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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Divisive Apologetics

I have so many things I want to write, and I didn’t know how to pick which to write to start my return to my general discussions–so I ended up picking the one that had been fermenting in my mind the longest. I fear that my failure to write it down may have caused the idea some stagnation and rot, so bear with me as I try to pull the relevant bits together into something that sounds coherent.

A fairly recent post on Creation Today is titled “Today’s Church trumpets an uncertain sound.” The goal stated by Creation Today, and its founder’s father, Kent Hovind, is that the Church of Christ must preach a consistent message in order to be taken seriously in a modern world. I won’t lie, their stated goal is admirable, until you get to the point where they state “And the message we have to preach, because it is the only correct message, is the message that we came up with.” The following part is implied, but I suppose I have little choice but to take it at face value, “Because we have discovered the truth behind the message of Jesus that has been hidden from everyone for the last 2000 years.”

Their message is hardly unique, and it definitely has some roots in the Bible, but the ferocity with which they believe in it, to the exclusion of all contradictory evidence, is the problem. I suppose how fiercely they believe it is neither here nor there, but they are getting new followers in the American South faster than I find entirely comfortable. The point, though, is that most people I know who are staunch Christians do not share their message. The Pope himself doesn’t share their message, though many Protestant Christian belief systems believe that the Pope is the seat of the antichrist, so perhaps his endorsement of an opposing view is something of a detriment to my side rather than something that speaks to my side.

Obviously science has something to say in this arena… And no, I am not talking about the arena of whether or not God exists. That is something that is still (and perhaps indefinitely) beyond the scope of scientific range. I am talking about the still very young field of “Creation Science”, or if you prefer “Intelligent Design.” To claim the Earth is 6,000 years old stands in stark contrast to modern scientific consensus. I am not saying that science knows the age of the Earth to an absolute value, but to compare hundreds of dating methods that agree on the general age of the Earth to within 5% to a book written by scientifically illiterate middle eastern shepherds… That is something of intellectual dishonesty that is difficult to understand, let alone believe in. Even then, to believe the Earth is 6,000 is your right, and I suppose I don’t have a problem with the belief itself. I do, however, have a problem with the attitudes that come out of that belief system.

Many Young Earth Creationists who hold fast to creation science will often speak of the “Arrogance of scientists,” and their “presuppositions.” To say “You are definitely wrong, we are definitely right, and your looking for evidence makes you the arrogant ones with a prestanding belief that ruins your objective outlook,” hurts me. It really does.

I am not writing this to merely state that I don’t like their view, but to state that I find their view to be somewhat reprehensible in a way that isn’t absolutely obvious. The issue is, they claim several things; they claim that they are right, that science bears them out, that the evidence of God is self-evident, that (as per the legendary Bible quote Romans 1:20) anyone who does not realize they are right is a fool (and they will use it as an insult, though while telling you they mean no such thing).

The other issue with this belief system is that it exists within an echo chamber; the population of the United States consistently shows in polls that they believe the Young Earth View. The United States as a general idea seems to have grown increasingly arrogant in the last decades, believing themselves to be the World Police, morally right, the freest nation on the planet. Somehow, though they only came to nationhood in the 18th century, you will hear many people say that they are the elect of God and Jesus; George W. Bush believed (or at least stated his belief) that he was elected to the Presidency by God, a view that perhaps gave him a surety in his many objectively poor decisions that borders on dangerousness. If a strong believer actually fully believed that their ideas were endorsed by He of the Most High, what ruin could he wreak with his decisions, believing they were correct the whole time?

That question isn’t really rhetorical, we have evidence, in the global recession that occurred under Bush. Bill Clinton managed to create a budgetary surplus; the United States was on track to clear their debts. They are now so far in debt, so far in the red, no one on either side of the party really knows how they are going to reverse it.

This comes down to the religiosity of the voting public, and I think this has some kind of basis in modern apologetics. The reason apologetics has become divisive isn’t in their message (they do mostly preach peace, though there are certainly some issues with hatred in some parts of their message, I believe they could be ironed out), but it is because of their fanaticism. Like so many religions that came before, young earth biblical fundamentalism has some malignancy that has yet to be ironed out. To believe, for example, that their religion should be spread at the point of a sword is still a problem many face. Even if not at the point of a sword, many in the young earth movements believe that the world would be a better place if everyone believed in their brand of religion. This has created a divide. (HAH! See, I worked this post around to the title, and all it took was one thousand words! With a word economy like that, I could really be a writer, hey?!)

The problem with apologetics is that it relies, leans, depends, upon the statement that “Our God is not a God of confusion,” and further that the Bible should be read literally. The idea that the Bible is without error has been proven false, both here and elsewhere, and many have done it far better than I could. This has created an issue where people on the same side, that of young earth evangelism, end up fighting each other. Dr Henry Morris is credited with founding the idea of modern creation science. It is odd, but I think it worth pointing out that the PhD that earned Dr Morris his title was in hydraulic engineering, a field that I am not sure really aligns with any requirement to make definitive statements about the Bible. That being said, his book (the New Defender’s Bible) is generally heralded as the best book on apologetics that the average person could hope to find. Obviously, it is based on the King James Version, which for some reason is touted by many as the perfect bible despite modern translation improvements showing certain phrases to be in error…

If God is not a God of confusion, why does Kent Hovind repeatedly state in many of his speeches that he disagrees with Dr Morris on several counts? If God is not a God of confusion, why do so many apologists trumpet such a different sound? As an improvement on the old message, it is worth noting that the modern message of Eric Hovind (son of Kent Hovind) is aligned with Answers in Genesis… Though I would go as far as to say that this is less that he believes as they do, and more to do with the fact that AIG is such a powerhouse in modern apologetics, to fight against that current would be to drown and disappear.

The other reason apologetics is divisive is that it also balances upon the statement “We know everything now that we need to know.” So often evangelical preachers have stood against science, mostly when it runs perpendicular to their own personal message, but it isn’t always so. We know almost nothing, so little that it is impossible to list what we don’t know; that list would dwarf the list of what we do know so completely that it would hardly be worth the time to write down what we know… Except for the fact that we need this basis to build more knowledge.

What was it that eradicated small pox? It wasn’t religion. What was it that caused the murder of women in Salem? It wasn’t science.

The above was incredibly unfair, but rhetoric often helps to make a point. If everyone in the world were a peasant making food in the service to some enlightened person in the Church, I doubt we would be where we are today. I am not calling the Church anti-scientific, though it has had… Phases? There are times when it has stood against scientific flow, and modern YEC evangelism is still standing in stark opposition to science. To argue against Darwinian evolution is a failing point. To argue against spontaneous life is certainly valid, but I do not understand why “from nothing came something” is impossible, but God created everything by speaking it into existence, and only an ignorant person would stand against that! I do not understand what it is about that statement that makes it so compelling to so many people.

That being said, to say “You don’t know how life began,” is not an insult; it is a mere statement of fact. Science does not know how life first formed, though they are at least working on the problem. If they figure it out, what happens then, I wonder? YEC scientists would never try to create life in a lab, I think, because their belief system calls the idea impossible.

I’d like the think that science relies on the idea that nothing is impossible, just very, very, unlikely.

The point of this semi-coherent ramble is this; if you are right, secular science will eventually come to the same conclusions of you. So shouting “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” at the top of your lungs helps no one. You should be working with scientists in secular laboratories, helping them find the answers. The problem is, in order to do that, you must start from the assumption that we don’t yet know the answer, that we have yet to find it.

Perhaps you can use the Bible as an answer key, in some cases, but only in hindsight. You still have to show your work, and quite often most scientists will say that the creation scientist has ignored a key piece of evidence or has ignored some new piece of information found after the presented information, and anyone who keeps up with the field would have known that.

If that is the case (and I would tend to think it is so), why should we rely on scientists who ignore contradictory evidence? How does one trust them?

It is a universal thing, really; a fanatic will ignore anything that would stand in the way of their fanaticism. It creates a divide between the true and the imagined. I think Justin Bieber is almost the perfect example; he has been caught doing awful things, like spitting on fans, like driving under the influence of alcohol, like being a general jackass… But many Beliebers will say that he didn’t really, or that he was misunderstood, or any one of a thousand excuses. The same is true of YEC scientists, I fear.

Again, this wouldn’t be a divisive issue if they kept their beliefs… But their own ideas require the Christian to attempt to spread these ideas.

They don’t even want to work with secular science, that is why they have their own schools, their own colleges and universities, their own areas of study and labs–they don’t even want to work with scientists unless the scientists will agree with them.

So what I propose is we leave each other alone for fifty years, let the YECs toil away in their labs, general scientists toil away in the labs of public universities, and then we can compare notes in 2065. I am sure we will all learn a lot from each other, and I think science would progress at a much higher pace if we stopped fighting… Particularly because the United States has a lot of money to spend on science, and the YEC influence that is huge in that country is slowing things down.

It’d be awesome if we all just acted like adults rather than kids who could fight for weeks about “MY DAD IS BETTER THAN YOUR DAD!”

Bah, I don’t really like how this post came out. It is kind of negative, doesn’t really prove a point. I suppose it is just here to put some information down, consolidate some of my own thoughts. When I take two weeks off of writing, a whole bunch of crud builds up. I think it is going to take me a few posts to get over it all. The next few days will probably see me writing with less cohesion than normal, so please forgive me while I figure some stuff out.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful 2015!