SixDay Science

Faith in Science | Science in Faith

Mailbag: Why did God create dinosaurs?

JB writes:

Hi Dr. Salviander,

I’m a undergrad student in Dallas and I want to thank you for your dedication to the Lord in your work. It has helped me greatly and I’ve suggested your blog to my friends.

I had a simple question, just looking to get some insight:

Assuming the Anthropic Principle, why do you think God created dinosaurs and other species for mass extinction?

Thanks for your time–if you can!

I get wonderful questions from students, and this is no exception.

Dr. Hugh Ross runs an apologetics ministry called Reasons to Believe (also linked under “Helpful Resources”), and he talks a great deal about the fine-tuning argument. This argument says that the universe, and specifically the Earth, are very finely tuned for human life. In fact, so much so that all this fine-tuning overwhelmingly points to a Creator. Dr. Ross would say that, as with all cosmic events, mass extinctions play a part in preparing the Earth for the eventual appearance of humans. He discusses the dinosaur extinction in this article.

A corollary to this question might be, why did God carry out such an elaborate plan for the eventual appearance of humans—why not just create the universe and humans all at once and just bypass stuff like dinosaurs? The answer to that is in scripture, e.g. Psalm 8 and Romans 1:20. We learn about our Creator and his actions in this world by studying his creation. As physicist and theologian Dr. Gerald Schroeder points out, there is a Talmudic tradition that says the Torah (the first five books of Moses) was split in two on Mount Sinai; half was given to us in the book of scripture, the other half was sequestered in nature. In fact, the only name used for God in Genesis is ‘Elokiim,’ which means ‘God as made manifest in nature.’ Schroeder claims that we must study both scripture and nature in order to truly understand God’s word (see Schroeder’s book God According to God for more about this).

Upcoming Lecture Events – Update

Update: My RTB talk has been changed from September to October. 

Reasons to Believe
Austin Chapter October Meeting

“Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?”

Is the multiverse hypothesis science fiction, a plausible alternative to a God-created universe, or maybe even consistent with scripture? In this talk, I use Dr. Jeff Zweerink’s booklet as a launching point to review the history of the multiverse, the different multiverse models, the scientific nature of the multiverse, and how the multiverse hypothesis may or may not fit in with scripture. Whatever you think of its validity, Christians should have a basic understanding of this increasingly mainstream idea which is often presented as a viable alternative to a purposeful creation.

Longhorns for Christ Building
1909 University Ave.
Austin, TX 78705

Saturday, October 11
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free and open to the public

 

Ratio Christi
Defending the Faith — in Turbulent Times

“How did God create the world in six days? A scientist’s perspective”

This event is designed to help prepare you to make a defense for the Word in turbulent times.

  • How can we reconcile Christianity and science?
  • Does scripture tell us that we are in a battle of ideas?
  • How can we have a good God when there is so much evil?
  • Are ancient texts really reliable?
  • If God’s not dead, why does the university think He is?
  • Can we defend the faith and still tell the Good News?

Some of the leading Christian thinkers of our time are making a case for the Christ. Join defenders of the faith, Clay Jones, J. Warner Wallace, Sarah Salviander, Dan Wallace and more for accessible apologetics training and discover practical ways to defend your faith with confidence.

Austin Ridge Bible Church
9300 Bee Cave Rd
Austin, TX 78733

Friday, September 26 – Saturday, September 27
Various times
Registration required

The path to delusion

In this excellent interview, eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis discusses the ill-advised direction in which some scientists are going:

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

It is indeed a very small subset, but it is also a very vocal and visible subset–many of these scientists are in the popular media as representatives of science. Ellis also takes them to task for formally rejecting philosophy while unwittingly engaging in a weak form of it.

The great irony here is that many of the atheists who are self-styled champions of evidence and reason are abandoning both when they claim that the multiverse hypothesis, or any other fundamentally untestable idea put forth by scientists, is very likely true, because it’s elegant or the math is convincing or it’s beautifully consistent with what we believe, and so on. I have to check myself here, too, because I find some of these untestable ideas compelling for the same reasons. But, in terms of the irony, as Ellis points out, it was Galileo and Newton—both Christians—who revolutionized science by making it primarily an experimental, evidence-based endeavor, and now this is being dismissed by those who also ostensibly dismiss faith; they have abandoned evidence and reason in favor of what may only be a beautiful delusion.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview with Ellis (who is himself a Christian, incidentally) for an engaging discussion of what’s going awry on the modern scientific landscape.

Mailbag: More on Schroeder’s biblical cosmology

Physicist, Gerald Schroeder, has written four books on the relation of biblical wisdom to modern science. In his book, The Science of God, he explains his biblical cosmology in detail. I’ve created an illustrated slideshow here (see also the “Six Days” tab at the top) that covers the basics of his model. The gist is that Schroeder is able to convincingly reconcile a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 –six 24-hour days of creation –with a universe that is billions of years old by invoking the phenomenon known as time dilation. That’s the slowing down of time in one reference frame as observed from another reference frame. It’s a scientifically sound model, but it’s also a bit difficult for the average scientific layperson to understand, because it involves one of the trickiest concepts in science — the nature of time. There are also other details that can be confusing to a reader not deeply versed in science, so I’m answering questions about the model sent in by readers. 

LH sends in another question from a forum discussion on Schroeder’s biblical cosmology:

At any point in time, the CMBR is not a single frequency, but a continuous spectrum of frequencies — to choose the “average” frequency, which doesn’t correspond to any single photon, to define a clock is questionable (unlike the frequency used to define a second, which is that of an actual photon). Also, the usual way of using light of a particular frequency to act as a clock is by defining the unit of time to be a fixed number of cycles or oscillations of the light wave (this is what is done in defining the second). Since the CMBR at early times has a higher frequency (shorter wavelength), it takes less time to go through a fixed number of cycles, so the unit of time (a “Day”) defined using the CMBR in the early universe is shorter in terms of years than it would be now, i.e. the Genesis days measured in Earth time should be getting progressively longer, not shorter (7 billion years, 3.5 billion years, 1.8 billion years, …).

It’s true the CBR has a blackbody spectrum with a distribution of frequencies, but, like every blackbody, it is characterized by a peak frequency (or wavelength, as shown below) that corresponds to its temperature. Every blackbody has one, and only one, peak frequency that corresponds to its temperature. This is why astronomers refer to just one color for the surface of a star. Stars can be approximated as blackbodies, they have a distribution of frequencies in the radiation from their surfaces, but they still have just one characteristic peak frequency that corresponds to surface temperature. And, in terms of redshift, anything that happens to one of those frequencies is going to happen in the exact same way to the other frequencies. I don’t see this as a valid criticism of Schroeder’s approach.

Blackbody spectra

Blackbody spectra for various temperatures

In terms of the length of a day, this person is mistakenly assuming that the number of cycles in a Genesis day is fixed — it’s not. The problem arises from not choosing the correct reference frames for comparison. We must compare one Genesis day with another from the point of view of our position on Earth today looking backward in time. I have an example that illustrates by analogy how we should be looking at it.

Let’s take the example of the flow of time for two different reference frames where gravitational redshift is creating a time dilation effect. The duration of a second is defined as ~9.2 billion cycles based on a particular transition of the cesium atom. This is as measured from a particular reference frame – the surface of the Earth. But let’s consider another reference frame, that of an observer in a spaceship orbiting some distance from the surface of the Earth. Let’s say the spaceship guy also has a cesium atom and is measuring the same transition, and that he is also able to measure the radiation coming from the cesium transition in the lab on the surface of the Earth. Now, in the time it takes the spaceship guy to count off 9.2 billion cycles for his spaceship cesium atom, he measures fewer than 9.2 billion cycles coming from the Earth’s cesium atom. In other words, in his one second of spaceship time is “faster” than one second of Earth time. The same number of cycles are both are experienced as one second by observers within their respective reference frames, but the cycles from Earth have been stretched by some factor corresponding to the effect of Earth’s gravity as measured by the guy in his spaceship reference frame.

Now, let’s extreme-ify this example by considering a planet — Planet X — for which the gravity is so extreme that, instead of the tiny time dilation effect observed due to Earth’s gravity, time near the surface of Planet X flows at half the rate as time for a spaceship orbiting Planet X. Let’s posit hypothetical observers on the surface of Planet X and in the spaceship, respectively. The guy on Planet X has a telescope he can use to peer into the spaceship and observe everything the spaceship guy is doing. He notices that the spaceship guy is doing everything twice as fast as he is on Planet X. He notices that a day passes on Planet X while two days pass for the guy on the spaceship. Note that the same number of cycles are not taking place on Planet X and on the spaceship during this little scenario; there is no requirement that this happen.

The difference in the flow of time in the previous two examples is due to gravitational redshifting, but we can take the same principle of time getting stretched out when viewed from different reference frames and apply it the expansion of the universe. In this case, however, instead of two reference frames that differ in location, we’ll consider two reference frames that differ in time.

Let’s consider time dilation as measured from the light curves of identical supernovae. A light curve is the brightness of a supernova as a function of time (usually measured in days). Type Ia supernovae have characteristic light curves that are always the same, because they all originate from the same type of star — this is what makes them excellent standards by which we measure cosmological effects. We can observe a nearby (roughly corresponding to the present time) Type 1a supernova and see that it takes about 20 days for the supernova to fade appreciably from peak brightness. If we observe another Type 1a supernova that’s at a distance corresponding to when the universe was about half its present age, the light curve makes it appear as though it takes 40 days for its brightness to fade by the same amount — twice as long for the exact same type of supernova. This is the time dilation effect due to the expansion of the universe. The light we receive now from an event that happened billions of years ago has been stretched to half the frequency — time appears to be flowing at half the rate now that it was when the light was emitted then. Again, there is no requirement that the number of cycles be made to equal each other in this comparison.

Type 1a supernovae light curves 'stretched' by the expansion of the universe [Credit: HyperPhysics]

Type 1a supernovae light curves ‘stretched’ by the expansion of the universe [Credit: HyperPhysics]


In the last example, we are comparing the flow of time at two different times in cosmic history from the point of view of the Earth, looking backward in time. There is no requirement that the number of cycles be the same for each day. Each successive day, when compared this way, is shorter than the previous day, because the flow of time has slowed down compared with the previous day. This forms the basis of Schroeder’s biblical cosmological model.

Previous: Mailbag: Time dilation in Schroeder’s biblical cosmology

Replay: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning”

Traffic’s up after the announcement of the publication of our Astronomy and Astrophysics curriculum, so we’re replaying some of our more important posts from the archives for our new readers. This article was originally posted on February 21, 2012

So says Tufts University physicist, Alexander Vilenkin, who made this statement at a meeting in January in honor of Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday. (I’m a little late getting around to this, but it’s worth commenting on.)

To fully appreciate the magnitude of this statement, consider that the prevailing view of cosmology for more than two thousand years was that of an eternal universe. This view began to change in the 1920s, when astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the spectra of most galaxies are redshifted, and the further away a galaxy is from the Milky Way, the more its spectrum is redshifted. What this means in plain English is that almost all of the galaxies he observed are rushing away from each other, and those that were further away are rushing away faster. Incredibly, it appeared the universe was not only changing, but expanding. If you imagine running the expansion in reverse, so that galaxies rush toward one another as you go back in time, you end up with a point at which the expansion started — a beginning in time and space.

Belgian physicist and priest, Georges Lemaître, anticipated this discovery with what he called the “hypothesis of the primeval atom,” based on his solution to the Einstein field equations. The universe’s beginning was predicted to have been very energetic and violent, and was therefore dubbed as the “big bang.” Four decades later, physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the predicted afterglow of this big bang, which eventually earned them Nobel prizes. By the late 1980s, sophisticated satellites were mapping the tiny fluctuations in the intensity of the big bang afterglow, which allowed physicists to calculate an age for the universe. By the end of the 20th century, there was near-consensus that the universe had a beginning that occurred some 11-17 billion years ago. (The cosmological model-based number is ~14 billion years.)

The big bang has had its detractors. It was astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, out of deep skepticism for the idea, who sarcastically applied the term “big bang” to this cosmological model. (Let it not be said that physicists are overly sensitive — the term stuck and has been used in all seriousness ever since.) Hoyle’s collaborator, astrophysicist Geoffrey Burbidge, famously ridiculed physicists who had hopped on the big bang bandwagon as “rushing off to join the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.” There were two reasons scientists reacted this way. First, some scientists found the idea of a universe with a beginning uncomfortably close to the Genesis account of creation. Second, from the point of view of physics, mathematics, and philosophy, a universe with a beginning is far more messy to deal with than an eternal universe, which requires no explanation. Even still, the evidence for a beginning is now so overwhelming that most physicists have come to accept it, and the big bang has become the prevailing paradigm governing all of physics.

Nevertheless, some physicists had not given up on the idea of an eternal universe, but the focus changed to devising sophisticated models for an eternal universe that fit the observed data — in other words, an eternal universe that incorporated key features of the big bang model. Some of these features are explainable by invoking what’s called inflation, which refers to an early period of exceedingly rapid expansion. This idea was proposed by Alan Guth in the 1980s, and it can also be applied to an eternally inflating universe in which regions of the universe undergo localized inflation, creating “pocket universes.” This inflation continues forever, both in the past and into the future, and so in a sense it represents an eternal universe. Another idea was the cyclical universe, which posited that the universe is eternally expanding and contracting. In this way, the big bang that occurred 14 billion years ago would be just one of an infinite number of big bangs followed by ‘big crunches.’

All of the evidence indicates ours is a universe undergoing perpetual change. To replace Aristotle’s age-old idea of an eternal, unchanging universe, physicists came up with hypothetical eternal universes that were perpetually changing. This was an ingenius approach, but as Vilenkin announced last month, they just don’t work. Guth’s idea turns out to predict eternal inflation in the future, but not in the past. The cyclical model of the universe predicts that with each big bang, the universe becomes more and more chaotic. An eternity of big bangs and big crunches would lead to a universe of maximum disorder with no galaxies, stars, or planets — clearly at odds with what we observe.

As the journal New Scientist reports, physicists can’t avoid a creation event. Vilenkin’s admission exemplifies the reason physics is the king of all the sciences — physicists are generally willing to admit when their cherished ideas don’t work, and they eventually go where the data and logic lead them. Whether this particular realization will pave the way to serious discussion of God and consistency with the Genesis account of creation remains to be seen. Physicists can be a stubborn bunch. As Nobel laureate George P. Thomson observed, “Probably every physicist would believe in a creation if the Bible had not unfortunately said something about it many years ago and made it seem old-fashioned.” Still, some physicists are open to the idea. Gerald Schroeder, who is also an applied theologian, has written profoundly on the subject. His book, The Science of God, is an illuminating discussion of how the Bible and biblical commentary relate to the creation of the universe.

Upcoming Lecture Events

Reasons to Believe
Austin Chapter September Meeting

“Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse?”

Is the multiverse hypothesis science fiction, a plausible alternative to a God-created universe, or maybe even consistent with scripture? In this talk, I use Dr. Jeff Zweerink’s booklet as a launching point to review the history of the multiverse, the different multiverse models, the scientific nature of the multiverse, and how the multiverse hypothesis may or may not fit in with scripture. Whatever you think of its validity, Christians should have a basic understanding of this increasingly mainstream idea which is often presented as a viable alternative to a purposeful creation.

Longhorns for Christ Building
1909 University Ave.
Austin, TX 78705

Saturday, September 13
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free and open to the public

 

Ratio Christi
Defending the Faith — in Turbulent Times

“How did God create the world in six days? A scientist’s perspective”

This event is designed to help prepare you to make a defense for the Word in turbulent times.

  • How can we reconcile Christianity and science?
  • Does scripture tell us that we are in a battle of ideas?
  • How can we have a good God when there is so much evil?
  • Are ancient texts really reliable?
  • If God’s not dead, why does the university think He is?
  • Can we defend the faith and still tell the Good News?

Some of the leading Christian thinkers of our time are making a case for the Christ. Join defenders of the faith, Clay Jones, J. Warner Wallace, Sarah Salviander, Dan Wallace and more for accessible apologetics training and discover practical ways to defend your faith with confidence.

Austin Ridge Bible Church
9300 Bee Cave Rd
Austin, TX 78733

Friday, September 26 – Saturday, September 27
Various times
Registration required

Mailbag: Time dilation in Schroeder’s biblical cosmology

LH asked for clarification on the biblical cosmology of Gerald Schroeder. There was some question of the nature of the redshift and how to relate that to cosmological time dilation. 

Physicist Gerald Schroeder has written four books on the relation of biblical wisdom to modern science. His book, The Science of God, explains his biblical cosmology in detail. I’ve created an illustrated slideshow here (see also the “Six Days” tab at the top) that covers the basics of his model. The gist is that Schroeder is able to convincingly reconcile a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 –six 24-hour days of creation –with a universe that is billions of years old by invoking the phenomenon known as time dilation. That’s the slowing down of time in one reference frame as observed from another reference frame. It’s a scientifically sound model, but it’s also a bit difficult for the average scientific layperson to understand, because it involves one of the trickiest concepts in science — the nature of time.

Even scientifically-literate people get tripped up by the effect of time dilation, because the effect can occur for different reasons. So, it’s no surprise that one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of Schroeder’s biblical cosmology is the nature of the time dilation effect that gives us six 24-hour days in one frame of reference and 14 billion years in another. It is not due to gravitational effects or comparing two different physical reference frames within the universe. Rather it arises from the following:

  1. God’s reference frame existing beyond space and time, which regards the universe as a whole
  2. the expansion of the universe
  3. comparison of the flow of time between different moments in cosmological history

Schroeder assumes Genesis 1 is told from God’s perspective. God’s reference frame is not any one place within the universe, but from outside the universe, regarding the universe in its entirety. So, to find something to form the basis of the Genesis clock, Schroeder looked for something that takes into account the three points above. He chose the cosmic background radiation (CBR), because it permeates the entire universe, it has existed virtually since the beginning of the universe, and encoded in its properties are the history of the expansion of the universe.

The time dilation for Genesis 1 is based on the expansion of the universe. This is neither special relativity nor a gravitational effect; it is merely a consequence of the stretching of the CBR light waves as the universe expands. This is a well-established effect in cosmology, and one I have to take into account in my own research on distant quasars. For simplicity, if you think of the CBR light waves as a sine wave, then the frequency of the sine wave represents the beat of the Genesis clock. The higher the frequency, the faster the clock ticks off time. If you think of drawing this sine wave on a piece of stretchable fabric representing the fabric of the universe and then stretching this fabric, the length between the peaks on the sine wave gets longer, and hence the ticks of the clock get longer (i.e. slower). So, what’s happening is that as the universe ages and expands, the frequency of the CBR light decreases, and the ticks of the Genesis clock for each moment in time get slower compared with previous moments in time.

That’s how we can measure, from our earthly perspective looking backward in time, 14 billion years, while God measures, from his perspective regarding the universe as a whole looking forward in time, six 24-hour days.

Backyard Astronomy: July 2014

A bit late in posting this, but there isn’t much going on this month, anyway.

July 29-30: Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower. This shower runs mid-July to mid-August and peaks the night of the 29th / the early morning of the 30th. The meteors are debris from Comets Marsden and Kracht. The expected rate is a moderate 20 meteors per hour.

Stuff for this week

Just a note that I’ll be posting here again soon. I experimented with posting daily, but that doesn’t suit me or my schedule. The next experiment will involve posting “approximately whenever I feel like it.” When something interesting comes up, and I have the time, I’ll write.

There are a couple of speaking engagements coming up in September, the announcement of which will occur in the next day or so. If you’re in the Austin, TX area and are interested in topics of science and faith, consider attending. One will be for the monthly Reasons to Believe meeting, which is free and open to the public, the other will be at an apologetics conference that requires registration.

I’ll also be answering a question that came up about Gerald Schroeder’s reconciliation of an old universe with a literal interpretation of scripture, hopefully this week.

 

Backyard Astronomy: June 2014

June 7: Conjunction of the Moon and Mars. Conjunction is when two celestial objects line up along the line of sight from the Earth. For instance, during the New Moon phase, the Moon is in conjunction with the Sun. During this month’s Moon-Mars conjunction, the two objects will come within two degrees of each other in the sky. It’s not super-close — by way of comparison, the angular size of the Moon is just half a degree — but it makes for a nice pairing for binoculars or a telescope.

Moon - Mars conjunction

 

June 22 – July 2: June Boötids meteor shower. As far as meteor showers go, this one’s pretty wimpy. The expected rate is one to two meteor per night, though on rare occasions there can be strong outbursts. Unlike most meteor showers, this one is best viewed in the evening hours.

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