SixDay Science

Faith in Science | Science in Faith

The multiverse is not science

RTB’s Jeff Zweerink explains why we should exercise caution when considering whether the multiverse is science. While there is a legitimate place for the multiverse in scientific discussion, we must always keep in mind that at the fundamental level the multiverse is not science. Zweerink quotes eminent theoretical cosmologist, George F. R. Ellis, who reminds us that the multiverse is really just “scientifically based philosophical speculation.” In other words, it’s just a science-flavored idea.

Primary and secondary traits of the science fetishist anti-theist

What this is not: A polemic against atheism in general or a blanket analysis of all atheists. Atheists can be moral, decent, intelligent, productive people who contribute to society, just like anyone else. Now that we have that out of the way…

What this is: An analysis of a particular type of atheist — an anti-theist, really — who is virulently and irrationally anti-Christian and who fetishizes science. We’ll call him the SFA (Science Fetishist Anti-theist).

Let’s say you’re a Christian who’s interested in science, particularly how it relates to your faith. You encounter an atheist who seems willing to discuss this with you, and you’re interested in his viewpoint. (This could be taking place in person, on Facebook, on a blog, etc.) You explain your position on a particular topic, but you’re met with a series of perplexing responses and maybe even some hostility. You try to respond honestly and earnestly, but the discussion is going in confusing directions. He’s attacking your viewpoint, but not really attacking the substance of your argument. You’re being barraged with various claims that don’t seem to have much to do with your position on the topic, but you don’t know how to respond. If this has ever happened to you, it’s likely you encountered a SFA.

This article is a two-parter. In this part, I describe the primary and secondary characteristics useful for identifying a SFA, and offer some general advice on how to deal with them. In Part II, I’ll use examples from encounters with SFAs to illustrate these principles.

Primary behavioral traits of the SFA:

  • Almost immediately refers to the supposed conflict between science and religion in any discussion of science and/or religion with a Christian
    • If you beg to differ, brings up Galileo and/or Bruno
  • Denounces faith as anti-intellectual or anti-reason or anti-science
  • Uses the word “science” a lot as a catch-all for responses to questions
  • Uses the word “science” in nonsensical ways
  • Refers to any attempt to demonstrate that the Bible is not in conflict with science as “creationism”
  • Uses the word superstition in reference to your beliefs
  • Despite displaying a near-reverence for science, does not actually know much about science
  • Is unaware of most of the history of science
  • Quotes Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, or any other number of anti-theist scientists at you

If a person displays at least five of those traits, you’ve got yourself a SFA. The fetish aspect refers to the near-reverence the SFA has for science, almost to the point of worshipfulness. The SFA is aware of the power of science and is attracted to it, but lacks the genuine interest to learn how science works. The SFA will also hold science in unrealistically high regard, causing him to not only ignore the limitations of science but to disdain all other methods of knowing.

What makes the SFA pernicious is that he is mildly adept at giving the impression he is reasonable, intellectual, and knowledgeable about science. However, it doesn’t take much to expose him for what he is. For that, all you need to do is challenge the SFA on a particular point and be persistent in asking direct questions. You will then notice his secondary traits.

Secondary behavioral traits of the SFA:

  • Avoidance: he will simply refuse to answer the question
  • Evasion: he will address it in an oblique way, but refuse to provide a straightforward answer
  • Deflection: he will refuse to answer the question while changing the subject
  • Misdirection: he will pretend to answer the question while subtlely changing the subject
  • Redefinition: he will redefine the meaning of something to suit his purpose
  • Mischaracterization: he will twist your words and your intent to mean something else he can more easily attack

The way to combat these is to persist in holding the SFA to things he’s claimed/admitted and requiring that the SFA answer your questions directly. For instance, if you’ve employed impeccable logic to make your case, and he still refuses to acknowledge the conclusion, ask him which step in the chain of logic he objects to and make him back it up with reason and evidence. Stay focused on the question. Be relentless in pinning him down. One key for keeping the discussion on track is to have a penalty ready if he refuses to answer your questions. Christian writer, Vox Day, who is legendary for his skill and tenacity in debating SFAs, has a rule on his blog: you get three chances to answer his question directly; if you fail, you are not allowed to comment again until you answer. If the argument is in person, you can simply refuse to continue unless the SFA answers your question directly. This tends to work, because SFAs are usually eager to keep the discussion going — up to a point.

If you’re persistent with your questions and pinning the SFA down, there are two possible outcomes. 1. The SFA will concede. This is the more desirable outcome, but it’s also the least likely. It’s possible that, through sheer force of will, you can break through the shell of delusion and help bring the SFA to greater understanding. However, the more likely outcome is … 2. Your persistence will culminate in The Superior-Posture Departure (SPD). The exasperated SFA will announce that you’re too ignorant to merit debate and will refuse to engage you any further. For the moment, anyway. SFAs can reappear from time to time to make provocative statements — often the same statements you’ve already refuted — only to disappear again when met with resistance. They may also snipe at you from a distance while continuing to insist that you’re too ignorant to debate.

The thing to keep in mind here is that most SFAs are dishonest, not only with others, but with themselves. I’ll talk about this more in Part II next week, but this self-delusion is indicative of their blind faith in science. For that reason, you will likely never get an admission that you’re right, but this sort of refusal to engage you directly is at least a tacit admission of defeat.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In response to my recently-posted testimony, OpenMind offered the following

I don’t know exactly what OM meant, so I’ve asked him for clarification. However, he seems busy responding to the flurry of Tweets his comment generated, so I’ll just address it as is.

Generally speaking, when a person is said to be rationalizing his behavior, it means he’s offering a seemingly plausible, but untrue, reason for it. That’s probably the sense in which OM offered his interpretation of how I’ve dealt with the death of my daughter. The problem with this interpretation is that no one can demonstrate that the reason for my behavior — God’s existence — is untrue. Therefore, by definition, it cannot be a rationalization. Furthermore, I offered very good reason to believe that it is true, which I explained in my testimony. OM’s is just a nonsensical claim.

OM also missed the point of my relating how I dealt with the loss of my baby. My testimony was the story of how I went from atheism to theism, partly on the basis of scientific evidence, and from theism to Christianity, largely on the basis of scientific evidence. It seemed a little too coldly logical to me, and so I worried that maybe my faith wasn’t real, that it lacked substance. Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower. Sometimes people receive the Word, but as soon as they experience any tribulation, they fall away from the faith. I don’t wish to overstate my case, but I think it’s fair to say that I experienced tribulation that year. Yet my faith did not fall away. When the dust had settled, I felt closer to God — I knew what it meant to receive his provision and protection. I knew my faith was real.

There are two takeaway points here for my Christian readers. The first is to always evaluate what an atheist (or any other) critic is claiming, identify the error, and then focus your response there. OM claimed I was rationalizing my loss. A rationalization involves an untrue belief, in this case, a belief in God’s existence. Contrary to what strident atheists imply or outright claim, no one has shown that God does not exist. Not only is there is no good reason to assert that God doesn’t exist, but there is good reason to believe that he does. The claim of rationalization is therefore invalid.

The second point is that strident atheists will frequently avoid, evade, redefine, mischaracterize, and misdirect in order to discredit your argument or avoid acknowledging a logical conclusion they don’t like. OM mischaracterized the story of how my faith was tested to claim I was rationalizing my belief. This story had nothing to do with the truth of the reason for my belief, but rather concerned whether my belief even existed. It’s a common tactic; don’t let them get away with it.

My testimony

I’ve had numerous requests over the years to write down my personal testimony and post it here. I was asked to give my testimony at a local church here in Austin as part of their Easter celebration, which finally compelled me to write it all down. What follows is an adapted version of that Easter talk.

I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Canada. My parents were socialists and political activists who thought British Columbia would be a better place for us to live, since it had the only socialist government in North America at the time. My parents were also atheists, though they eschewed that label in favor of “agnostic.” They were kind, loving, and moral, but religion played no part in my life. Instead, my childhood revolved around education, particularly science. I remember how important it was to my parents that my brother and I did well in school.

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when science fiction was enjoying a renaissance, thanks largely to the popularity of Star Wars. I remember how fascinated I was by the original Star Wars trilogy. It had almost nothing to do with science—it’s more properly characterized as space opera—but it got me thinking about space in a big way. I also loved the original Star Trek, which was more science fiction. The stoic and logical character of Mr. Spock was particularly appealing to me. Popular science was also experiencing a renaissance at that time, which had a lot to do with Carl Sagan’s television show, Cosmos, which I adored. The combination of these influences led to such an intense wonder about outer space and the universe, that by the time I was nine years old I knew I would be a space scientist someday.

Canada was already post-Christian by the 1970s, so I grew up with no religion. In retrospect, it’s amazing that for the first 25 years of my life, I met only three people who identified as Christian. My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial. I was ignorant not only of the Bible, but also of the deep philosophy of Christianity and the scientific discoveries that shed new light on the origins of the universe and life on Earth.

As a young person struggling to understand the world without the aid of religion, I got involved in Objectivism. Objectivism is a philosophy built on the idea of rational selfishness. It is based on the work of the devoutly atheist philosopher, Ayn Rand, who lived in Soviet Russia before she immigrated to the United States. Unlike my parents, I had embraced capitalism by my early twenties instead of socialism. Objectivism appealed to me, because of the belief that my life was my own, and that I could make of it what I wanted. It seemed like a strong, logical philosophy.

In my mid-twenties, I moved to the United States to go to university and to prepare for a life devoted to science. I enrolled in the physics program at Eastern Oregon University, located in the same little town where my brother and I had been born. As I began to experience life as an independent adult, I started to find Objectivism a barren and sterile philosophy.

It had failed to answer the big questions: What is the purpose of life? Where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens when we die?

It also suffers from an ironic lack of internal consistency. For all its focus on objective truth, the philosophy of Objectivism had no source for that truth except human opinion. And, for all their focus on enjoying life, Objectivists didn’t seem to experience any joy at all. Instead, they seemed preoccupied with angrily guarding their independence from all outside pressures.

I had been indirectly supporting the Ayn Rand Institute with a subscription to an Objectivist magazine, but by this time was starting to regret it. Even though I still thought Christianity was silly, ARI’s relentless bashing of Christians was starting to grow tiresome. And when one of ARI’s most prominent public figures mounted a public defense of partial-birth abortion as being “pro-life,” I canceled my support and no longer identified myself with the philosophy. I realized I had outgrown Objectivism.

I began to focus all of my energy on my studies, and became very dedicated to my physics and math courses. I joined campus clubs, started to make friends, and, for the first time in my life, I was meeting Christians. They weren’t like Objectivists—they were joyous and content. And, they were smart, too. I was astonished to find that my physics professors, whom I admired, were Christian. Their personal example began to have an influence on me, and I found myself growing less hostile to Christianity.

In the summer after my sophomore year, I participated in a physics research internship at the University of California – San Diego. For the first time in my life, I was no longer in the center of mass of science—the realm of long-accepted scientific truths—but had moved to the frontier of science, where new discoveries were being made.

I had joined a group in the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences (CASS) that was researching evidence for the big bang. The cosmic background radiation—the leftover radiation from the big bang—provides the strongest evidence for the theory, but cosmologists need other, independent lines of evidence to confirm it. My group was studying deuterium abundances in the early universe. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, and its abundance in the early universe is sensitive to the amount of ordinary mass contained in the entire universe. Believe it or not, this one measurement tells us whether the big bang model is correct.

If anyone is interested in how this works, I’ll describe it, but for now I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that an amazing convergence of physical properties is necessary in order to study deuterium abundances in the early universe, and yet this convergence is exactly what we get. I remember being astounded by this, blown away, completely and utterly awed. It seemed incredible to me that there was a way to find the answer to this question we had about the universe. In fact, it seems that every question we have about the universe is answerable. There’s no reason it has to be this way, and it made me think of Einstein’s observation that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it’s comprehensible. I started to sense an underlying order to the universe. Without knowing it, I was awakening to what Psalm 19 tells us so clearly, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

That summer, I’d picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and was reading it in my off hours. Previous to this, I’d only known it as an exciting story of revenge, since that’s what the countless movie and TV adaptations always focused on. But it’s more than just a revenge story, it’s a philosophically deep examination of forgiveness and God’s role in giving justice. I was surprised by this, and was starting to realize that the concept of God and religion was not as philosophically trivial as I had thought.

All of this culminated one day, as I was walking across that beautiful La Jolla campus. I stopped in my tracks when it hit me—I believed in God! I was so happy; it was like a weight had been lifted from my heart. I realized that most of the pain I’d experienced in my life was of my own making, but that God had used it to make me wiser and more compassionate. It was a great relief to discover that there was a reason for suffering, and that it was because God was loving and just. God could not be perfectly just unless I—just like everyone else—was made to suffer for the bad things I’d done.

For a while I was content to be a theist and didn’t pursue religion any further. I spent another very enjoyable summer with CASS, and then during my last year at EOU I met a man I liked very much, a computer science student from Finland. He’d been in the special forces in the Finnish Defense Force, and was just about the most off-the-wall character I’d ever met. But he was also a man of strength, honor, and deep integrity, and I found myself overwhelmingly drawn to those qualities. Like me, he’d grown up atheist in a secular country, but he’d come to embrace God and Jesus Christ as his personal savior in his early twenties through an intensely personal experience. We fell in love and got married. Somehow, even though I wasn’t religious myself, I was comforted to be marrying a Christian man.

I graduated with a degree in physics and math that year, and in the fall, I started graduate work in astrophysics at The University of Texas at Austin. My husband was a year behind me in his studies, so I moved to Austin by myself. The astrophysics program at UT was a much more rigorous and challenging environment than my little alma mater. The academic rigor, combined with the isolation I felt with my family and friends being so far away, left me feeling pretty discouraged.

Wandering through a bookstore one day, I saw a book called The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder. I was intrigued by the title, but something else compelled me to read it. Maybe it was the loneliness, and I was longing for a deeper connection with God. All I know is that what I read changed my life forever.

Dr. Schroeder is a unique individual—he is an MIT-trained physicist and also an applied theologian. He understands modern science, has read the ancient and medieval biblical commentaries, and is capable of translating the Old Testament from the ancient Hebrew. He was thus able to give a scientific analysis of Genesis 1. His work proved to me that Genesis 1 was scientifically sound, and not just a “silly myth” as atheists believed. I realized that, remarkably, the Bible and science agree completely. (If you’re interested in the details of this, you can either go through my slideshow here or read Dr. Schroeder’s book.)

Schroeder’s great work convinced me that Genesis is the inspired word of God. But something told me to keep going. If Genesis is literally true, then why not the Gospels, too? I read the Gospels, and found the person of Jesus Christ to be extremely compelling. I felt as Einstein did when he said he was “enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.” And yet I struggled, because I did not feel one hundred percent convinced of the Gospels in my heart. I knew of the historical evidence for their truth. And, of course, I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis. Intellectually, I knew the Bible to be true, and as a person of intellect, I had to accept it as truth, even if I didn’t feel it. That’s what faith is. As C. S. Lewis said, it is accepting something you know to be true in spite of your emotions. So, I converted. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.

Maybe that sounds coldly logical. It did to me, and for that reason, I sometimes worried whether my faith was real. And then I had a chance to find out a couple of years ago. That year started with my cancer diagnosis and an unpleasant course of treatment. Not long after, my husband fell ill with meningitis and encephalitis, and it was not clear if he would recover; we didn’t know if he would be paralyzed or worse. It took him about a month, but, thankfully, he did recover. At that time, we were expecting our first child, a baby girl. All seemed well until about six months, when our baby stopped growing. We found out she had Trisomy 18, a fatal chromosomal abnormality. Our daughter, Ellinor, was stillborn soon after.

It was the most devastating loss of our lives. For a while I despaired, and didn’t know how I could go on after the death of our daughter. But I finally had a clear vision of our little girl in the loving arms of her heavenly Father, and it was then that I had peace. I reflected that, after all these trials in one year, my husband and I were not only closer to each other, but also felt closer to God. My faith was real.

I don’t know how I would’ve coped with such trials when I was an atheist. When you’re twenty years old and healthy, and you have your family around you, you feel immortal. I never thought about my own death or the potential deaths of loved ones. But there comes a time when the feeling of immortality wanes, and you’re forced to confront the inevitability of not only your own annihilation, but that of your loved ones.

A few years ago, when I was researching an article on the nature of time, I was surprised to discover that only the Abrahamic faiths and their offshoots hold to linear time. All other religious traditions hold to cyclical time. Not only does cyclical time seem more intuitively correct—our lives are governed by many cycles in nature—but it offers a comforting connection to the Sacred through the eternal return. The modern, secular version of this is the Multiverse.

Georges Lemaître was a Belgian priest and physicist who solved Einstein’s general relativity equations and discovered that, contrary to the prevailing philosophy of the last 2,500 years, the universe wasn’t necessarily eternal and static. He discovered in his solution the mathematical evidence for an expanding universe, and pursued it vigorously. For that reason he’s considered the father of the big bang (which he called “the hypothesis of the primeval atom”). Shortly before he died, he was told that his hypothesis had been vindicated by the discovery of the cosmic background radiation, the most important prediction of the hypothesis. This discovery also vindicated the very first words of the Bible after 2,500 years of doubt—there was a beginning. And that beginning meant the universe had a transcendent cause, for nothing in nature is its own cause. Atheists have been dismayed by this and forced to retreat to the idea of the Multiverse.

The Multiverse idea posits that there is a huge number—possibly an infinite number—of parallel universes. It’s an interesting, but ultimately unscientific, idea. Science can only study what we can observe in this Universe. It cannot ever hope to study the Multiverse. Nevertheless, some atheists cling to the idea, because it’s the only serious alternative to God as the creative force behind the Universe and it’s a way to cope with mortality in the absence of God. The problem is, most proponents of the Multiverse haven’t seriously explored its logical implications. I think, when they do, their worldview leads to despair.

Hugh Everett is an example of this. He was a brilliant physicist who is known for what’s called the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. He sought to explain the strange, almost mystical, effects of the quantum world by rejecting its dependence on probabilities. He proposed instead that every possible outcome of every experiment really happens, but they happen in alternate universes. This was the first scientific incarnation of the Multiverse.

Everett was not motivated solely by mathematics. He understood the implications of his atheist beliefs, and was looking for a way to escape the annihilation that is inevitable in the atheist worldview. For him, the Many Worlds idea was a form of immortality. He wanted to believe that there were an infinite number of Hugh Everetts, all inhabiting these alternate universes, because it was a way to avoid the terror of annihilation. But, as Jesus told us, we must judge a tree by its fruits. Everett’s worldview did not appear to offer him, or his family, any real comfort. He was a depressed alcoholic who ate, drank, and smoked himself to death at the age of 51. His daughter committed suicide years later, and indicated in her suicide note that she hoped she would end up in the same parallel universe as her father.

In the Multiverse, we are not unique; there are many “copies” of each of us. If it’s real, then we have lived, and will live, an infinite number of lives. In fact, we have already lived this exact life an infinite number of times. All those lives are lost and pointless. We will live them an infinite number of times again. Everett and others who believe in the Multiverse have not conquered death; they think they’ve found a way to cheat it, but this form of “immortality” is really just a prison from which there is no escape. Does that sound awful to you? It sounds awful to me. As with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the Multiverse is ultimately barren of hope and purpose.

I do not believe we are locked in that sort of prison. But the only way we are free is if the universe and everything in it was created, not by some unconscious mechanism, but by a personal being—the God of the Bible. The only way our lives are unique, purposeful, and eternal is if a loving God created us.

****

I love my career as an astrophysicist. I can’t think of anything I would rather do than study the workings of the universe, and I realize now that my lifelong fascination with space has really been an intense longing for a connection with God (“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” [Romans 1:20]). But I also feel a strong calling to minister to others through this same work.

I will never forget the student who got me started on this path. When I was a graduate student, not long after I had converted to Christianity, I was leading a help session for an astronomy course, and we were going over big bang cosmology. After the session, the student came to me and asked, very timidly, if it was okay to be a scientist and believe in God. I told her, of course; I was a scientist and believed in God. She was visibly relieved, and told me that one of her professors in another department had said she couldn’t be religious and believe in science, too. I was haunted by this, and wondered how many other young people were struggling with similar questions about science and faith. I decided to help others who are struggling with doubts. I also wanted to help people answer false atheist arguments confidently. I’ve struggled with this, because I know it will be a difficult road to travel. But the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice leaves no doubt about what I have to do.

When I was in the process of becoming a believer, two things drew me to God—the overwhelming evidence of his involvement in the physical world and his perfect justice. I can help people to see God’s handiwork in the physical world, but I am not capable of perfect justice. None of us are. God’s perfect justice demanded atonement for sin, but because of our flawed nature, we aren’t capable of atonement. God sent his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, to atone for us. Jesus was crucified, He died and was buried, and on the third day He rose. Perfect justice was achieved.

Jesus triumphed over temptation, sin, and death. If we choose to accept the gift of salvation, we are reconciled to God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whomsoever believes in Him should not perish but have life everlasting.” (John 3:16) I don’t know who you are, dear reader, or what your background is. Perhaps you are a believer; if so, you already know the power of those words. But if you are still seeking God, perhaps you will choose, as I did, to accept this great gift of salvation and be reconciled to God.

Not dead, just in a coma

The blog, that is. I’m busy working on several projects, the biggest of which will be, well, BIG. Once that’s well in hand, I very much plan to revive the blog with a few new features.

Meanwhile, I’ve re-opened the comments so that those of you who want to say hi or ask questions or whatever can drop me a line.

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.

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