Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Primer on Various Views About Origins

The Bible is very clear about the fact that God created the universe and that humans were created by God in his image, a distinction that separates humans from all the other animals. On the other hand, the Bible is not clear on when and how God created the universe and humans. Consequently, even among Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God there is a difference of opinion about the methods God used to create the universe.

Sometimes it is valuable to review the very basic ideas about a topic. One of my readers asked me if I could very simply describe each of the major views held by Christians about how and when God created the universe and humans. I am answering that question with this basic primer about views on origins held by Christians and non-Christians. These can be broadly classified into four categories by answering three questions: (1) Did God create the universe and humans? (2) Did the big bang occur? and (3) Does macroscopic evolution occur?

The first question is straightforward. Is God the ultimate creator of the universe and human life? The second question has to do with the origin of the universe. Did this universe come into existence about 14 billion years ago and did the planet earth form about 4.5 billion years ago? The third question asks whether or not macroscopic evolution is the mechanism by which all species came into existence. Although most evolutionists do not distinguish between microscopic and macroscopic evolution, that distinction is necessary when discussing origins. Microscopic evolution allows small changes within species. It is the process of minor genetic change that allows things like bacteria to become resistant to certain antibiotics. When distinguished from macroscopic evolution, microscopic evolution does not produce new species or major new functionality. The process of microscopic evolution is accepted by people in all four categories. Macroscopic evolution is the claim that all life has developed from previous common ancestors through a natural process in which those small genetic changes compound and eventually form new species and new functionality.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Was the Big Bang Really the Beginning?

The headline declared "The Big Bang Wasn't the Beginning, After All" and in the accompanying article astrophysicist Ethan Siegel made the definitive statement that "the Big Bang is not the beginning of the Universe!" That seems to settle the question once and for all, and to put all of us theists in our place. That declaration should shut the mouths of theists who keep insisting that the big bang is the beginning of the universe and that the origin of the universe requires some kind of transcendent cause, a cause that looks a lot like the traditional view of God. It appears that the headline and the decisive pronouncement by Dr. Siegal has made the argument for God from the origin of the universe null and void. That is, unless you actually read and understand the article itself.

I recommend you do read the article. It is a very nice synopsis of the historical development of our current understanding about the origin of the universe. In the article, Dr. Siegal describes the observation that space itself is expanding and cooling, leading to the conclusion that the universe was once much more dense and hot in the past. He recounts the "breathtaking confirmation" of the big bang made in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson, who discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, the residual heat from the hot big bang. He steps us back through time as the universe becomes hotter and denser and we encounter three milestone events, a time when it was so hot that neutrons and protons could not form nuclei, a time when matter and antimatter could spontaneously form from energy, and a time when a quark-gluon plasma existed with no individual protons or neutrons. He affirms that all of these events have been confirmed to be true in that we've observed the physics that explains these events in the laboratory, and made observations that remarkably match theoretical predictions.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Is the Evidence for the Big Bang Really Weak?

When I was a teenager and young adult I read a few books by Christians who wrote about the subject of science and Christianity. All of those books promoted a young earth that was only a few thousand years old and questioned the validity of scientific discoveries and ideas that led scientists to believe the universe and earth were billions of years old. As a young adult I did not really have the knowledge or resources to ascertain the strength or validity of their arguments. However, when I was working on my Ph.D. in particle physics I decided that if I were to eventually be a scientist, as well as a Christian, then I should do my own independent study of what the Bible says about science and the evidence from nature, and consider the strength of the arguments I had been presented. By that time in my life I had taken formal science, theology, and logic classes and had the tools to personally investigate the truth about this subject.

Every once in a while something will come up that reminds me of my journey as a young adult to find the truth and prompts me to share my findings with others. As I have stated in my last few posts, a reader of my blog directed me to a few videos by young earth creationists and reiterated some of the arguments they made about the scientific evidence regarding the age of the universe. As I watched those videos and read the questions posed, I was taken back to my days when I was first investigating these subjects. Though the subject and context are different, the statements made on the videos that tried to cast doubt on the scientific discoveries about the age of the universe follow the exact same pattern used by proponents of a young universe decades ago. If you are a Christian or non-Christian, young earth creationist or old earth creationists, and you want to know what is the truth, not simply be indoctrinated, then it is worthwhile to consider these kinds of videos and the validity of their arguments. As a Christian, I follow and worship the God of all truth, so I have no concerns about investigating the truth and seeing where it leads. Only someone who is so indoctrinated in their beliefs that they don't care about the truth would be reluctant to critique the evidence for their beliefs to see if it stands up to facts and reasons. So let's investigate some of the details and tactics used by speakers in these videos to promote a young universe in an attempt to understand both truth and the God of all truth.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Big Bang: Are We Missing Crucial Pieces?

In the last three blog posts I have discussed some of the details still being investigated about the big bang and subsequent development of the universe and our solar system. Some of these issues are used by young earth creationists who claim the universe is only a few thousand years old in an attempt to discredit the big bang. I have addressed (1) poor strategies used to cast doubt on certain scientific discoveries, (2) issues with the formation of our solar system, and (3) fine tuning observations that are addressed by cosmic inflation. These particular subjects were brought up by a reader of this blog who asked about them and directed me to a few videos by young earth creationists. The list of questions asked by this reader have all been answered except for two: what about the missing antimatter, and what about the missing population III stars? Let's try to determine whether these are truly missing and, if so, what does their absence say about our understanding of the origin of the universe.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Some "Problems" with the Big Bang

In 1936 Albert Einstein wrote, "One may say 'the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.' ...The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle."1 This remark is often paraphrased as, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." Of course I agree with this statement made by one of the smartest human beings who ever lived. Like Einstein, I find it quite remarkable that our universe is comprehensible and that we can discover and explain how it works and then precisely describe its workings using the language of mathematics. One of the most amazing facts that has been discovered by observing the universe has to do with its very origin and subsequent development. It is unlikely that any scientist who lived when Einstein was born in 1879 would have predicted that our universe would provide unambiguous insight about its history almost all the way back to its very beginning. Yet that is exactly what has occurred. From Edwin Hubble's 1929 discovery that all galaxies are moving apart from each other with a relative speed that is linearly dependent on their separation distance, to Arno Penzias' and Robert Wilson's 1964 discovery of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation which is the residual heat from the infancy of our universe, to the accurate measurements of the CMB spectrum made by the Planck satellite in 2010, the universe has provided an amazing, accurate, and remarkable story of its beginning. All of the observational evidence and theoretical calculations tell a consistent story about the big bang origin of our universe: that all of space, time, matter, and energy came into existence nearly 14 billion years ago.

Over the decades starting in the early twentieth century, the scientific evidence that supports the big bang origin has become stronger and stronger. As described in a previous post, scientists were reluctant to accept the big bang partially because of its philosophical implications. If our universe had a beginning then it may have had a beginner. But because of the overwhelming evidence, scientists now agree about the origin of the universe and its development from about a trillionth of a second after its origin until now, although there is much discussion about what may have happened before that time since we have little observational evidence concerning the first trillionth of a second of our universe.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Formation of the Sun and Solar System

We as scientists do not fully understand all the details about the history of the universe or how the universe works. I don't think that statement would surprise anyone. Yet, some Christians will portray certain scientific proposals as being completely untrustworthy because there are certain processes and details we can't fully explain. Its as if I were to try to explain how an internal combustion engine works but because there are some details I don't understand you were to claim that my entire explanation is false.

In my previous post I quoted a reader who stated, "You did not address the supposed problems with Star Formation and Planet Formation and Moon Formation. Problems include: the Angular Momentum of our sun, the Accretion of gas clouds, and the Accretion of planets and moons. In line with this is the distant mature galaxies." This reader then directed me to a video on the web where a Christian who believes the universe is only a few thousand years old (a young earth creationist) brought up these and other supposed problems in an attempt to discredit the current scientific understanding of how stars, planets, and our solar system formed. The lecturer was implying that since there were some unsolved problems with our understanding of the formation of these objects, then the entire scientific proposal of star and solar system formation was unreliable. I disagree with the lecturer and the premise of the question. From my perspective it is possible that the overall big picture about a scientific process could be completely reliable and substantiated even if some of the details are not yet understood. I would think that most reasonable people would agree with me.