It’s back!

After a lengthy absence, the Six Days of Genesis slide show is finally back. It’s been updated and refined, and is on a new hosting service. It looks to be working on most browsers, but please let me know in the comments if you have any problems viewing it.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we try to clear up some confusion about Genesis and time dilation.

EC writes:

With regard to your time dilation theory… How would the mechanics of this work on a local level? With the expansion and the moving away from the rest of the mass, time slows down is the basics of it, right?

If time is slowing down, are other “constants” changing at the same rate? For example, would gravity be affected differently? What I am wondering is, how to reconcile the needed days in this time if its simply apparent time with the motion of the planets themselves. If time was moving faster due to greater mass, but the planets were not moving faster, then days would be much much longer. If planets were moving faster, then gravity would have to be stronger in relation to the dilation or the planets and other bodies would leave each other, which obviously hasn’t happened.

Perhaps I am missing something, but I seem to be stuck here.

Schroeder’s time dilation reconciliation of Genesis 1 with modern science seems to confuse a lot of people. Part of the problem is that relativity is weird, non-intuitive, and confuses just about everyone. I can say to you in words that time dilation is just the stretching of the flow of time in one frame of reference relative to another, but it’s not very relatable in terms of everyday experiences. The best I could do is to say something like this: what is an hour for you is really two hours for me. Or if you’ve seen the movie Contact, you might remember that time dilation was used to explain how Dr. Arroway could experience several hours on another planet while the observers back on Earth experienced only a few seconds.

Besides the fact that it’s just weird, probably the most confusing thing about time dilation is that it can arise from three different things:

• relative velocity
• relative gravity
• stretching of space as the universe expands.

Even though it confuses some people, Schroeder and I both like to use practical examples of relativity that have nothing to do with Genesis, because it demonstrates that time dilation is a real thing and not just some wacky mathematical idea. For instance, time dilation due to relative velocity explains how particles called muons can be produced in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and time dilation due to relative gravity explains the very slight difference in the flow of time on board global positioning satellites compared with the surface of the Earth. When I tell audiences in my lectures that without accounting for differences in the flow of time due to gravity, GPS would be useless, it impresses on them that relativity is real.

However, the cost of this is that these examples seem to stick in people’s minds once we switch over to discussing the flow of time and Genesis. So, what I want you to do is this. Remember from those examples that relativity is real, and then forget the rest. Then, when anyone talks about using time dilation to reconcile Genesis 1 and modern science, remember that it is solely due to the fact that the universe is expanding. It doesn’t have anything to do with relative speed or gravity.

The way it works is that we use the wave nature of light as the beat of the cosmic clock. Since light waves traveling through space get stretched out as the universe expands, that shows us how the flow of cosmic time is stretched out compared with earlier times in the universe’s history. Every time the universe doubles in scale as it’s expanding — that is, every time the distance between very far away galaxies doubles in size — the flow of time is stretched out by a factor of two compared with when the universe was half its present scale. This means, as the universe gets more and more stretched out, the flow of time gets slower and slower compared with earlier times. This is how you reconcile six Genesis days with 14 billion years.

A scientific model that predicts everything predicts nothing

If you’re not following Steve Goddard on Twitter or reading his stuff at Real Science, you should be. He posts a veritable flood of evidence pointing to global warming / human-caused climate change as manufactured nonsense. Yesterday, he Tweeted this.

It made me laugh, because it’s an effective lampooning of the most significant scientific problem with climate science — specifically, the part of climate science that claims human activity is changing the climate — which is its lack of predictive power.

If you read the news, it seems like climate change advocates are blaming everything on climate change. It’s warmer this summer than it was last year — climate change! It’s colder than we expected this spring — climate change! We’re getting record levels of snow — climate change! We’re getting the exact same number of hurricanes this season as we did a hundred years ago — climate change!

This is why climate change activists changed the terminology from “global warming” to “climate change.” Did you notice that bit of sleight of hand? Nobody except for those stuck in 20th century terminology refers to global warming anymore. This is because the average person was, not unreasonably, starting to wonder how global warming could account for every sort of climate phenomenon, including record cold temperatures. But everyone knows the climate has been changing since forever, so it doesn’t sound as nonsensical to attribute everything to climate change instead of global warming.

The problem with this is that any scientific model that predicts everything predicts nothing. The power of a scientific model is its ability to accurately and specifically predict what will happen given a set of inputs. Can you imagine how useless Newton’s universal law of gravity would be if it gave you every possible answer to the question of what the force of gravity is between two bodies of specific mass and at a specific separation? But that’s not much different than the current state of climate science.

As a scientist, I’ve been asked several times what it would take for me to believe that human-caused climate change is real. The answer is simple: evidence. The most powerful evidence would be predictive models that work. I would like to see models that accurately predict temperature trends, hurricane activity, rise in sea levels, and anything else that is currently attributable to climate change for ten years, based on a set of anticipated levels of “human activity.” Climate scientists would create their models, make their predictions based on how much CO2 human activity is pumping into the atmosphere, and then we all see how accurately these predictions match the data for the next ten years.

Now, in order for me to be sure that these models and the data are accurately reflecting reality, I would need to see these results replicated by different groups who are not affiliated with each other. I would also need scientific transparency. I would need the climate models and the raw, unprocessed data as well as the processed data to be made freely available to anyone who requests them. And I would need a detailed explanation of how the data are processed for analysis.

I would feel significantly more confident in these models and data if climate change advocates would stop claiming “the science is settled,” emphasizing the bogus consensus, and demonizing people who are skeptical of climate change. No more labeling skeptics as “deniers,” and there must be a halt to egregious nonsense like threats from government officials to prosecute climate change skeptics.

If the models and data check out, and the models correctly anticipate temperature trends, hurricane activity, rise in sea levels, and anything else that is currently attributable to climate change for at least ten years, and climate change proponents stop behaving in a hysterical and unethical way, then I’ll believe human-caused climate change is real.

You can generalize all this and apply to any field of science to determine if it’s legitimate science:

• Do the models have predictive power?
• Do the models of different groups of scientists produce similar results?
• Are the models made available to others by request?
• Are the raw and processed data made available to others by request?
• Are the models and data deemed legitimate by others not affiliated with the scientists who promote them?
• Do proponents respond to reasonable skepticism with answers to objections instead of scorn, derision, and hysteria?

If the answer to ALL of these questions is YES, then you have a legitimate science.

My problem with climate science — the reason I am skeptical that human activity is changing the earth’s climate — is that, currently, the answer is NO to all of these questions.

Bill Nye the ignorant guy

A philosophy student asks Bill Nye what he thinks about other science popularizers, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking, dismissing philosophy as unimportant:

While Nye claims in his response that philosophy raises “cool questions,” he essentially dismisses it, and in a manner that betrays an ignorance of essential Western philosophy. A writer at Quark describes his statements as “ludicrously wrong” and explains why philosophy is, in fact, relevant not only to science but to our everyday lives.

What stood out to me in Nye’s dismissal of philosophy was his skepticism of the idea that “reality isn’t real or that what you sense and feel is not authentic.” Most of us do indeed go about our daily lives on the assumption that what we sense and feel is authentic, but that doesn’t mean we can dismiss the idea that it’s all an illusion. So, why does Nye dismiss it? Because he can drop a hammer on his foot and feel the sensation of pain.

I’m a little astonished that a Science Guy would use such an example to address one of the most fundamental questions in philosophy, given that it’s not only a logical fallacy, but demonstrably, scientifically flawed. Amputees experience a sensation known as phantom pain in limbs that no longer exist, and neurological experiments have been able to create the sensation of touch by directly stimulating the brain. The sensations exist in both cases, but are those experiences authentic? Not by Nye’s definition.

I’m also a little astonished that a Science Guy would ignore one of the most fundamental scientific arguments against the authenticity of experience, which is the Boltzmann Brain idea. The Boltzmann Brain idea is a version of the brain-in-a-vat argument that has been popularized by the Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, who makes frequent use of it in debates with atheists. The idea is that in the absence of a personal entity creating the universe, it’s statistically much more likely that atoms in the universe would spontaneously arrange themselves into brains that hallucinate having experiences than that these same atoms would spontaneously arrange themselves into the vast, complex, and ordered structure we observe in the universe. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if we are merely Boltzmann Brains, then the sensations we think we’re experiencing are nothing more than the atoms in our brains, for physical or chemical reasons, arranging themselves in a certain way that give us as a by-product these sensations. The question of whether this is the case goes beyond a simple inability to disprove it; it’s much more likely to be true if the material universe is all that there is.

The only way you can be reasonably certain that you’re not just a brain in a vat is to assume that a personal entity — God — created the universe, an assumption I’m reasonably certain Nye, the avowed agnostic, rejects. Nye is therefore entirely unjustified in dismissing the idea that reality might not be real or that experiences may not be authentic. This is why philosophers have been discussing the nature of reality and experience for thousands of years. It’s also why science could only have arisen from the Christian worldview.

Now, here’s the punchline for the agnostic Science Guy who dismisses the importance of philosophy in favor of the “realism” of science. When you understand the big questions of philosophy sufficiently well, you understand why belief in God is necessary for science to even exist.

Online Astronomy Course

I am pleased to announce that I will be teaching an online astronomy course through Castalia House, likely this coming fall. This will be a 12-week course that surveys important topics in astronomy, including the philosophy of science, some history of astronomy, the night sky, seasons, moon phases, eclipses, atoms and spectra, the solar system, stars and stellar remnants, observational astronomy, galaxies, the big bang, the fate of the universe, and multiverses, string theory, and other controversies in cosmology.

This is a modern science course taught by a credentialed astrophysicist, and includes both historical perspective and cutting edge science. If you are fascinated by the night sky, and want to learn more about nature’s grand spectacle, this is the course for you. There is no prerequisite, and the course will be mostly at the conceptual level, but students may find that a bit of rudimentary algebra is helpful.

The format of the course is a weekly 90 minute video lecture followed by optional Q&A, reading assignments and night sky exercises (no telescope required), and periodic quizzes to assess your understanding. The course will be offered on a graded, pass/fail, or audit basis. Students who successfully take the course graded or pass/fail will receive a certificate of completion.

If there’s interest, future courses could include: introductory conceptual physics, modern conceptual physics (relativity, quantum mechanics, nuclear and particle physics), and the Bible and science.

A brief biographical sketch of the professor: I received a B.A. in physics (minor in mathematics) from Eastern Oregon University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Texas at Austin. I am currently a research scientist at a major research institution, where I study nature’s most extreme objects: quasars and supermassive black holes. I am also a visiting professor of physics at a liberal arts university, where I have taught astronomy and physics for several years. I am a devoted Christian who was inspired to convert from atheism to Christianity through my scientific work, and continue to find inspiration in the convergence of Christian belief and modern science.

Is God’s word difficult to understand? Part II

A reader sent in a question about the difficulty of understanding God’s word. In Part I, Surak clarified and explained how easy it is for the average Christian to acquire the scientific understanding needed to defend scripture. In Part II, Sarah discusses the inherent difficulty (or not) of understanding God’s word.

TF writes:

I had a question, but wanted to let you know first that I stumbled upon your website when I read Sarah Salviander’s testimony and watched the well-done slideshow that accompanied it.  I then read the website’s FAQ, several articles, and lots of comments over several weeks.

After reading more than I thought I would, I have a question that keeps nagging at me:  Is truth hard to understand or easy?  I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination (I’m a pastor) but I’ve always loved science, especially when I can connect the dots between my faith and God’s creation.  For most of my life, I’ve held a pretty simplistic view of our world as a result of reading God’s Word, but after substantial reading on your website I feel like my head is going to explode :)  I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but most of it is fascinating and really well-thought out/researched.  My problem is that it is so hard for a person like me to understand (and I think I’m on the average part of the intelligence scale so the majority of the population would be in the same boat as I am).

So would God make the truth about his creation so complicated that only someone well versed in relativity, Hebrew translations, genetics, and 5 or 6 other fields of study could understand it?  Or would God make the truth about his creation simple enough for all to understand?

I’m not saying God is simple or easy to understand or that he wouldn’t want to give us lots of things for even the most intelligent people to discover and ponder over a lifetime, but wouldn’t God make truths as foundational as “where we come from” and “how this world was created” accessible to everyone rather than just a tiny percentage of super intelligent people?

If the truth of creation is as complicated as what it is on your website, I’m afraid I have no chance of ever explaining it to anyone.  If that is the case, then it seems like God made the truth of creation hard to understand and left most people hopelessly in the dark.  Or have we complicated things and there is a truth that is easier for all to access?

When Jesus (who was the embodiment of all God’s truth/love/mercy/etc.) came he was accessible to all, not just the most intelligent, wise, pious, powerful, etc.  He made God’s truth intelligible to even the poor, uneducated of his day, so I tend to think that God would make an important truth like creation accessible to someone as average as me as well.

So what do you think – is the truth (about creation) hard to understand or easy to understand?  And why?

My response to TF and everyone else who shares his concern is this. How much effort a person has to make to understand the scientific truth about God’s creation depends on two things. First, if someone wants to understand just for himself, the truth is really simple: the opening statement of the Bible and modern scientific agree that our universe had a beginning and was created from nothing. That magnificent truth gained from scripture and confirmed by science is enough understanding to make sense out of the world and our place in it. Everything else is just details.

However, if you aspire to help others find the scientific truth about God and his works, you will have to make a greater effort, because there are many questions about the universe that confuse and trouble other people. As soon as you try to help these people, you will encounter the second problem that makes understanding more difficult. Those who accept the responsibility to scientifically minister to others will encounter individuals and groups who deliberately make understanding more difficult for everyone.

I once spent a frustrating two hours watching a debate between Hugh Ross and Kent Hovind, and much of the discussion centered around this very question. Hugh Ross is a Christian astrophysicist who believes, as I do, that the universe and the Earth are billions of years old. Kent Hovind is a Young-Earth Creationist who claims the Bible says the Earth is just a few thousand years old. The debate centered on the age of the Earth, and how we know what it is.

Hovind stubbornly rejected nearly everything Ross offered as evidence. As a scientist, I can tell you that the evidence Ross offered was scientifically sound and compelling. In fact, Ross’s work is on the cutting edge of scientific efforts to understand the place of humankind in the universe God created. But, Hovind rejected the evidence out of hand and showed no respect for modern science.

One point Hovind repeatedly insisted on during the debate was that people in possession of what he called “special knowledge: about scripture and the world are gurus who are promoting cults, not Christian faith. Hovind implied Ross is a “guru” promoting a “cult” form of Christianity simply because Ross relies heavily on scientific understanding and careful translations of ancient Hebrew to interpret Genesis the way he does.

It is troubling that Hovind regards the study of God’s creation and the study of God’s word in the Old Testament as somehow wrong. His attitude is reminiscent of the Medieval age when science was first getting started, and dogmatic people accused the new scientists of sorcery and witchcraft for their efforts to understand physics, chemistry, and biology. Hovind’s resistance to science has a very primitive feel to it.

Hovind must know that a “guru” is someone who claims to have special knowledge that only they can achieve through some higher spiritual power. The special knowledge of a guru can only be passed down in mystic ways from one guru to the next. The claims of a scholar or scientist are in sharp contrast to those of a guru. The deep knowledge of a scholar is something that is attainable by anyone who has the inclination and time to pursue it — no special spiritual powers are required. Scientific knowledge is something that can be accumulated and passed on from one scholar to another in a rational, testable, non-mystical manner.

I don’t believe TF is making the same point Hovind did, that the knowledge needed to interpret Genesis the way I do is “special.” Hovind is intellectually dishonest, and he was not debating in good faith. He demonstrated no openness to being persuaded by any amount of evidence. On the contrary, he used any means he could to undermine and dismiss the evidence. Science has served humankind so well because it has one ironclad rule — go where the evidence takes you. Hovind is not willing.

I know that TF is asking an honest and important question: is the truth of the Bible accessible to everyone? After all, not everyone has the deep, scholarly knowledge required to discover Schroeder’s interpretation of Genesis or to fully understand it. Does this mean the truth of creation is complex and hard to understand? The answer is both yes and no. I’ll start with the no and then explain the yes.

The truth of creation is not difficult to understand

The essential and fundamental truth of creation is not difficult to understand. God makes the essentials — the things you really need to know to be saved — understandable by everyone. These essentials are:

1. God is the sovereign Creator of all things.
2. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and through Him we have eternal life.

There is, of course, much more that can be said about the meaning and purpose of the Christian faith, but if a person understood only these two essentials and really believed them, that’s all he would need to be saved.

In terms of the first essential, all a person has to do is read the first few words of the Bible to understand that God is the sovereign Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s it. But it’s such a simple and self-evident concept that a person doesn’t even strictly need a Bible to come to this conclusion.

In my testimony, I explained how, despite virtually no contact with the Christian faith, I arrived at the conclusion that God created everything all on my own, just by looking at the physical world around me. Everything we see in the physical world is testimony to God’s sovereignty. (This is straight out of Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20.)

And, if a person reads a little bit about astronomy and physics, he will find that even the simplest understanding of big bang cosmology is sufficient to support the idea of God as the sovereign Creator. The big bang tells us there was a beginning to the universe, therefore it was created. The Creator logically must exist beyond the universe, must necessarily be beyond the limits of space and time, and is therefore a non-corporeal and timeless entity — is that not a basic description of God? A person doesn’t need a degree in physics or fluency in Hebrew to understand the profoundest truth about God and His creation.

As for the second essential, all we have to do is read the Gospels to understand it. As TF pointed out, Jesus made the truth intelligible to everyone. At the most fundamental level, these two essentials are what a Christian needs to know, and both are completely understandable by anyone.

The truth of creation is difficult to understand

So, if the essentials are all we need to be saved, why bother to search for hidden meanings or deeper truths in scripture, especially if they’re so difficult? The answer is that we make the effort in order to fulfill our Christian mission of growing closer to God. God wants us to make a constant effort to know him, so he challenges us. Knowing God should be a lifelong pursuit. Most of us know from experience that the more valuable a thing, the more difficult it is to attain.

God made his truth very simple when it comes to understanding our relationship to him and how we are to be saved. But, God also made us curious for a reason. People should be most curious about their maker. It is important that we always have questions about him as we are seeking him. People need to feel restless about their understanding of God to avoid becoming complacent. We should never become so arrogant that we feel we’ve reached some ultimate level of understanding. Our lack of understanding reminds us to be humble before our Creator.

Christian author, Frank Viola, listed several “shocking” beliefs of St. Augustine, and this one is relevant here: “If you are going to teach Scripture, you must have a knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, music, science, history, the liberal arts, and a mastery of dialectics (the science of disputing).” This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in all of these things (which is impossible anyway), but it does mean you are obligated to have a broad knowledge that encompasses these things.

The study of the Bible and the world is more difficult for those who aspire to teach others. Ministering to others is a great calling and a heavy responsibility that requires one’s best efforts. Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lifetime of university-level study, but it does require some basic proficiency.

There was a time when I wanted to become proficient in ancient Hebrew so that I could really delve into Genesis, but I soon realized I have neither the time nor the inclination. Instead, I rely on the work of Hebrew scholars to determine the nuanced meaning of certain Hebrew passages. This doesn’t mean I’m off the hook — this still requires familiarizing myself with the basics of Hebrew and the methods scholars use to determine meaning from ancient texts. Even though I will never become anywhere near as proficient as someone like Gleason Archer, I’ve learned enough to evaluate the credibility of what the scholars are saying.

Some people balk at the idea of relying on experts, but the way I see it is this. God gave us Biblical scholars and scientists, just as God gave us engineers, physicians, craftsmen, musicians, storytellers, and every other type of person we need to have a functioning civilization. These are people who have the desire and God-given talent for doing specific things very well so that we don’t each have to try to master everything ourselves.

God made us into social beings for this reason. We are admonished to love one another, and part of loving is trusting each other and working together. So, I accept the honest efforts of other scientists and scholars and do my best to build on it. I know that people are fallible in their understanding of scripture and the world, but in general scientists help each other to correct mistakes and make steady progress in the search for God’s truth.

So my message to TF and all of those who doubt their ability to understand God and his works through science is this. You have willingly taken on the role of a teacher. God loves you for your honest question and your genuine desire to know. Your lack of confidence in the face of such a great challenge is understandable, but you cannot fail as long as you keep trying. Every step on the path to understanding God and his works is a triumph. It is a testimony to your commitment that you will never know enough to satisfy your desire to know God. It is enough that you will be able to help others who share your holy desire.

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. — Proverbs 25:2.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the scientific method in terms of the gospels and one beginning.

PS writes:

Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. I find the Biblical notion of the Gospel very intriguing, as well as current notions within the field of cosmology.

1. When doing science, we employ the scientific method to arrive at a particular degree of certainty for a given problem. How does belief in Jesus differ? Are we to use the same scientific method when assessing the veracity of the Gospel? Or is there another method, rigorously defined and assessed, that we can employ?

2. To what degree of certainty does the average professional cosmologist think space/time had a single beginning? I think I’ve noted that cosmologist who actually study this notion are not very dogmatic.

3. What percentage of actual cosmologists hold to a high degree of certainty (95%?) that space/time had a single beginning?

4. What degree of certainty do you have that the Gospel is true? Is it possible for you to change your mind in the future?

Sorry if these are tough questions, but I’ve been very curious about these notions for a long time.

The eminent cosmologist and professor of philosophy, Michael Heller, points out in his book, Ultimate Explanations of the Universe, that the scientific method has proved so powerful a tool for investigating the physical world that there is a tendency to misapply it by extending its use to anything a person might wish to study. However, the scientific method is not only not applicable to everything we could ever want to investigate, it’s not even applicable to the majority of things we could ever want to investigate.

1. The scientific method is not applicable to the gospels. We couldn’t use science to test them any more than we could use science to test the historical claims about George Washington or Alexander the Great. Instead, we apply the legal-historical method to determine if the claims about Jesus in the gospels are true. My friend, J. Warner Wallace, who is a homicide detective and skilled apologist, explains this approach in his book, Cold Case Christianity.

2. Presumably PS is referring to a cyclical model in which the universe bangs, expands, contracts, and crunches, over and over, possibly for eternity, but the question isn’t answerable as written. We can assign a certainty to something like the measured age of the universe, but not to something that is beyond our ability to measure. Theoretical cosmologists have attempted to come up with models that take the current physical evidence and fit it into a cyclical timeline, and these do have some testable aspects. In terms of the physical evidence, however, there is no support for multiple beginnings, and the models just don’t work. It looks like we’re stuck with one beginning.

3. I have no idea. But, as the link above shows, the best and the brightest in theoretical cosmology have not been able to make cyclical models work. In terms of the models and evidence, the cyclical universe is currently a dead end. That doesn’t mean some cosmologists won’t hold to it for personal or philosophical reasons.

4. I can’t quantify it, but I’m as certain about the claims of the gospels as I am of the claims about other major historical events that are widely accepted, which is to say very certain. Enough to bet my life on it. It’s always possible for me to change my mind about something, given sufficient evidence.

Image: Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

He is risen!

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:11-18

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the timeline of Genesis events and why so many Christians believe in a young universe.