Where it all Started

I am going to preface this post by saying I need to give myself a self-imposed ban from AiG. I mean, I know there are people who like it when I write things (at least, they tell me they do…), so maybe I should go back more often–but as it stands, every post I read sparks something that I feel I need to write down. And then I make multiple posts in a single day, and there is no stemming the tide, and eventually people decide I am too wordy and never come back.

That is a concern for another day; my concern right now is the true root of the issue, the point that Ken Ham has tried to hammer home with the force of one thousand suns, and which seems to slide by so many people unnoticed. Certainly, it slid by me unnoticed; I’ve written about this very issue, but somehow missed the point over and over and over again. Certainly, it is an application of Occam’s actual razor; not the popular iteration (easiest solution is best solution), as that iteration is: a) not Occam’s razor, and b) leads to very incorrect application.

Occam’s razor states that among competing interpretations of the same data, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be taken as correct. Now, the razor is non-binding, meaning a more complicated solution could be correct, but let’s grab this idea and run with it for a second. In the article I was reading, the writer makes reference to Bill Nye’s assumptions muddying the waters of good science. So you know what? Let’s step back and think about some assumptions.

I’d like to start with the very beginning of the universe. How did the universe start? Well, we have the two primary competing theories, that the universe was created, pitted against the idea of the Big Bang.

What are the assumptions underlying each? Well, we can start with offsetting assumptions; the Christian will assume a God, and the scientist will assume the matter involved in the Big Bang. No points to either side, there. We move along, the YEC assumes that the universe had very different laws in the first six days of creation; this can be inferred easily by the fact that plant life was created before the Sun; you have to assume that plants had some system that allowed them to live without sunlight, or that God is in fact a leading source of your daily UV intake (something that seems silly to me, but whatever). What about the assumption that physics somehow supported a Hydrosphere above our current atmosphere that contained all of the water that now covers the Earth? We also assume that modern biology (less than 6,000 years old) somehow survived the pressure of the atmosphere getting cut not just in half, but probably more than that. Those are some large assumptions.

Obviously, someone may come back saying that the Big Bang is an assumption that things happened and then stuff existed, but I think you are making an error of judgment in making that call. We didn’t start from the assumption that the big bang existed, we took the relative velocities of hundreds of thousands of galaxies (more than that now, but we are talking the early days of the theory), and performed a ton of mathematical equations on them. Doing the math, then applying it in reverse with respect to time, we end up at a singularity.

“Ah!” You may counter. “But what about the geologists who assume an old universe?” Thank you for conveniently bringing that up right when I needed it, theoretical reader who doesn’t exist probably!

They don’t assume an old universe; they defer to an expert. To clarify, any geologist could go to a cosmologist, and ask to see the math that indicates the universe is old, and get an educated answer.

“AHA!” You reply with great vehemence. “How is that different from me deferring to God as an expert on all things?”

Deferring to God (or the Bible, but there’s another assumption; you are assuming the truth of a book that claims it is true, a bit of semi-circular reasoning I discussed with fervor yesterday) is not like a geologist deferring to a cosmologist. A cosmologist can show their work; the answer provided by the Bible doesn’t show work, it doesn’t explain the physics. Does the Bible explain how the plants lived without the Sun? No, we have to make that assumption. Aw man, assumptions are piling up on the YEC side.

Now, we do the math in reverse until we arrive very near to the singularity. We aren’t there yet, don’t have all of the answers we need, but do you know what? We don’t assume the answer. Tomorrow, we may find some evidence that proves us wrong. But do you know what? You know what is really funny? We make so many fewer assumptions, despite the YEC tendency to assume wild amounts of things. How about some other assumptions that underlie the 6000 year cosmology?

Assumption: God is infallible.
Assumption: The Bible is infallible.
Assumption: God exists outside of time.
Assumption: The rules of science change to fit your view.
Assumption: Humans wrote down the Bible correctly.
Assumption: Translators made no errors. (We can pretty much objectively prove this false, and easily so in the case of the KJV)

Oh, I am not going to get on an arrogant horse and say that science makes no assumptions. We just make fewer. For example, in the Big Bang example I’ve been using, I have to rely on math. We have to assume 1+1=2, for without the ground work what good does it do us? But beyond that, all math is basically a function of that truth. We don’t make assumptions regarding the data, we make analyses of the data; analyses that we do not necessarily posit to be infallible, but which work best with what we know.

So try to find assumptions. The age of the Earth? While this is built upon the pillar of an Old Universe cosmology, it does not assume an Old Earth. The better part is that it doesn’t assume a lot of science you seem to think we assume; do we assume carbon dating works? No, we match carbon dating to things that are easier to quantify. Things like tree rings. “Ah, but you assume that tree rings happen once per year! AHA!” Not necessarily, friend; we know that there are certain rare cases where tree rings form at different rates, but they are just that–rare. But even then, we don’t rely on tree rings; we also correlate those to ice layers. “AHA! But you assume ice layers form at regular rates!” I wish you’d stop interrupting me like that, reader, it is slowing us down. Ice layers don’t necessarily form at rates of one per year either, but even in cases where they form faster, we can tell which year they formed in.

“HOW YOU DO DAT?!”

Reader, I feel like you are getting petulant. Well, it should come as no surprise that temperatures are changing on the planet, even if you don’t believe humans are doing it, and with that (correlating data, not causal data) the CO2 levels are changing. The atmosphere plays a part in the composition of ice, the carbon levels in the ice, for example. So if five ice layers form in a year, but all have the exact (p<.001, we’ll say) same levels of carbon in them, we can infer that they happened in the same year. But we don’t rely on that, assume that, either.

What we have done, though, is tied these pieces of evidence into a giant circle. It is a piece of circular reasoning, of course; we know the age based on tree rings because that lines up with the age based on ice cores because that lines up with carbon dating because that lines up with coral deposits because that lines up with ice ages because that lines up with crust deposits moved by glaciation because those line up with tree rings. The YEC strategy seems to be to knock out one pillar, and assume the whole structure will come crashing down. But you know what? This calls for my trademark MSPaint skills.

SCIENCE!

SCIENCE!

They seem to believe that if they remove one element, it will all fall apart, but that is clearly not the case. If you remove one, or two, there are still one hundred pieces left, held up by the other 99 pieces that all paint the same picture.

We don’t make the assumption that these are all correct, but I will give you that we assume that at least one of the million pieces of the puzzle is correct. If one is correct, then we have an old earth.

The issue is that you only have one piece of the puzzle, upon which everything relies. If we prove that one piece wrong, that one single piece, what will you fall back on? Keep attacking our science with your arguments, that is OK; science gets stronger as we learn more, and if you find a true flaw science will grow stronger for repairing it.

The problem is for every discovery we make, there are fewer pieces of the Bible to lean on. The issue is your “rock solid” stance that the Bible should never change; as it crumbles below you, you stand firm, until the day it is gone and your world falls apart — and I believe that day will come.

If the foundations we build upon crumble, we either repair them or move. There have been thousands of theories and hypothesis that have been jettisoned for their incorrectness. There have been thousands of flaws pointed out that took brand new branches of math and science to fill. We could not describe the universe without calculus, and before calculus existed we did not understand — but instead of being satisfied that “God did it,” Isaac Newton discovered an entirely new form of math to describe the solar system, and new discoveries are made every day, hundreds of years later.

Isaac Newton didn’t have all the answers, though; famously, when considering the Solar System, he could not make the math work, and even that great mind said “Well, God did it!” But minds that followed, minds that stood on the shoulders of that giant, discovered greater shoots off of that great branch of science that allowed us to describe the universe better.

Do we know what happened to start the Big Bang? No. Do we know the physics of the Big Bang? No.

But we stand on the shoulders of the greatest minds in history, and we move closer to that knowledge every day. Your standing there, shouting “We have the answer, stop looking!” will put you on the wrong side of history.

Your religion may never put you on the wrong side of history, and I think it is incredibly important to mention that. Isaac Newton was a religious man, wildly so — he was an alchemist, and that turned out to be wildly incorrect (and probably shortened his life), but he is on the right side of history and science, while still being religious.

So take your religion in hand, because sitting down and screaming that you won’t believe science will make you look, in historical retrospect, exactly like a child throwing a tantrum in a public space.

You can believe as you wish, but stop making one thousand assumptions, then accusing science of making a single assumption. I think there was a Bible verse that said that exact thing in almost the same words. 

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Slightly too Complicated for Children

More reading down the anti-science hole, I came across a blog post by Ken Ham (PBUH), prophet of the Young Earth Movement. I didn’t find it overly offensive for the most part, it mostly was just him reiterating the Young Earth Script–but eventually I came across a line that kind of caught my attention: “… Children can easily see that complicated life can’t be built up on the basis of mistakes…”  Yes, but can they see why kids love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?!

The reason that line jumped out at me is that it is so disingenuous it hurts, as though Ken Ham is trying to imply that all complicated science should be understood by children. I would argue this isn’t the case. An example, perhaps: Spacex is launching a rocket with a probe on it, and I am sure kids don’t understand the physics that go into that. You know what that means, right? It means God did it. God launched that rocket. The thousands upon thousands of man hours that went into it? NASA just made those man hours up. Kids could launch a rocket, if they just something something GOD.

Or how about the drastic oversimplification of the theory of evolution? I know how they do love to stand on the crutches of “Observational Science,” but there are some deep flaws in their idea of what constitutes this version of science that they themselves created. First, they seem to be of the mind that since we have never seen it, it can’t happen. Life from non-life? That’s crazy. Life from the word of the mouth of an eternal being? Totally a more viable solution. Again, though, the subtext is important; “We have the answer so YOU HAVE TO STOP LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER.”

They are right, we haven’t managed to create life in the lab yet. We don’t necessarily know how it started. But ignorance is both the best friend of science, and its worst enemy; ignorance lets us know where we have to look to find new knowledge, but it is also something to be eradicated over time. Science has been a powerful force for only 150 years; in the grand scheme of cosmic evolution, I would need to invoke a LOT of leading zeroes to give you the percentage of history that covers. Even in your 6000 year cosmology, we have only really been using science (as we’d understand it in the modern era) for only 2.5% of history, and you expect us to have all of the answers? And of course, if we admit even once that we don’t have the answer, you claim some sort of victory, as though the sum of all human discourse has all of the maturity and gravity of some middle school playground.

The funny thing, the thing that makes me laugh, is the petulance on display. If they would just sit back and let us “do science,” as the common parlance goes, maybe we’d discover that they were right all along. Obviously, I think that is (at best) very unlikely, but if they are so overwhelmingly confident, why do they act like they are being pushed around so badly? Theirs is the type of confidence (arrogance) that should be able to step aside, a knowing glint in their eye, as the children find all the answers on their own. Surely, with that level of confidence, they could trust that we would all arrive at their conclusion eventually.

And there’s the rub, there’s the whole thing, they know (deep in their hearts) that science is coming closer and closer, inexorably, from invalidating their world view. Of course, the confidence they have will not be pricked by evidence (that is already clear), and they will believe as they do in full opposition of irrefutable evidence. That’s ok, I just think it is ironically hilarious that I could so easily employ a simple word replace and make Romans 1:18-21 say exactly what is happening.

18 The wrath of [science] is being revealed from [humans] against all the [ignorance] of people, who suppress the truth by their [ignorance], 19 since what may be known about [science] is plain to them, because [humans have] made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world [science has] been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

You know what? I actually like that set of verses. I might actually print them off, because I think they say a lot about the human condition, our ability to stand by our beliefs in the face of evidence, of statistics, of physics, of history. I am not immune to it, though I do try to step back and validate my beliefs regularly. Like any human, I know I fail to recognize all of my failings, but dammit, I give it a strong effort.

Young Earth Creationists do not give an effort to find their failings, but that is not to take away from the fact that they put a huge amount of effort; the amount of man hours they put into creation science is stunning… And almost admirable. The only problem is that the only way they manage to keep their ship floating is through disingenuity. One major example is the formation of fossils and stalagmites; they have created it rapidly under a rigidly defined set of conditions, and reproduced that in the lab. They are right, of course, calcification can be a rapid process, in some conditions–you’d be hard pressed to disprove that. But then they make a huge leap; they have decided since it could happen quickly that it did happen quickly.

I think a far more egregious example is that of the discovery of dinosaur soft tissue. As soon as it was discovered, it was hailed as the final piece of the puzzle proving recent dinosaur life by young earth creationists. Why, how could you have soft tissue surviving for 65 million years? That is just absurd. And then scientists tried to explain it! THE GAUL OF THEM! Can’t they clearly see the answer? There is no process that could possibly make this happen, and even by looking the scientists are showing that they are stupidheads, and anti-religion, and scientifically ignorant!

Except in a short order, they discovered a function of high iron content that could have allowed this to happen. Quietly, the YECs stopped trumpeting that discovery, though it still has a place (as last I heard) in the Creation Museum in Kentucky, there to deceive the ignorant. Of course, that isn’t an insult; they are ignorant because people have a vested interest in keeping their blindfold on, and the fact that soft tissue is still in the Young Earth playbook, despite its having been explained by science, is proof of that.

So let’s stop pretending you are doing science. You are accusing scientists of viewing evidence with a presupposition of the age of the Universe, while you grab evidence, look at it through a magnifying glass that has mirrors and dials in it that read “6000 years old” then interpret that evidence accordingly.

The fewer mirrors you put in the way, the fewer assumptions you make about the evidence, the more you realize that 10,000 different threads in the weave of time paint a similar picture — and it is only through your smoke and mirrors, young earth creationist, that you are able to even create the illusion of a 6000 year old world.

So let’s not kid ourselves (heh… Kid) into saying evolution is silly because a child could say it is wrong. That’s not even an argument. That’s not even a thought.

Let’s all go back to the scientific lab of our choice, make as few assumptions as possible, and do some science.