Saturday, November 3, 2018

Adam and Eve and the Cultural Big Bang

In my investigation of what science has to tell us about the existence of Adam and Eve, I am intrigued by a question that is widely disputed among the scientists who study this subject. The question is when and how modern human behavior developed. One idea that has been proposed is particularly controversial with both scientific proponents and scientific critics. The idea goes by different names including "the cultural big bang," "the late Paleolithic revolution," and "the great leap forward." The proposal is that modern human behavior began suddenly about 50,000 or so years ago. This idea was particularly popular about 15 years ago with many proponents still, though some scientists say that more recent archeological discoveries give hints of modern human behavior that began about 100,000 years ago and developed slowly not suddenly.

I am a non-expert as I try to investigate this question since I am an experimental particle physicist and not an archeologist. But as an outsider, it does seem to me that there seems to be some kind of explosion of modern behavior about 50,000 years ago. It seems that at about that time humans began to develop a way of thinking that invented new tools and developed new ideas and began to shape the environment around them.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Adam and Eve: Genetic Evidence

When I was growing up my mother would often say to me, "All your life you'll have to do things you don't want to do." This post may fall into that category of doing something I don't really want to do but I probably should do. One of my readers asked if I could comment on the genetic evidence from DNA analysis supporting an historical Adam and Eve. I think that is a great question and a very important question since the story of Adam and Eve is central to the biblical narrative. Many of my readers have affirmed that my writings and videos have made a strong case that God used the big bang as his method of creation and that both the record of nature and the biblical record support a 14 billion year old universe. My readers have indicated to me that I seem to be able to explain complex subjects in simple terms, and so I have been asked to explain the scientific evidence about human origins in simple terms. I'm certainly willing to discuss what I know about this subject, but as a particle physicist and not a geneticist I am far from an expert on understanding and critiquing genetic evidence. When I write about physics I'm confident that I can separate good arguments and good scientific analysis from poor arguments and analysis. When I write about genetics, I'm not sure I can always separate the good signal from the background noise. Nevertheless, in response to the wishes of my readers I will delve into the subject of Adam and Eve. In this post I'll talk about some of the scientific and genetic evidence regarding human origins and in the next posts I'll discuss some other options that may reconcile the scientific evidence with the biblical record and also examine some of the theological issues dealing with Adam and Eve.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Genesis and Science Reconciled

There seems to be a common belief by both Christians and non-Christians that modern scientific discoveries about the origin and development of the universe contradict the biblical account of creation in Genesis. Many people from both groups claim that any attempt to reconcile science and the Bible is a forced alliance that compromises the integrity of the Bible, science, or both. In the last few blog posts I have presented a coherent narrative that naturally reconciles the Bible and science without distorting either. I first cautioned us as Christians against using poor science to try to support the Bible. I then warned against making the same kind of biblical interpretive errors that led to the trial and persecution of Galileo. Third, I pointed out that the proper interpretation of any literature requires an examination of the language, culture, and literary context of the text. Finally, I showed from the Bible itself that the story of creation must be understood from the reference frame that is presented in Genesis 1:2, on the surface of the primordial earth. From that perspective both scientific findings and the biblical narrative agree that the environment was formless, empty, dark, and watery.

Most of the supposed discrepancies between the biblical account of creation and the scientific observations about the origin and development of the universe and our solar system are reconciled once it has been established that the creation story is told from a perspective on the surface of the earth. As such, Genesis 1:1, the creation of the heavens and the earth, takes a little over nine billion years from the big bang origin of the universe to the forming of the primordial earth. Starting in Genesis 1:2 and throughout the rest of the chapter, the story of earth's 4.5 billion year history is conveyed. In the brief description given here, we'll simply touch on how some of the alleged discrepancies are resolved by affirming that the perspective of the story is on the surface of the earth.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Unlocking Genesis One

In order to understand the meaning of any piece of literature we must consider the cultural and linguistic context of the text. By taking these important factors into consideration, it becomes clear that a straightforward reading of the account of creation in Genesis leads to creation days that are long periods of time, not 24 hours each. That realization is a critical principle for understanding the creation story in Genesis 1. But perhaps the most important key for unlocking everything in the story, from the order to the timing of creation, is to look in the passage for the proper perspective, or point of view, from which the story is being told. As discussed in a previous post, the church of the seventeenth century made a fundamental mistake by not considering the point of view of the writer in the many biblical passages that discuss the movement of the earth, sun, and moon. In each of those passages the point of view is that of an observer on the earth. From a perspective on the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, do move across the sky which is why we still say that we observe a "sunrise" or "sunset." The biblical description of the motion of the astronomical objects is accurate from the perspective of the observer.

To properly understand the creation account in Genesis 1, we must also adopt the proper point of view. That is the key to unlocking the story. Fortunately, the text itself tells us the needed perspective. It is stated in Genesis 1:2; "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." My young earth creationist friends have pointed out that there were no humans around to observe the creation of the universe so we must rely on what God says to know what happened at the beginning. I do agree that God's word will give us an accurate and truthful description of how he created the universe. Since no one was around to observe the creation, it would make sense that God's account should be given from God's perspective. Genesis 1:2 tells us where God is and, therefore, the proper vantage point from which to view the story of creation as it unfolds in the rest of the chapter: "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." God's Spirit is hovering over the waters that cover the surface of the earth. The rest of the story of creation as told in Genesis 1 is not told from a perspective outside of the universe or from somewhere in outer space looking at the earth, sun, moon, and stars, but is told from where God is on the surface of the earth. The key to unlocking the mysteries of the rest of the creation account is a proper understanding that the story is told from God's perspective on the surface of the earth.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Shared Characteristic Between Atheists and Young Earth Creationists

Some atheists and some young earth creationists (people who believe the universe is only about 6000 years old) share a common characteristic: they base their understanding of what the Bible says about creation by interpreting the text simplistically without taking context, language, or culture into account.

The Christian may claim they are simply taking the Bible "literally" and may assume that a literal interpretation is the correct and best interpretation. Of course, that is often not the case. As Tim LaHaye points out in his book How to Study the Bible for Yourself, if you are watching a baseball game and the announcer says that the base runner is hugging the base, then you will be completely wrong about what the announcer means if you take him literally.1 In that case, a literal interpretation of the statement leads to an incorrect understanding of the meaning because you did not consider the context or the culture in which the statement was made. Taking a passage literally does not necessarily mean you are interpreting the text more accurately or being more true to the author's intended meaning. It may mean that you are completely wrong because you have not considered culture, language, and context.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Didn't We Learn Anything from the Galileo Trial?

Do Christians who believe that the story of creation in the Bible is compatible with the big bang twist, distort, and compromise scripture to hold that view? If you read the writings of those who think the universe is only thousands of years old (a "young earth" position), you might conclude that any other belief is heresy. One organization that holds to a young earth writes on their web site, "One must be an exegetical contortionist to stretch the six days of Genesis into millions and billions of years. Such a twisted hermeneutic undermines the authority of the entire Bible by placing what the interpreter wants the text to say above God's Word." A popular book that tries to refute the idea that the big bang coincides with the biblical record (an "old earth" position) is called Refuting Compromise, implying that anyone who holds to an old earth viewpoint must be compromising what the scripture says.

These statements about a proper understanding of Genesis are not only false, but they are making the same mistakes that were made about 400 year ago when the Catholic Church accused Galileo of also distorting the scripture. Although the reasons for the trial of Galileo were varied and complex, the church definitely accused Galileo of not accepting the plain words of scripture. Multiple times the Bible seems to be saying that the earth is immovable and that the sun and moon move around the earth. In fact, the Bible seems to be much more clear on the motion of the heavenly bodies than it is on the age of the universe. Consider these passages of scripture (showing my emphasis):

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Affirming the Truth

What is a "Creationist" and why is there a common perception among many people that creationists blatantly ignore the obvious facts about the universe? How does this perception impact the most important Christian message about the person of Jesus including his death and resurrection which brings reconciliation between God and people?

To most people I talk with, a creationists is someone who believes that God created the universe about 6000 years ago and that the Bible teaches that fact. The perception is that the creationist chooses to ignore the overwhelming evidence about the age and history of the universe, while clinging to an ancient and unreliable book. The obvious conclusion is that if the Bible is completely wrong in its statements that deal with the scientific facts about the origin of the universe, then it is also completely wrong and unreliable when it talks about who Jesus was, his purpose on earth, and his resurrection. Not only have I talked with non-Christians who reject Christianity because the "unreliable" Bible can't be trusted, but I have also talked with Christians who are struggling with whether or not they can trust their Bible and trust God, and with "ex-Christians" who say that they left their faith because of the supposed unreliability of the Bible, pointing particularly to the story of creation which obviously does not align with the overwhelming evidence from nature.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Scientific Predictions and the Bible: Some Internet Examples

The table shown here has circulated for years on the internet and lists certain scientific statements and claims in the left column that were made in The Bible when most people of the time believed the Science Then that is listed in the middle column. With the development of modern science we now know that the truth (Science Now in the right column) agrees with what the Bible said all along. The table is suggesting that these amazing biblical predictions show that the Bible is inspired by an all-knowing God who understood the science long before humans discovered these principles. As a Christian myself I do believe that the Bible is God's inspired word and that its contents can validate that assertion. I also believe that there are certain biblical passages that make clear statements about the universe that have since been validated by science as discussed in a previous blog entry on Scientific Predictions and the Bible. However, a proper understanding of the statements above, and what they indicate about the supernatural origin of the Bible, requires a more detailed and thorough investigation.

In addition to the blog entry mentioned above, two other posts deal with the subject of Scientific Predictions and the Bible in which I have also stated that any scientific statements in the Bible should be consistent with what we know about the character of God: they should be accurate, culturally relevant, and instrumental in God's primary goal of inviting people to have a relationship with him. Finally, I have proposed that some statements in the Bible may have multiple understandings that were a result of God inspiring the authors.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Scientific Predictions and the Bible: Unknown Facts Revealed by God

If the Bible is inspired from the one true God then we would expect its statements about science to be compatible with the characteristics of that God as revealed in the Bible as discussed in the first part of this four part series on Scientific Predictions and the Bible. The scientific statements in the Bible should be accurate, culturally relevant, and instrumental in God's primary goal of redeeming individual people so that they can have a relationship with him. It is also reasonable to propose that scientific statements in the Bible may have a kind of dual understanding just as certain Messianic prophecies have a dual fulfillment as discussed in the second part of this four part series. In this third blog entry on the subject let's look at some cases in the Bible where there is an accurate scientific statement that was not known when the Bible was written but has since been verified.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Scientific Predictions and the Bible: A Dual Fulfillment Proposal

It is often stated by Christians that the Bible contains amazing and accurate scientific predictions that have only been recently discovered by modern science. However, skeptics will claim that these supposed scientific facts were not really recognized in the Bible until after they were discovered by the scientific community. In my previous blog post I began a discussion that addresses the issue of scientific predictions in the Bible. I asked the question of what kind of scientific predictions we should expect to find in the Bible if it is the inspired word from an omniscient God. The only answer we can be sure of is that any scientific predictions should be consistent with God's character so they should at least be (1) accurate, (2) culturally relevant and (3) instrumental in God's primary goal of redeeming individual people so that they can have a relationship with him.

In regards to the third point above, I stated that the Old Testament made accurate predictions about the coming of the Messiah that were fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. By observing one of those Messianic predictions in some detail, we might be able to get an idea of what to expect when dealing with scientific predictions. Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah who wrote, "The Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14, NIV). The gospel of Matthew quotes this prophecy as being fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus when she was still a virgin. Matthew writes, "All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, 'The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.' The name Immanuel means 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:22-23, NIV).

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Scientific Predictions and the Bible: What to Expect

Does the Bible make scientific predictions that have been shown to be accurate? Or do Christians simply find supposed scientific facts in the Bible after they have already been discovered by scientists? Should we expect the Bible to make predictions about future scientific discoveries if it is the inspired word of an all-knowing God? These are important and challenging questions that would be answered very differently by believing Christians or non-believing skeptics. Some Christians will claim that the Bible makes amazingly accurate predictions about what science will discover while skeptics may claim that those predictions were only recognized after they were already discovered by scientists, and that there are no future scientific predictions being proposed based on the biblical text.

Let's start this discussion with the question of what kind of scientific predictions we should expect to find in the Bible if it is the inspired word from an omniscient God. One thing I have learned about God over the years is that I am not able to predict what he should do or will do. I can only predict that God will always act in a way consistent with his character. In the Bible, the prophet Jonah also knew that God would always act consistent with his character, which is gracious and compassionate. Because Jonah didn't want God to act that way toward the people of Nineveh he initially refused to go to Nineveh to share God's message that they could avert judgement if they repented. When God did spare the city, Jonah was mad at God because God acted as he always does. Jonah said to God, "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (emphasis added)." So when it comes to the question of what kind of scientific predictions we should expect to find in the Bible if it is the inspired word from an omniscient God, all I can say for certain is that anything revealed should be consistent with the known character of God.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

An Excerpt from The Creator Revealed

In my previous blog post I introduced my recently released book, The Creator Revealed: A Physicist Examines the Big Bang and the Bible, and I said that the book describes how modern scientific discoveries about the origin and design of the universe agree with the biblical record of creation and give evidence for God. I also claimed that the book was written in simple conversational language, which sets it apart from almost all of the other books written on this subject. Consequently, this is a great book for a non-technical person to read, perhaps a pastor or friend who thinks that modern scientific discoveries contradict the Bible, or a non-believing colleague or family member who thinks science has made God irrelevant. To demonstrate the conversational tone of the book, I'd like to share with you the opening part of the book's Prelude.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Creator Revealed

Have you ever wanted a simple explanation of how modern scientific discoveries about the origin of the universe harmonize with the account of creation in the Bible? Would you appreciate examples of modern scientific discoveries that support the biblical record and give evidence for God, written in language that is easy to understand and enjoyable to read? If so, then you will want to buy my just released book, The Creator Revealed, A Physicist Examines the Big Bang and the Bible.

There are many good books that discuss the relationship of science and Christianity and describe how science agrees with and supports the Bible. But almost all of those books are written in relatively technical language that can be difficult to read and understand, even for well-educated people who may not be scientifically minded. In contrast to most books on this subject, The Creator Revealed is written in simple conversational language that is entertaining and engaging. One person who reviewed the book wrote, "In The Creator Revealed, Michael Strauss writes about the mounting scientific evidence for the complete trustworthiness of the Bible and the Christian faith in a winsome, humorous style that puts the cookies on the bottom shelf so that children, youth, and science-challenged adults can understand his thesis that science is the ally of the Christian faith, not the enemy."1 The major strength and distinctive of this book is that "winsome, humorous style" that will help people understand and appreciate the truth revealed through both science and Scripture.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Even Darker

In 1929 Edwin Hubble made a discovery that revolutionized our understanding of the universe. He measured the relative velocity between our Milky Way galaxy and 46 other galaxies and observed that the galaxies were all moving away from each other. In addition, the farther apart the galaxies were from each other, the faster they were receding from each other. The most straightforward interpretation of this observation is that the universe is expanding. Subsequent observations have revealed that the galaxies are not simply moving away from each other, but that the fabric of space itself between the galaxies is actually expanding.

With the knowledge that the universe is expanding, scientists have wondered about the future of the universe. Will it expand forever? Will it eventually stop expanding and collapse in on itself? The answer to these questions depends partially on the amount of matter in the universe because every object in the universe is attracted to every other object by the force of gravity. Gravity should cause the expansion of the universe to gradually slow down and, if there is enough matter, to eventually stop and collapse. To illustrate this consider two plastic balls connected by a rubber band. If you were to hold one ball in your hand and throw the other ball outward, eventually the speed of the second ball would decrease as the rubber band stretched because the rubber band acts as an attractive force between the two balls. In the same way, the attractive force of gravity should be causing the expansion of the universe to slow down. Because the strength of gravity depends on how much matter is in the universe, if there is enough matter, the very strong attractive force should eventually cause the expansion to stop and the universe to collapse back in on itself. The attractive force of gravity should be slowing down the expansion of the universe. But that is not what is happening.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Dark Side

In the 1920's a number of experiments observed that certain nuclei would decay by emitting a "beta" particle in a process called beta decay. Although the beta particle itself was shown to simply be an electron, the process of beta decay exhibited some strange and unexplained properties. In particular, the decay products did not conserve energy, momentum, or angular momentum. Up until that time, all known physical processes had conserved these three quantities. That is, the amount of energy, momentum, and angular momentum at the end of any process was exactly the same as the amount at the beginning of the process. However, beta decay seemed to violate these well known conservation laws. A number of explanations were proposed including the possibility that these conservation laws were not absolute. However, one explanation seemed much more simple and elegant. The physicist Wolfgang Pauli proposed that another particle was also emitted during beta decay along with the electron, but this other particle was nearly impossible to detect. For all practical purposes it was invisible to any experimental detectors of the time. Now it may seem crazy to postulate an unknown, nearly undetectable particle simply to preserve well-established laws of physics, but consider the genius of this idea. By simply proposing the addition of one unknown entity all of the problems with beta decay could be solved. Enrico Fermi named the unknown particle a "neutrino," or "little neutron" in Italian. It took about 25 years to experimentally confirm the existence of this particle, but eventually the neutrino was discovered in 1956. The simple but elegant introduction of a nearly undetectable neutral matter particle was the solution to multiple problems.

Today we have a similar situation to that of the 1920's. When we observe the cosmos we find that there are a number of problems that seem to violate well established laws of physics. Einstein's theory of general relativity, which describes how gravity works, is a remarkably successful theory with tremendous predictive power, but when we try to use that theory to explain certain observed effects, the theory doesn't quite work. For instance, when we watch how fast the stars in galaxies rotate about the galactic center we find that the outer part of the galaxy doesn't obey Einstein's theory if we assume that we can actually see all of the matter in the galaxy. (See the graph at the end of this blog post.) We also find that the large scale distribution of galaxies throughout the universe has some problems if we assume that we can observe all of the matter that is there. (See the opening figure of this blog post.) In addition, we know that gravity can actually bend the path of light, but the amount of bending we observe is much greater than what we would expect using the theory of general relativity and the amount of visible matter.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Look at the Top Quark

All the known matter in the universe is composed of two classes of particles: quarks and leptons. There are six types, or flavors, of quarks and six types of leptons. The figure to the left shows these fundamental particles. Three of the leptons, the electron (e), the muon (μ), and the tau lepton (τ) have an electrical charge that is a factor of 1 that of a proton, and three of the leptons, called the electron neutrino (νe), the muon neutrino (νμ), and the tau neutrino (ντ) have zero electrical charge. Quarks are named (in order of increasing mass) up (u), down (d), strange (s), charm (c), bottom (b), and top (t). The up, charm, and top quark have a charge that is +2/3 that of a proton, and the down, strange, and bottom quarks have a charge that is 1/3 that of a proton.

Therefore, in an atom composed of a nucleus surrounded by electrons, the electrons are fundamental particles, which means they are not composed of anything smaller as far as we know. But the nucleus is composed of neutrons and protons, which are themselves composed of quarks. At a very basic level a proton is made up two up quarks and a down quark with electric charge +2/3 + 2/3  1/3 = 1 while a neutron is made up of one up quark and two down quarks with an electric charge of +2/3  1/3  1/3 = 0. The two quarks and two leptons in the first column in the figure are called the first generation of particles, the second column is the second generation of particles, and the third column is the third generation of particles. Most of all the matter we know of is made of the first generation of particles since atoms are made of neutrons and protons and electrons with the neutrons and protons made of up and down quarks.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A City Center Conversation: The Coherence Between Science and Scripture

Today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper has an article discussing my upcoming conversation in Little Rock, Arkansas at City Center Conversations. If you are near Little Rock and can attend this event on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at 6:30 at the Statehouse Convention Center, I invite you to come. City Center Conversations is an open interview and dialogue between Dr. Steven Smith, the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock and an invited guest. Steven's vision is to host speakers who are living out their faith in the public square to have open conversations about some big questions regarding God, life, and faith. In the past, Dr. Smith has invited Eric Metaxas and Lee Strobel to the first two previous events in this series, and I will be the third invited guest.

The article in the Democrat-Gazette was written by Francisca Jones who is the religion editor for that newspaper. My interview with her, as well as a recent comment left on my blog, highlighted once again for me how entrenched is the view among many nonbelievers and believers that science and the Bible are at odds. Many of the questions that Ms. Jones asked were about the apparent conflict between science and the biblical text and why I am among the few scientists who see no conflict between them. The comment left on by blog accused me of "bending" the biblical text to accommodate a 14 billion year old universe. (If I had a dollar for every time that accusation has been made I would not have to work anymore).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Are Miracles Unscientific? Part 2

In "Are Miracles Unscientific? Part 1" several features of miracles were discussed. I defined a miracle as an exceptional action of God within the natural world, distinct from the usual processes of nature, for some specific purpose of God, which can have detectable consequences. I established that if there is a transcendent God who created the universe he could certainly intervene in unusual ways at times. Finally, I listed some different definitions of science including a broad definition based on the etymology of the word science, which means "knowledge" that would certainly admit miracles as a possibility. The last two paragraphs of that blog entry set the stage for this follow up entry on miracles. Because miracles are not repeatable events they cannot be established through a strictly controlled scientific experiment but can be reliably confirmed using a scientific and historical investigative method, in the same way other past events are established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Are Miracles Unscientific? Part 1

The question of whether or not miracles are scientific is a multifaceted question having to do with the definition of miracles, the definition of science, and the characteristics of God. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a miracle as an "extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs" such as "the healing miracles described in the Gospels." The second definition listed is "an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment" such as "the bridge is a miracle of engineering." Of course any controversy over miracles involves only the first definition, not the second. We can assume that the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” was not a miracle, though it was certainly an exciting and unexpected sporting outcome. I would define a miracle as an exceptional action of God within the natural world, distinct from the usual processes of nature, for some specific purpose of God, which can have detectable consequences.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Changing My Mind

As far back as I can remember in my life I was interested in science and technology particularly in the manned exploration of space and the human endeavor to land a person on the moon. As a teenager and young adult, this interest in science combined with my Christian faith motivated me to read books on the integration of science with Christianity. Most of the books I read during those years promoted a "young earth" view of the Bible and science stating that the universe was less than 10,000 years old and that scientists were misinterpreting the data when they proposed that the universe started with a Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago. At that time I was not aware of much material written from a Christian and biblical perspective that promoted an "old earth" view of the Bible that agreed with the scientific timescale of the universe as determined by modern observations.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Are Earth-like Planets Common?

It seems that every few months newspaper and magazine headlines will declare something like "Scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet." Such headlines probably lead the reader to imagine a planet with an environment much like we see on Star Trek or Star Wars where we could land our spaceship, take off our spacesuit, and frolic around the countryside. But what do scientists mean when they say that they have discovered an "Earth-like" planet? How likely is it to find a planet that can support higher life forms (defined as anything more complex than bacteria)? Are planets like the earth common or rare? Let's explore the answers to these questions.

When scientists say that an Earth-like planet may have been discovered, they actually mean one of three things. Either (1) the planet is in such an orbit around its central star that allows the temperature on the planet to possibly harbor liquid water, or (2) the planet is about the same size as the earth, or (3) the planet is solid and rocky rather than gaseous. Of course any one of these criteria, or even all three, does not actually give us a true Earth-like planet. We know that our moon is in the correct location to contain liquid water, but it is not "Earth-like." We know Venus is about the size of the earth, but it is not "Earth-like." We know that Mercury is rocky and not gaseous, but it is not "Earth-like." So none of these criteria really give an Earth-like planet. Headlines and sound-bites are not meant to be precise but to draw attention, and it is much more exciting to proclaim an "Earth-like" planet has been found rather than a "Venus-like" planet (if even that could be claimed).

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Looking for (the) God (Particle) in all the Wrong Places

I have talked with many skeptics who claim that they do not believe in God because he has not conclusively demonstrated his existence to them. When asked how God might demonstrate his existence to their satisfaction I usually get an answer that consists of some criteria in which God would do something so spectacular that his intervention could not be denied. A classic example is that if God would miraculously regrow the limb of an amputee then the skeptic would believe in God. I addressed this issue to some extent in my post titled "Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence." I personally don't think that even such an extraordinary event would convince most skeptics of the existence of God. Would they actually have to see the limb as it grows back? Would they accept that the limb had grown back miraculously if a number of people including the person's doctor claimed that the limb was gone and now it is back?

Suppose I was to propose an experiment to test for God in which 1000 people prayed that a miracle would occur. Would that be a valid test for the existence of God? Actually, from a scientific perspective that could not, even in principle, be a valid test regardless of the results, either positive or negative, and could not be scientifically accepted. In any test involving a person with volition and the ability to make choices, the test is considered biased and invalid if the person knows she is being observed and can change her behavior to influence the test. In any test of God, he would know he is being tested and could change his behavior to influence the test. Consequently, regardless of the outcome of the test, it would be considered scientifically invalid.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Probing the God Particle

Almost six years ago headlines throughout the world declared the discovery of the "God Particle" at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The name "God Particle" is not used by any physicists but is the popular name in the press for the particle that physicists call the Higgs Boson or simply the Higgs, named after Peter Higgs, one of the theoretical physicists that proposed its existence in 1964. In an earlier post, I discussed the discovery of the Higgs Boson and its significance within the standard model of particles and fields. Although the discovery of the Higgs made international news, there has been a lot of hard work that has been done since that discovery was made. In experimental particle physics the discovery of something new is often the easiest part of the process and the hard part is trying to really understand what has been discovered. Much of my research life since 2012 has been dominated by further studies of the properties of the Higgs Boson.

Why do physicists spend so much time and effort studying something that has already been discovered? What is the motivation and the expected outcome? There is a complex and comprehensive mathematical model of nature that particle physicists use. This model makes detailed predictions about what we should expect to find in our experiments. One of the most exciting possibilities is to discover something in the data that does not fit the models. When that happens, and the discovery can be confirmed and verified, it means that we have found something new that we did not know before. That is the most thrilling outcome for an experimental physicist. It is always nice to confirm something that has already been predicted. But it is even more exciting to find something not predicted and then have to figure out what previously unknown secret of nature has been discovered.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Testing the Experts

A reader recently asked some important questions about how a non-expert can evaluate the opinion of the experts and determine whether or not the expert opinion has real validity. For instance, should the non-expert simply agree with the majority opinion of the experts? (You can find the discussion in the comments section within my post on The Grand Design.)

I have thought a lot about this question as has the reader who asked the questions, but I still don't have a definitive answer. So in this post, I will try to link together some diverse thoughts on this topic. Maybe my credentials as one of those "experts" in particle physics has helped me develop a worthwhile perspective.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Reports of the Death of String Theory may be Greatly Exaggerated

In a recent podcast, Dr. William Lane Craig discusses my blog post about the book The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. In his remarks, Dr. Craig says that he is surprised by Hawking's reference to String Theory because String Theory seems to have some fatal flaws. I have heard from others that String Theory has not lived up to the promise it seemed to show about 10 or 20 years ago. In this post, I will describe what String Theory is, why some people think it may be in trouble, and some theological implications of String Theory.

String Theory is a theoretical idea in physics that proposes that the most fundamental objects in the universe are one-dimensional objects called strings. In String Theory, the fundamental particles that we currently know make up the structure of the universe including leptons, quarks, and bosons, are composed of one-dimensional objects that are described as vibrating strings. Just as different vibrational modes of a guitar string will give different musical tones, so the different vibrating modes of the strings give rise to different particles.