the disconnect with current science than to construct a young earth edifice on sand. 

But I must move on.

The Anthropic Principle

Around the 1970's scientists began to notice that the universe was remarkably fine-tuned. They observed that even small variations of fundamental physical constants would entail dramatic changes in the structure of the universe. Indeed, most scenarios using differing values yielded lifeless universes. Larry Whitham in his book By Design identifies the beginning of this trend with Brandon Carter, an astrophysicist at Cambridge:

Carter asked why the unique observational role of humans could not again be taken seriously by science. He remonstrated against an "exaggerated subservience to the `Copernican principle."' And he called the scientific version of the Principle of Mediocrity "a most questionable dogma." But his punch line about the human location in the scheme of things was what galvanized his audience. "What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers," Carter said. Thus, "although our situation is not necessarily central, it is inevitably privileged."

In his paper, Carter noted how coincidental it was that certain numerical ratios governed the mass of stars and the expansion rate of the universe. He commented on how certain fundamental parameters of physics allowed biological life to exist. The presence of observers-according to the anthropic principle-would predict that these coincidences and parameters are necessary for their existence in the first place, which would explain why the numbers are what they are. [Whitham, Larry. By Design: Science and the Search for God (San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2003) p. 41]

Thus was born the Anthropic Principle in secular science. From anthropos, meaning man, it states that our being here to observe the universe is one of the reasons the universe is what it is. It says that the universe is fine tuned for life and that such a state of affairs is far from certain. 

The fine tuning of the physical constants that make up the universe is one of science's modern problems. In 1999, Martin Rees, the Royal Astronomer of England and professor at Cambridge University published Just Six Numbers: the Deep Forces that Shape the Universe. In this book, Professor Rees describes six physical constants whose values make the universe what it is. Even small changes to these numbers would mean that life could not exist. Below are those numbers excerpted from his book. If you are not scientifically inclined, just read and note how often he makes reference to small changes and their disastrous outcomes:

This book describes six numbers that now seem especially significant. Two of them relate to the basic forces; two fix the size and overall ‘texture’ of our universe and determine whether it will continue for ever; and two more fix the properties of space itself:

• The cosmos is so vast because there is one crucially important huge number N in nature, equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This number measures the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together, divided by the force of gravity between them. If N had a few less zeros, only a short-lived miniature universe could exist: no creatures could grow larger than insects, and there would be no time for biological evolution.

• Another number, E, whose value is 0.007, defines how firmly atomic nuclei bind together and how all the atoms on Earth were made. Its value controls the power from the Sun and, more sensitively, how stars transmute hydrogen into all the atoms of the periodic table. Carbon and oxygen are common, whereas gold and uranium are rare, because of what happens in the stars. If E were 0.006 or 0.008, we could not exist.

• The cosmic number O (omega) measures the amount of material in our universe – galaxies, diffuse gas, and ‘dark matter’. O tells us the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe. If this ratio were too high relative to a particular ‘critical’ value, the universe would have collapsed long ago; had it been too low, no galaxies of stars would have formed. The initial expansion speed seems to have been finely tuned.

• Measuring the fourth number, L (lambda), was the biggest scientific news of 1998. An unsuspected new force – a cosmic ‘antigravity’ – controls the expansion of our universe, even though it has no discernible effect on scales less than a billion light-years. It is destined to become ever more dominant over gravity and other forces as our universe becomes ever darker and emptier. Fortunately for us (and very surprisingly to theorists), L is very small. Otherwise its effect would have stopped galaxies and stars from forming, and cosmic evolution would have been stifled before it could even begin.

• The seeds for all cosmic structures – stars, galaxies and clusters of galaxies – were all imprinted in the Big Bang. The fabric of our universe depends on one number, Q, which represents the ratio of two fundamental energies and is about 1/100,000 in value. If Q were even smaller, the universe would be inert and structureless; if Q were much larger, it would be a violent place, in which no stars or solar systems could survive, dominated by vast black holes.

• The sixth crucial number has been known for centuries, although it’s now viewed in a new perspective. It is the number of spatial dimensions in our world, D, and equals three. Life couldn’t exist if D were two or four. Time is a fourth dimension, but distinctly different from the others in that it has a built-in arrow: we ‘move’ only towards the future. Near black holes, space is so warped that light moves in circles, and time can stand still. Furthermore, close to the time of the Big Bang, and also on microscopic scales, space may reveal its deepest underlying structure of all: the vibrations and harmonies of objects called ‘superstrings’, in a ten-dimensional arena.

Perhaps there are some connections between these numbers. At the moment, however, we cannot predict any one of them from the values of the others. Nor do we know whether some ‘theory of everything’ will eventually yield a formula that interrelates them, or that specifies them uniquely.

I have highlighted these six because each plays a crucial and distinctive role in our universe, and together they determine how the universe evolves and what its internal potentialities are; moreover, three of them (those that pertain to the large-scale universe) are only now being measured with any precision.

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator? I take the view that it is neither. An infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different. Most would be stillborn or sterile. We could only have emerged (and therefore we naturally now find ourselves) in a universe with the ‘right’ combination. This realization offers a radically new perspective on our universe, on our place in it, and on the nature of physical laws.[Rees, Martin. Just Six Number-The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe (Basic Books 2000) p. 2-4]

Hugh Ross, a Christian and founder of the Reasons to Believe website, has documented many more numbers having to do with the fine tuning of the universe. Hugh Ross and other Christians, who have studied the Anthropic Principle, have no trouble attributing the cause to God who was the designing creator of the universe. Secular science, to avoid the God problem, suggests that an "infinity of other universes may well exist where the numbers are different." That secular science needs to suggest infinite universes underscores the conundrum of our finely tuned universe. Our choices, it would seem, are unbelievable co-incidence, a Creator, or an great many number of universes.

The sloppiness of creation science prohibits its practical use to evangelize scientists and informed secular people. The Anthropic Principle, on the other hand, is of their own making and provides a door to discuss matters of creation and design.. It is the modern expression of Psalm 19, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands."

There is, however, a catch.

Monday: The Catch

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Quoting Primary Sources (Again)

I rarely post more than once a day. However, sometimes I come across things that urge me to take the time to write.

Some time ago, I wrote an entry calling for us, as teachers, to be aware of our sources and to seek out the primary, or first hand, references whenever possible. This morning, I came across an example of trouble in the making.

I was perusing World Net Daily and came across an intriguing headline, Book of Matthew gets unlikely boost. Very intriguing indeed.

So I visited the article and found that it quoted another article. I jumped to that article and found that it did not contain any more information than original Hal Lindsay write up.

Supposedly, there is evidence in the Jewish Talmud and Mishnah that Gamaliel wrote a parody on Matthew's Gospel. If so, that would indicate an early date for the gospel's publication. All well and good, but where is the reference? The reference, if any yet, would be found in an essay written for the book Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times by Israel J. Yuval.

Doing a google search with "Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times, Israel J. Yuval" yielded several interesting posts, including one that contained some of the parody's elements. Although even that reference announced that the parody confirmed Matthew's Gospel, it would seem as if we are not talking about a parody of the entire gospel, but rather a story about a Christian judge that quotes Jesus from Matthew's gospel.

For the moment, I have stopped the search, as it would now require me to buy or find a book. But I have two questions. The first is whether Israel J. Yuval came to this conclusion about Gamaliel and Matthew's gospel? The second is similar. If Mr. Yuval did not draw this conclusion, who was the first to do so from his essay?

This takes us back to Hal Lindsay and others. By not going to the source, they have already amplified the story. They have stated that Gamaliel created a parody of the gospel, rather than perhaps quoting it. In magnitude, that is the difference between The Wind Done Gone and "Frankly Scarlet, I don't give a damn." The first is a parody of Gone with the Wind and the second is a quote from the movie Gone with the Wind. Hal Lindsay argues that the Gamaliel's parody eliminates the need for the existence of the Q document. Tracing the story closer to its origins (and please note that I did not even got there), shows that maybe that is not true. Gamaliel may have quoted Matthew, or Q, or any number of reliable sources of Jesus' teachings. Gamaliel wrote a parody of Christians, not Matthew's gospel.

We, as Christians, simply must be more careful. If you read the first post for today, which follows this one. You will note that I have much the same criticism for some creation scientists. We, as Christians, have a wonderful story to tell and it is best told with integrity and attention to detail.

Creation and Science -- Part 1

In the early months of 1988, I was reading the Computer Recreations column of Scientific American. At that time, the writer of the column was A. K. Dewdney. On this particular month, he reviewed Richard Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker, wherein Dawkins described a computer program that he wrote that morphed a figure from generation to generation. The program showed the diversity of figures possible after only a few iterations. Dewdney followed Dawkins with a more simple programming example that his readers could use. Dewdney's computer program employed some simple genetic programming techniques applied to the length of a dinosaur's neck from generation against the height of a tree containing said dinosaur's favorite food. Running the program showed how the both sides constantly adjusted to keep fed or avoid being eaten. 

Since I am no stranger to programming, I wrote a letter to Scientific American showing the shortfalls of his and Dawkin's programs. Although they purported to show evolution in action, they only demonstrated micro-evolution: change within the same species. For macro-evolution to occur, there needs to be an increase in information content. How do you increase information content by random actions? Both Dawkins and Dewdney had demonstrated micro-evolution, which is only a variation of existing information. To my surprise, A. K. Dewdney published a portion of my letter in a later column that year. The quote identified me as a programmer working for the IBM corporation. 

Unbeknown to me at the time, Stan Kurzban, who also worked for IBM, was very upset at Scientific American for publishing those sentences. He wrote to several others correspondents with the "bad news." He also complained directly to Scientific American. One of those other correspondents, contacted me and invited me to join their dialog about evolution. For the next three years, until IBM's downsizing scattered us, we carried on this dialog. I can only remember 3 out of the 4 other names. Here were the members: moving from belief in God and unbelief in evolution to unbelief in God and belief in evolution, you had:

  1. Don Curtis (Me)
  2. The man who invited me to join and whose name escapes me.
  3. Shirley Ulrich
  4. Jim Rogers
  5. Stan Kurzban

Members 1 through 4 called themselves Christians. Stan was an avowed atheist. Shirley and Jim both belonged to the American Scientific Affliliation (ASA). What is important, as far as this blog is concerned, is that I held my own in the discussion. We had respect for each others ideas, and I scored some points on occasion, as did the others. Towards the end, Stan would even state that he was no longer offended that I quoted scripture.

One reason that I maintained credibility with this group is that I knew better than to use material from groups like the Institute for Creation Research. It is not that I believed in an old earth vs. a young earth. It was that the work of Henry Morris, Duane Gish, and others was sloppy.

For example, years earlier, I had read The Genesis Flood. Although it contained some interesting and thought provoking ideas, the one thing that struck me was the inclusion of photographs of man-tracks in the same strata as dinosaur tracks. The pictures reminded me of "big foot" and 'loch ness monster" photographs. They were neither clear nor convincing. By 1985, after much prodding, ICR finally admitted that they might be wrong, but "continued research is in order." What to me was deniable from the original photographs is something to which ICR still clings today. The simple emerging truth is that the prints are those of another dinosaur. The Genesis Flood had to make the man who had made the tracks to be a giant, because of their larger than normal size. It would have been a simple matter to have dropped the claim altogether.

Other examples of sloppy work involve the thickness of moon dust as an indicator of a young universe, and the dramatic slowing in the speed of light used to explain cosmic distances.

I would ask myself, "Do these people not see that to promote ideas that go against the mainstream requires better and more meticulous work?" They were too quick to declare victory; too quick to label alternant ideas as morally defective.

When high school science fell on my shoulders in the home education of our boys, I would point out the faulty analysis and assumptions in the Bob Jones and A Beka science text books. The best that I could tell them was that science might one day support a 7x24 creation week, but that the creation scientists were not likely to get us there. They under-estimated the strength of the opposing arguments, and were too quick to ascribe moral failure to those who disagreed with their position. I wanted my sons to have a faith that transcended the need for creation-science. One that could acknowledge the problems and realize that they need not be fatal.

My own personal opinion, for years, was that science would one day find itself in a bind and come face to face with a young universe. Given the nature of scientific change, perhaps that might happen some day.

Discovering the Anthropic Principle began to change my mind.

Friday: The Anthropic Principle